Happy National Spaghetti Day! Yay, Pa-sketti! What I love about Italian cooking is its simplicity. It’s all about basic ingredients and simple flavors. As kids, spaghetti is our carbohydrate delivery system for the pure flavors of butter and salt, or ketchup. As we get a little older, we usually cover spaghetti with a less sugary, herby, tomato sauce. But there is so much more you can do with spaghetti!
I’d like to introduce you to the bacon, egg and cheese of pasta dishes, Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Really, we’re just changing butter and salt to bacon fat, and adding peas, so we can pretend we’re responsible adults who eat our veggies. And yes, wine counts as a fruit.
Recently I had a Carbonara dish at a restaurant in New York City. What they served me was NOT Carbonara. Carbonara can have fresh peas, if you want. Some people add garlic or a dash of white wine. But at no time is Carbonara a heavy cream dish. (I won’t name names, but if you are ever in Midtown Manhattan, do NOT eat at a certain, snooty, circus-themed Italian restaurant. I would go back for the cocktails and desserts though.)
First of all, I don’t believe in “the best”, I believe in “the best for you”. Your pancetta and Parmesan needs to be stuff you like. It is difficult to get good pancetta. If you prefer regular bacon, use a good, thick bacon (but I suggest you avoid maple bacon in this dish.) If you prefer pre-grated, packaged Parmesan, use it, but do not do it because it’s cheaper or easier. You shouldn’t cheapen or deprive yourself of the good things in life.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara – basic (Makes 4 – 6 servings)
- 1-lb dry spaghetti (I’ve included a fresh pasta recipe at the bottom if you have a pasta maker. If you don’t have a pasta maker, save yourself the headache and go with dry pasta.)
- 1-cup finely grated Parmesan-Reggiano (I grate from a block.)
- 4oz Pancetta or thick cut bacon (Diced. Yes, even dice your thick-sliced bacon before cooking.)
- ¼ – ½ cup green peas (fresh if possible or frozen, but never canned. Canned peas are reserved for pub grub.)
- 1 extra large egg (room temperature)
- 2 egg yolks (room temperature)
- Black pepper
- Extra Parmesan for sprinkling
Cook pasta according to directions. Drain pasta. Keep some of the pasta water.
Cook peas. Make sure they are not overcooked or mushy. You can’t beat fresh peas that snap as you bite them.
Cook pancetta or bacon (diced) in a big heavy pan over medium heat. Try not to use oil if possible. There should be enough fat on the meat to create oil. Cook until fat is rendered and most of the meat is browned. Set aside the meat, keep the fat in the pan.
Grate your cheese if necessary. Beat your egg and egg yolks in a bowl. Combine eggs with cheese.
Turn the heat to medium-high and transfer all the pasta to the heavy pan and coat in the fat. I use tongs to mix this dish. Then pour the egg and cheese mixture over the pasta. Immediately remove from heat, to avoid scrambling the eggs. Continuously mix the pasta as the egg and cheese cook. This should not create a sauce, per se, but if the mixture is too thick for you, add some of the reserved pasta water, a little at a time.
Once the egg mixture looks cooked, add the bacon and peas to the pan. Toss. Serve. Sprinkle each serving with extra grated cheese and black pepper to taste.
Here is the basic pasta recipe I use if you have a pasta maker for spaghetti.
1¾ cup flour
2 extra large eggs
That’s really all there is to pasta! Beat eggs. Place eggs and flour in a mixer with a bread hook. Once it is mostly mixed, knead with hands for a minute. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 30 minutes. Divide into four sections and follow pasta maker instructions for the type of pasta shape you want. (Makes 4 servings)