Carbonara, a classic Roman pasta dish, widely known and appreciated. Simple yet super tasty, creamy without the use of cream, with just 4 ingredients: guanciale, eggs, Pecorino/Parmigiano, and black pepper. A quick pasta to make, that will surely become a favorite.
Song of the day: Dreams by Fleetwood Mac.
A Roman pasta dish
As I'm writing this post, we're in the Toronto airport, coming back from our Italian vacation. We left Rome this morning and we'll arrive in Edmonton later tonight, it is a long way back home. My parents left us at Fiumicino airport and we said goodbyes with teary eyes and a heavy heart. It's always like that, hard to leave them behind, hard to leave my city which I love so much.
Rome is a wonderful, magical city, maybe too crowded, and sometimes may look chaotic and unorganized, but the beauties it holds, its friendly people and amazing food scene, make you forget some defaillances.
Rome has some unique dishes, very recognizable and widely known and appreciated. We always eat very well when we're there, from pasta to pizza, eggs, fish or meat, vegetables, fruit, and dessert. One in particular is loved and always present on Roman restaurant menus: cicoria, sautéed dandelion, which would be a lovely side to this Carbonara.
Who doesn't know Carbonara raise a hand!
I don't see many raised hands, lol. But are you sure you know the unmistakable, traditional Carbonara, the way it's done in Rome? Some of you may and some of you may not. For those of you who may not, this is going to be a great adventure of learning a classic Italian dish.
The classic ingredients
Carbonara is another peasant's recipe, made with just a few ingredients, few but good (pochi ma buoni), that doesn't sacrifice flavor.
- Guanciale (salt cured pork cheek)
- eggs, 1 egg yolk per person + 1 whole egg (not per person, they say "for the pan")
- a mix of Pecorino and Parmigiano (70% + 30%), finely grated
- and freshly cracked black pepper
That's all. Even in Rome, the debate between using guanciale or pancetta is active and passionate, with guanciale winning for the purists. The eggs, fresh and organic. Many use only the yolks, some, like us, both yolks and whole egg. Same debate happens for the use of Pecorino or Parmigiano, with a blend of both, our choice.
Pasta shapes for a true Carbonara
As for the pasta, you don't have many choices: for us Italians, it is a strict ritual to match sauces and pasta shapes. Traditionally you would find spaghetti, rigatoni, mezze maniche. Always a durum wheat pasta, anyway, never a fresh egg pasta. You will never see an Italian make fettuccine Carbonara, but not even penne Carbonara.
The method to an amazing Carbonara
- Firstly, cut the guanciale into strips or cubes and cook it in a saute pan (with no oil!) until it gets crispy and releases the juices from the fat. Then, turn off heat, remove the crispy bits and set aside leaving the oil in the pan.
- Secondly, whisk the egg yolks and whole egg until nice and fluffy. Then, add the finely grated Pecorino/Parmigiano and a generous crackling of black pepper. Whisk again. Slowly, while whisking, pour the oil from the guanciale and stir to incorporate making sure the oil has cooled a bit.
- In the meantime, have a pot of lightly salted water on medium high heat. When it boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Pull pasta out with a strainer and place it in the pan you cooked the guanciale in. Add half a ladle of pasta water and stir.
- At this point, add the egg mixture, and stir vigorously. The heat from the pasta slightly cooks the eggs, without having the pan on the heat and not turning them into scrambled eggs, which still remains the most common mistake. What you want is a creamy texture. Add most of the crispy guanciale, reserving some for topping.
- Plate and serve immediately with additional grated Pecorino and a crackling of black pepper.
No funky ingredients for us
Sorry but for us, there is no cream, no bacon, no onion or garlic, no peas, etcetera, added to our Carbonara. They will never let me back in Rome if I were to do that, lol! Just these 4 classic ingredients, creating the most unforgettable and delicious pasta.
First forkful of these Carbonara and you get that al dente nutty texture, followed by this silky pungent creaminess from the eggs and cheese, with a nice hit of pepper offering you some spice. Finally, the most unmistakable flavor of the crispy bits of guanciale with its salt and pepper cured meat with the most interesting slightly acidic backdrop and richness from the rendered fat.
We cooked and ate spaghetti Carbonara for lunch, at my parents, one day during our holidays. So, in these pictures, the props and ingredients are courtesy of my mom and dad. The Carbonara was very much enjoyed among lovely chats and TV news background noise, always present at lunch or supper time at their place.
The post was updated to give you better instructions. If you want to see a Carbonara made with a short pasta, here is a Carbonara we made recently for #carbonaraday using rigatoni.