I can’t go one week without having pasta. If I ate pasta everyday (I almost did during college), I would be a very, very happy man. To me, pasta is a tradition – a sacred dish that we Americans sometimes overdo and ruin. I’ve had my share of overcooked noodles, Prego sauce, and parmesan cheese from the green can – and I’ll admit I enjoyed those meals. But as I continue to cook, I oftentimes reflect on the origins of a dish. You see, pasta or food in general is not just a way to satisfy one’s appetite. It’s also a way to connect people with long standing traditions and time honored processes. This particular recipe, Spaghetti Carbonara, is made in the way Italian grandmothers and their grandmothers made it. Being able to replicate something like that not only connects me to the heritage of the dish, but shows why great, classic food will never go out of style.
Here’s the key to cooking great pasta – after boiling your pasta in salted water (the water should taste like sea water), take it out a minute before it’s done. Then cook the pasta with your sauce so they come together in a perfect union. You must have just enough sauce to lightly dress the pasta – think of how you would dress a salad. Too much sauce, and you’ve taken away the noodle. Too many noodles, and you yearn for the sauce. The great Italian cooks understand that balance and the importance of bringing the noodle and the sauce together. That’s the perfect plate of pasta. It puts a smile on my face.
Spaghetti Carbonara (serves 4)
(Recipe from from Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 oz guanciale, pancetta, or bacon (I used my homemade bacon)
1 lb spaghetti
1 1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
4 large eggs, separated
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. Add two tablespoons of salt.
Meanwhile, combine the olive oil and guanciale or bacon in a large (12 inch) saute pan, set over medium heat, and cook until the guanciale/bacon has rendered its fat and is crispy and golden. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Cook the spaghetti in the boiling water until just al dente (usually a minute before your package instructions – so if it says 8 minutes, cook it for 7). Scoop out 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta.
Add the reserved pasta water to the pot with the guanciale, then toss in the pasta and cook, shaking the pan and coating the pasta with the guanciale, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, add 1 cup of parmigiano, the egg whites, and plenty of black pepper (however much you like!), and toss until thoroughly mixed.
Divide the pasta among four plates. Make a nest in the center of each one, and gently drop an egg yolk into each nest. Season the egg with more pepper and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup parmigiano over the top. Serve immediately.
*Note – the heat of the pasta will cook the egg yolk, so once you serve, encourage your guests to mix everything together.
Enjoy your weekend folks!