Monday, March 2, 2015

Recipe: Carbonara Pasta

Let's face it, we've all tried to make Carbonara and failed at one point or another. There is so much dispute about this dish: to add cream or not, to use guanciale, pancetta or bacon, Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano, or even what type of pasta to use! The answer? It doesn't matter at all.

Shown above is a Bucatini Carbonara made with pancetta. Yes, it was delicious. No, it was not my preferred way of making it. Point is, make your dishes so that you love to eat them! 

Below is the recipe of how to make this delicious pasta dish. Even further below that are some tips, food science, history, and how to argue with Italians.

Spaghetti or Bucatini
Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
Pancetta, Bacon, or Guanciale

-Take into account that 2 eggs is perfect for about 8 oz of pasta, which is enough for about 2 people!
-Use whatever choice of meat you want, whether it be bacon, pancetta, or guanciale!
-If you're using bacon, about 2-3 strip per person will be enough.
-Do remove some fat rendered and replace with olive oil for a slightly less greasy palate (optional)!
-Prepare mise en place (get everything ready before you start cooking)!
-Salt your pasta water generously!

-Pour in all of the egg mixture at once if you don't know what you're doing.
-Cook your meat on high heat, for it will burn and fry before fully rendering out the fat.
-Use too much meat. More on this later.

Preparing the cream sauce:
Beat your eggs and a generous amount of grated cheese into a bowl. We're talking about at least 1/2 - 1 cup of grated cheese. Be sure to add lots of pepper, enough til where you can see many specks of black pepper in the mixture. The black pepper is almost worthy of calling a main ingredient in this dish.

Preparing the pasta:
Boil your pasta according to instructions, or until the pasta is fully cooked (do not undershoot by 1-2 minutes for al dente/absorption).

Shown above is some delicious pancetta that I bought at a local Italian market.

Preparing the meat and timing:

Briefly gauge how long your pasta will cook, for it will determine when you should start cooking your meat. You want the pasta to be hot and right out of the boiling pot for this dish to work. Begin by slicing your meat of choice into small chunks or slices. Cook your meat on medium heat. If you were to use high heat, the meat will be fully fried before the fat has had time to render out all of its goodness. The meat is done when it's slightly crispy, but doesn't look like you're stirring around fried bits.

Optional tip: I know of some people who do not like the extremely fatty palate of the all the fat produced in this dish. I suggest absorbing half of it out with a paper towel, and adding in some olive oil instead, which is much healthier and emulsifies into sauce just as well.

The assembly:
Everything in this step happens very fast and you may want some help. When the meat and pasta are cooked to your liking, transfer the pasta directly from the boiling pot into your pan. For good measure, add a ladle of pasta water into the pan. Turn the heat down to the lowest setting, and slowly drizzle in your egg and cheese mixture, stirring as you go. Don't have a helper? Spoon in the sauce in small amounts, making sure it's fully incorporated before you continue. By adding it in slowly, you prevent the eggs from cooking regularly and becoming a pasta dish with a side of eggs. The hot pasta and residual heat from the pan will cook the egg and cheese mixture as it's mixed in, turning into a most creamy and decadent sauce.

I have to say, I don't have any good experience with how carbonara sits in a refrigerator as left overs, so try to finish all of it (and get FAT). Not that you would have any trouble for how amazing this pasta dish can be.

*The recipe ends here, but below are some things that I have learned when preparing the dish and some extra information for the scholarly*

Shown above is Carbonara made with spaghetti and bacon. My girlfriend had the brilliant idea of seasoning and toasting breadcrumbs to top the dish with. It was absolutely amazing. The crunch contrasted the creamy texture, and I would definitely suggest it if you're willing to branch out of the norm.

The Meat:
-All three types of meat are cured to have immense flavor. When I bought pancetta to make this dish a second time, I made the mistake of adding too much of it into the dish, resulting in a salty and very "ham" tasting pasta.
-When using bacon, try to use an non-smoked variety and avoid maple/sweet bacons. In fact, the package should just say "Bacon" on it.
-Guanciale is cured pig cheek. It is the most traditional meat you can use for this dish, followed by pancetta, then bacon. But honestly, I think the bacon version of this dish is just as amazing.

The Pasta:
 -Bucatini pasta is a fat version of spaghetti, but with a hole that runs thru the center of the pasta. I've found enjoyment in using both.

The Cheese:
-Pecorino Romano is the authentic cheese to use for this dish, but Parmigiano Reggiano works just fine.

The Black Pepper:
-My sources (the internet) tell me that the term Carbonara was to refer to the carbon-like speckles that the black pepper appears as in this dish. So be sure to use enough black pepper to achieve this appearance.

Carbonara History:
-If it had to be said, Carbonara would be the one pasta dish that defined Roman pasta. So as I've encouraged you to make the pasta dish however you want to, be ready to don gladiator gear and ward them off. Be sure to use many hand gestures.

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