August 8, 2009

Sauces: Carbonara

Fettuccine Carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara is a relatively recent addition to Italian cuisine. The sauce varies regionally within Italy as well as by country, and the pasta isn't firmly traditional either.

Apparently the original sauce was made with guanciale, black pepper, pecorino romano, and eggs. Pancetta and bacon are commonly substituted for the guanciale, and parmigiano-reggiano for the pecorino (or in combination with it). Sometimes it's made with cream instead of or in addition to egg yolks. Peas, broccoli, or other vegetables might be added for color. The pasta can be just about anything, with various regions claiming their own preferred pasta as the "only" acceptable one.

First, I made some fettuccine. Then, before starting the sauce, I put a pot of heavily salted water on to bring it to the rolling boil needed for cooking pasta.

I made the carbonara sauce by first cutting some lardons from a recent batch of bacon. Because the bacon is less fatty than mass-produced bacon seems to be, I used extra virgin olive oil in the fry pan to avoid sticking when I crisped the lardons.

Once the bacon had rendered some of its fat, I added diced onion, and then two cloves of garlic, minced. When the onion became translucent, I added a pint of heavy cream and reduced the heat to a simmer.

While the cream reduced, I grated some pecorino romano and parmigiano-reggiano, reserving some of the parmigiano-reggiano to sprinkle on top as a garnish. Then I added the cheeses and some freshly ground black pepper to the cream reduction and stirred until the cheeses were fully incorporated.

When the sauce was ready, I cooked the pasta and added it to the fry pan without draining it dry. A gentle stir of the pasta and sauce and it was ready to serve.

Notice, please, that I didn't add any salt at all, except to the pasta cooking water. Some of that water migrated to the fry pan with the pasta, which both seasoned and thinned the sauce. Cheeses are also salty, so be very careful about adding any salt to whatever sauce you're making.

If I had made a more traditional carbonara sauce, I would have left out the cream. Instead, I would have added one raw egg yolk per serving to the pasta in the fry pan along with plenty of freshly cracked black pepper. The residual heat of the pasta is enough to cook the yolks when you toss the pasta.

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