CARBONARA, PASTA WITH GUANCIALE, BLACK PEPPER AND PECORINO ROMANO
A classic Roman style pasta with almost countless variations.This version is an adaptation of what I learned to make during my time as a pasta cook at the Roman style Trattoria in NYC, Lupa.
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STORY TIME: IF LOVE IS PASTA, IT MIGHT BE CALLED CARBONARA
While I was a new cook, specifically the AM garde manger (pantry cook), I would enjoy a bowl of pasta when I asked super nicely. Ok ok.. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. The more accurate version goes like this.. One time the pasta cook made an order and the table wasn't ready for it, so instead of it being tossed, they gave it to me, as I had been busy doing prep work in the basement kitchen. Pasta should never sit in the window waiting, and lucky for me, the guests weren't ready but the pasta was! My first Spaghetti Carbonara. Just, wow.
Ok so what is Carbonara? Carbonara is a pasta dish that originated in Lazio, Italy. It is prepared in the "style of the coal miner" which basically means lots of black pepper! While this recipe isn't super traditional, it is close to the real thing and a little easier to make. The trick is to thoroughly mix the cooked pasta with the pancetta, pepper, cheese, eggs, and some pasta water; to create a creamy sauce that is not overly thick.
TIPS & TRICKS: FAT & EGGS
The real secret to a great carbonara is the rendered fat. High quality pork in the form of pancetta or guanciale is ideal, bacon is a good alternate. The melted fat adds a layer of flavor that can't be obtained by olive oil or butter.
Let's chat about guanciale, pancetta and bacon quickly. Each one influences the sauce differently, so here is my quick overview.
- GUANCIALE: The most traditional choice, and it comes from a cut known as pork jowl. It is fatty and melts into the sauce with a deep flavor.
- PANCETTA: Is often used in pasta dishes and is made from salt-cured pork belly and is air-dried which provides a slightly salty, slightly fatty, porky flavor.
- BACON: Salt-cured and smoked pork belly, which give a hint of smoky flavor to the dish.
- I like Nueskes, it is fatty, salty and smokey.
Eggs are pretty important to this recipe. There is a textural difference between them, but to keep it simple, choose the freshest you have access to. Here's a quick list though too.
- LOCAL FARMERS MARKET: Always a great choice and the most likely to be a true pasture raised hen, which IMO makes the best eggs.
- PASTURE RAISED: A great choice, more colorful yolk and good texture.
- FREE-RANGE: Good environment for the hens, happy hens = happy eggs.
POTS, PANS & UTENSILS
For this recipe we suggest the following pieces of equipment. If you are doubling the recipe, just use bigger pots and/or pans.
- 10” saute pan
- 4 to 6 quart pot
- long handle strainer/sieve
- wooden spoon
- Cutting board
- Bowls for ingredients
- Cheese grater
- Pepper mill
RECIPE FOR CRESTE DI GALLO “CARBONARA”
Serves 2 entree portions or 4 side portions. To serve 4 entree portions, double the recipe and use larger pans.
- 6 ounces Creste di Gallo
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 3 oz pancetta, cut into ¼” x ½” pieces
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper (not too fine, not too coarse and too much probably isn't enough.. until it is)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon worth of chives or scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
- 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano, grated (We like Sini Fulvi)
To grate hard cheese finely, use a microplane which makes the cheese dissipate into the sauce smoothly. Use the star side of a box grater for a richer and fuller mouthfeel.
METHOD FOR PREPARING THE SAUCE
For this recipe, timing is key. When you begin to render the bacon, as soon as it begins to sizzle start cooking the pasta. The bacon should be crisp and the pasta ready at about the same time.
In a large fry pan, add 1 tsp of olive oil and the bacon over medium-high heat. When the bacon begins to sizzle, turn the heat to medium-low. As the bacon becomes crispy and brown, turn the heat off.
- This is the real secret to a great carbonara; the rendered fat. Keep at least 1 to 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pan, discard the rest as it wont bind well into a sauce.
Add the freshly ground black pepper, letting it infuse into the rendered fat while it is still hot. This releases the delicious flavor and aroma of freshly ground black pepper. If you're really into sourcing your spices, try Tellicherry or Lampong black pepper for something really unique.
METHOD FOR COOKING THE PASTA
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Cook the pasta for the suggested time, tasting it at the lower number and cooking until the al dente meets your preference.
Using the sieve, remove the cooked pasta and add it to the sauce when it is ready.
COMPLETE THE DISH
Combine the cooked pasta and sauce along with an additional splash of pasta water over low-medium heat and stir to coat the pasta.
Add the eggs, grated cheese and scallions to the pasta. Immediately proceed to the next step.
Stir & toss together quickly and thoroughly over no/low heat.
When the sauce thickens, it’s ready!
Garnish with any extra grated parmesan.
SUBSTITUTIONS & ALTERNATIVES
PASTA: Use Della Terra Fusilli or our Strozzapreti as alternate shapes for this recipe.
VEGETARIAN: Omit the pancetta, use an extra splash of tasty olive oil.
VEGAN: I’ll have to write a new recipe for a vegan inspired carbonara, since this one is reliant on pancetta, egg and cheese. The vegan version will feature king oyster, miso and tofu.