This is one of the easiest, fastest dishes to make. Just pure Italian goodness, made with fresh and simple ingredients!
The handsome-and-talented husband and I lived in Milan, Italy, from winter 2005 to autumn 2008. We loved our time there and to this day, we return to Italy as often as we can, to visit friends and often filling up the car or our check-in luggage with yummy Italian goodies.
The staple Italian dishes like spaghetti alla carbonara and insalata Caprese are prime examples of dishes where the fresh ingredients shine. Really, you just start with the best and freshest ingredients you can get, assemble everything together with little effort and you get a really great dish. Can’t go wrong really. Unless you’re stupid.
My then-professor, Massimo, taught me how to make spaghetti carbonara. Later, my friend Daniele taught me to use a duo of cheeses to up my carbonara game; I use Parmigiano-Reggiano a.k.a Parmesan and Pecorino Romano (Pecorino Sardo, if I can get it). Pecorino Romano is made out of sheep’s milk and adds a tangy bite to the otherwise rounded whole Parmesan flavour.
The traditional recipe calls for guanciale. Guanciale is harder to obtain for me, since I no longer live in Italy. Pancetta is a good enough substitute, and I usually stock this in my pantry. I like my guanciale/pancetta to stay crisp so I add it last; there are recipes that add the guanciale/pancetta to the egg mixture.
Spaghetti alla carbonara, for me, has become one of those staple dishes on which I judge the worthiness of restaurants, e.g spaghetti alla carbonara/alle vongole for Italian eateries, tori karaage and nasu dengaku for Japanese eateries, etc. I get irritated when the menu says “risotto ai funghi porcini” and it comes topped with fresh rucola and sun-dried tomatoes. But that’s a whole other blog post on being a purist with certain dishes.
Onwards to the recipe…
What you need for 2 people
200g dried spaghetti (I use gluten-free spaghetti from Barilla), dried pasta somehow bind the sauce better. Eggs should be large and very fresh: 1 whole egg, 1 yolk only. A cup of thinly sliced guanciale or pancetta. A tablespoon of quality olive oil. Half a cup of grated Parmigiano. Half a cup of Pecorino Romano cheeses. Salt and pepper to taste.
The eggs and the pork
Whisk the olive oil, eggs and the cheeses in a large bowl until smooth and well-blended.
Start with a cold cast-iron pan, and heat the guanciale/pancetta on it over a medium heat. Starting with a cold pan renders the fat. Cook until crisp, about 3-5 minutes. Set aside.
Make the pasta
Boil a pot of water. When it reaches a rolling boil, add a teaspoon of salt or so; this raises the boiling point of the salted water. Add the pasta; this lowers the temperature but should still be boiling. Cook according to the package instructions, 8-10 minutes until al dente. I use gluten-free pasta, and overcooking the pasta, even by a minute, spells disaster for my dish.
Using a measuring cup, reserve about 1/4 cup pasta water. Drain the pasta.
Add the cooked pasta to the egg mixture, and stir to coat well. Add the hot pasta water and stir again. The residual heat of the pasta and pasta water will cook the eggs and stirring fast will keep it from clumping and becoming scrambled egg pieces. Finally, add the guanciale/pancetta pieces to the spaghetti and mix well.
With a tong, divide into two bowls/plates and add pepper to taste. The guanciale/pancetta is salty enough so I don’t usually add salt at this point.