Hello. 🙂 I’d like to share a favourite recipe from our exchange student Juri who has come all the way from Merano, Italy and is staying with us until next year. We love having him around, he’s really nice and has a great sense of humour, he’s a welcome breath of fresh air. 🙂 He loooves his tucker so he’s lucky I spend a good amount of time in the kitchen and it delights me that he’s more than happy to tell me all about different Italian foods and dishes. I will be sharing his Mother’s pizza base recipe in the near future and also his Nonna’s (Grandmother’s) Apple & Chocolate cake but today we want to share his Carbonara recipe just as he enjoys it back home.
Carbonara originates from Rome and the word is derived from the word ‘carbonaro’ which is the Italian word for ‘charcoal burner’. I find it interesting to read and write about the origin of a dish but the origin of carbonara is unclear with several different theories. Here’s a link to a great article if you are a bit of a ‘history of food’ geek like myself! 🙂
If you haven’t made it before, carbonara is perfectly cooked spaghetti with eggs, bacon and parmesan stirred through. Sounds simple I know but with such a simple dish with so few ingredients, it’s important to get every step right…..the devil is in the details, right?
You may only know of creamy carbonara and I love it but that can be a recipe for another day as there is no cream in this traditional recipe so it’s great if you are wishing to cut back on your fat intake. It doesn’t have a sauce really, the spaghetti is coated in parmesan and egg that’s only just cooked from the heat of the spaghetti. Many carbonara recipes use whole eggs, some use only the yolks and some, like this recipe, a mixture of the two.
Italians usually use two types of meat in their carbonara, depending on where their province, Guanciale (pork cheek) or bacon (usually Pancetta). I use streaky bacon as it’s on the less expensive side and still tastes good but would use Pancetta if I were feeling wealthy!
Traditionally the Italians use Pecorino Romano cheese which is a hard and very very sharp cheese made from ewes milk but Juri doesn’t like it, so we left it out and use the next best thing, the less aggressive parmesan, that we all know and love and if you’d like to add authenticity, use actual Italian made Parmigiano Reggiano.
Often in carbonara garlic is added (just a hint of it) but that is foreign to Juri, he never uses it, so we decided to just add it as an option.
When you get to my age, you know a few things. You know, just some small stuff, I’m not talking about complex maths problems, I mean everyday stuff, like how to fold a fitted sheet (pffft, yeah right!) and how to cook simple things like pasta. Well anyway, I think I did, know a thing or two, that was until Juri moved in and then I thought I may as well change my name to Jon Snow, cos “I know nothing!”…..well not how to cook pasta properly anyway!
There are three important things I’ve learned about cooking pasta from Juri.
Adding oil to the pasta water was something I’ve always done that he was surprised at….”We never do that” he said. Say What?! I thought I was adding flavour to the pasta and helping it not stick together! I love Gordon Ramsey and he does it but after a little research I found out that it gives the pasta an oily coating and can prevent pasta sauce from coating the pasta. It’s fine if your pasta isn’t having a sauce but they don’t do it in Italy…..and nor shall I ever again!
I always cook waaay too much pasta – Juri said at home they weigh out their portions (doh!) not exactly rocket science is it?. In his words: “150 g for very hungry boys, (teehee) 125 g if you are quite hungry and for a normal portion, 100 g”. So if his family are cooking pasta for four and the pasta packet contains 400 g, they know that’ll be enough. So no more extra cooked pasta lolling around in the back of the fridge.
Be like Mario Batali and salt the pasta water until it “tastes like the sea”–
The third very important thing he’s taught me is to salt the pasta water. I mean I always have, but he said you need to throw in a handful, so my ½ teaspoon no longer cuts the mustard! Now, not that I don’t trust him, Italians are the ‘masters of pasta’ after all, but me being me (a huge ‘know it all’) had to investigate further, So after some snooping I can confirm that yes, in order to make the sure the actual pasta is well seasoned and not bland, the water must be heavily salted and also the correct amount of water must be used. Some Chefs insist it needs to be a tablespoon per litre as long as there is a lot of water. So rather than just tell you to throw in a ‘handful’ like my lovely student does back in Italy we took into consideration the amount of water and spaghetti used in this recipe and weighed it out resulting in 1 tablespoon added to the boiling water in this recipe. That’s still a lot for my small brain to handle but other Chefs use twice as much and the pasta only takes in a small amount of the salt whilst cooking.
So here’s the step by step (scroll down for the quickie version). A quick and tasty meal and economical to boot. 🙂
100 g / 3 ½ streaky bacon or pancetta
250 g / 8 oz dried spaghetti
3 fresh, medium-sized, free-range eggs
50 g / 1 ¾ oz parmesan or pecorino (½ cup when grated)
1/8 teaspoon black, cracked pepper
1 tablespoon light or medium olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
Optional – 2 large or 4 medium cloves garlic
To finish – Extra parmesan for shaving or grating & Italian parsley sprigs
- The eggs in carbonara are barely cooked by the heat of the pasta they are stirred into. If you read my lemon & honey cheesecake recipe you’ll know I don’t have a problem with raw eggs, if they are fresh and free-range (of course). If it worries you at all you may feel better not serving it to the elderly, infants or anyone with a compromised immune system.
- There are different types of spaghetti so just in case your spaghetti is different to mine (thicker or fresh spaghetti) always follow the packet instructions for the amount of water used and the cooking time for the best results…..but don’t forget about all of the salt!
- The amount of bacon, parmesan and black pepper you add is a personal preference. This is how much Juri likes in his but you can use less or more, it’s totally up to you!
- The olive oil can be substituted for canola or vegetable oil.
STEP BY STEP
Pull away or cut off any rind and then dice the bacon (or pancetta) into tiny pieces. Leave aside.
If adding garlic, peel and then squash the clove(s) carefully with the side of a large knife. Leave aside with the bacon.
Either weigh out the spaghetti or if your spaghetti is in a 500 g packet (like ours in NZ) just guess and take out half.
Place 2 litres / 6 ¾ fl oz of water into a large saucepan and turn it to high.
- It may seem like a lot of water but it’s fine and some people use a lot more. It’s so that once the pasta begins to cook and expand there will still be plenty of room for it to move around freely and not clump and stick together. You also want enough water to retain its heat once the pasta is added.
Next, separate two of the eggs and add the yolks to a small bowl as well as the other whole egg (so that’s 1 whole egg and 2 yolks) and whisk them up with a fork until the whites and yolks are totally combined.
- If you like you can freeze the whites in a little bag for use later. Don’t forget to write the amount on the bag and the date so you remember to use them within a year. Also, defrost them in the fridge and then bring them up to room temp when making pavlova or meringues.
Then grate the parmesan and add it to the eggs along with the black pepper. Leave it aside for now.
If the water is boiling, turn it down to simmer (soft boil) for a minute and if it’s not boiling yet, that’s cool.
Now, place a large frying pan over a medium/high heat and add the olive oil.
When you think the oil is hot, add the bacon (or pancetta) pieces (and the garlic clove/s if using them) and cook them for around 5 minutes or until they are crispy. Then turn off the heat and just leave them in the pan.
If the water has boiled and you’ve had it on a simmer, turn it up again, it needs to be rapidly boiling.
- Pasta added to water that’s not rapidly boiling will soak up too much water and be soggy to eat.
Once rapidly boiling, add the salt and then grab some tongs and get ready to add the spaghetti.
Add the spaghetti to the water and then use the tongs to help ease it all into the boiling water and stir it around a little to prevent it sticking together.
Once the spaghetti is submerged, allow for the water to return to the boil again and then cook it (stirring two or three times) for 10 – 12 minutes or until it’s ‘al dente’ which means tender but firm to the tooth (has a slight bite to it).
OR you can throw some against the wall and if it sticks, it’s ready.
JUST KIDDING!! Actually, next time I cook this I will do just that and tell Juri that it what we do here in New Zealand….bahaha!
Whilst it’s cooking, place a colander or sieve into the sink, ready to strain the spaghetti.
Once it’s done, turn off the heat and remove ¼ cup pasta water from the pan, leaving it aside for now.
- Some pasta water should always be saved. It helps the sauce stick to the pasta.
Then strain the spaghetti.
- but try not to leave it draining too long, it will start to dry out and clump together when left without a sauce. Also it needs to be hot to help cook the eggs.
If the bacon has been turned off a while, turn it back on to quickly reheat it.
Whilst it’s still hot, return the strained spaghetti to the still hot saucepan.
Add the bacon/pancetta (discard the garlic if you used it) to the saucepan along with 2 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water and using tongs, stir it all into the pasta.
Still using the tongs carefully fold through the egg and parmesan mixture.
- You can add the last two tablespoons of pasta water also of it doesn’t look moist enough.
That’s it! Transfer your beautiful carbonara to serving plates.
Finish with some extra cracked pepper, grated or shaved parmesan and sprigs of Italian parsley.
Isn’t it beautiful in its simplicity?!