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What's your best carbonara recipe?

And would you hate me if I substituted bacon for pancetta? (I've got some bacon that needs to be used.)

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  1. I'm not a traditionalist at all, I use bacon, whole eggs, parmesan, olive oil, garlic, red and black pepper, and bucatini. It turns out drier than the classic but is somewhat healthier anyway.

    5 Replies
    1. re: steinpilz

      That's pretty darn close, actually (without knowing your proportions or technique). Certainly a LOT closer than a lot of stuff that people slap the name on.

      1. re: Dmnkly

        Hey, you're right, I Googled around and it is pretty traditional. I'd thought that butter, egg yolks, and cream, were de rigeur (I also pour off the rendered bacon fat BTW). My proportions are rough -- 1 or 1/2 carton of eggs, 1 or 1/2 box of pasta, 1 or 1/2 pkg bacon, etc.... It still tastes great whatever I do.

        1. re: steinpilz

          Cream is verboten for real carbonara. With cream, it's just a faux alfredo.

          1. re: steinpilz

            Ha! That's awesome :-)

            So by changing what you thought to be an authentic recipe, you inadvertently made something closer to what's ACTUALLY authentic. Awesome.

            Yeah, yours is pretty close (certainly a lot closer than that which you reference), and even if it isn't strictly traditional, the spirit is definitely there. Cream is NOT carbonara, and it's frustrating how often that's called so. There are some who call cream a "variant", but I've yet to see any evidence that this "variant" was created or perpetuated by the Italians. Adding and reducing some dry white wine is, on the other hand, a perfectly traditional variant, though optional, I believe. And though pancetta or guanciale would be more strictly traditional, I've encountered a number of places in Italy that use smoked pork in their carbonara, so it's hard to pass judgement on bacon. Add a little pecorino to your cheese mix and ditch the red pepper and there you go. Well, except for the whole dumping the excess rendered pork fat part... that's your sauce! (You could leave a LITTLE, right? :-)

          2. re: Dmnkly

            Exactly! I ate true carbonara for years in Chicago and loved it. I now live in Texas and it is all cream based. It infuriates me as it is not a true carbonara and restaurant after restaurant passes it off a carbonara...bleech!

            I've been making "real" carbonara for my husband using bacon for several years and it is delicious. what you describe is very real. My recipe came from an Italian immigrant and it uses bacon! Her recipe did call for pancetta, but she told me prefered the flavor and texture of good American bacon in this dish...So more power to you.

            1 pound of spaghetti
            2 tablespoons of olive oil
            3 eggs beaten
            1/2 cup Pecorino Romano/Parmigiano cheese
            1/2 pound bacon
            2 crushed cloves of garlic
            1/2 onion minced
            Salt to taste
            Freshly cracked pepper

            Preparation
            Bring 4-5 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. In a large skillet cook pancetta or bacon in oil until crisp. Saute onion until translucent in small 1 TBS of bacon fat w/ 1 TBS olive oil, then add garlic and cook until translucent, but not browned , 2-3 mins. Add a pinch of salt to boiling water. Place the spaghetti in salted water with 1 TBS olive oil and cook according until spaghetti is al dente. In a bowl beat three eggs, cheese and ground black pepper. Drain cooked pasta it and add it to the skillet with onions and garlic, add egg mixture and toss the ingredients to ensure everything is thoroughly mixed.

            Top with chopped parsley and enjoy!!

            This is a bit of heaven!

        2. My wife did some time on exchange in Italy in her youth. She complained one night that she never had carbonara in the states that compared to Italy. I checked "Simple Italian Food" by Mario Batali and followed that recipe.

          It more than met her approval.

          1. the key ingredient is the water the pasta was cooked in.
            it's all about the texture, yo

            1. As I was taught in Rome, pancetta is preferred, but pancetta affumicata (bacon) is okay if that's all you have. This was campfire food served during the seige of Rome in the Risorgemento, not haute cuisine. (It's a lot like Hoppin John in the south.) The basic procedure is to cook the pasta al dente. While it is cooking, saute chopped pancetta or bacon in olive oil. Reserve the bacon, oil, and fat. When the pasta is just ready, drain it and immediately toss it with the beaten egg and then the hot bacon and then freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese. Finally, grate some coarse pepper on it. That said, you do find variations that use cream and even add some onions to the frying pork. If you've ever seen Buonassisi's encyclopedic classic on Italian pasta, you probably understand that a lot of pasta dishes simply evolved from doing what you could with what was available. Think poor and thrifty and fast and fresh, and you'll probably make something a lot nicer than something gussied up--what I would call "pasta ricercata" or recherche. But please do use good pasta, organic eggs if you can get them, and quality pork. (For lots of other good pasta ideas that make the most of using what you have, see "Pasta Improvvisata." I think the author is Erica de Mane.)

              1 Reply
              1. re: Father Kitchen

                The carbonara I grew up on was made with bacon because, well, it was the '70s, and our area wasn't rife with Italian meat markets selling pancetta (nor would my family's budget allow for such a thing), some reduced white wine, and chopped parsley (along with the eggs, cheese, pepper, and spaghetti, of course). Hearking back to its roots, it was cheap, quick, and delicious.

              2. Well, recently I've been going vegetarian on this - shock of shocks, it's Lent - but this gives you a sense of aspects of the technique.

                While the pasta (spaghetti or bucatini/perciatelli) is cooking in very well salted boiling water (please use plenty of salt), with my mixing bowl inverted over a splatter screen over it to warm the bowl (also, be sure to warm the serving plates with scalding water and drying them), I mix the egg yolks in a small bowl (3 yolks). I then add a tablespoon or so of melted butter that has been cooled down so that it won't curdle the eggs. Then I add a half cup of finely grated cheese (I use only good authentic romano, instead of the more traditional 50% parmigiano & romano mix for this) and a good deal of freshly grated black pepper. A touch of freshly grated nutmeg is OK if you are a nutmeg fiend like me.

                As the pasta nears finishing its cooking (bite and watch the uncooked core of the pasta turn to a whitish dot), I take a half tablespoon of the cooking water and add it to the egg-cheese mixture and stir firmly to begin tempering the eggs. Then another half tablespoon. And another. And one more. By then, then cheese will melt and emulsify with the eggs, and the eggs will be protected from cooking immediately on contact with the hot pasta.

                I take the warmed mixing bowl, and with tongs put about half the cooked pasta into it. I take half the sauce and mix that with the pasta. Then repeat with the other half of each.

                Adjust for pepper and, if necessary, salt. You can finish with more cheese and some a couple of tablespoons of finely minced parsley. Serve on warmed plates.

                If you do not use warmed bowl and plates, you run the risk of a nasty thing happening to the sauce. This is one dish where warming is very important and rarely stated in recipes because it's assumed you know to do it...

                3 Replies
                1. re: Karl S

                  Thanks Karl for your description. I've always been so intimidated by the carbonara, but I think I'm ready to experiment a bit further with your suggestions.

                  1. re: Karl S

                    i would just add that if aforementioned "nasty thing" does happen to the sauce a little of the pasta water can smooth things out

                    1. re: Karl S

                      As this is a Lazio recipe, pecorino romano is the only "authentic" cheese. Parmigiano is native to the Emilia region in the north. Marcella Hazan calls for a 50-50 mix, but that's because she is from Romagna (Emilia's neighbor).