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Marcella's Carbonara-add basil or not?

  • k

I'm making spaghetti carbonara tonight, closely following Mrs. Hazan's recipe. I've got some real nice basil growing outside the kitchen door. Can't decide whether to chiffonade some for garnish or not.

I guess I could put it over to one side and flip it off if it's better without.

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    1. I don't think Mrs. Hazan would approve. If you do, probably best not to say it is her version.

      3 Replies
        1. re: Karl S

          So, if you put a pinch of fresh Basil on top of a classic spaghetti carbonara it is no longer carbonara?

          1. re: kengk

            it's not a classic carbonara. Basil is not typical for that dish, any more than it would be typical in an New England Thanksgiving turkey stuffing. That is, basil is not some universal Italian herb for indiscriminate use in pasta sauces. It's a very pungent herb. Carbonara already has a very defined balance, and basil would upset the typical balance. If a restaurant served carbonara to me with basil garnish, I would remove it if I could, or return it if I couldn't.

      1. No! Use your basil with fresh tomatoes.

        1. Good god. Don't let the authenticity police tell you how to eat your food. If you enjoy your carbonara with basil, knock yourself out.

          I don't think it would go well together, flavorwise -- I agree that basil is a rather strong-tasting herb that can overpower more delicate dishes such as carbonara, but I doubt Mrs. Hazan would give two shits about how you garnish *her* sacred recipe.

          8 Replies
          1. re: linguafood

            No, Hazan (infamously) would care, and would give you several reasons not to do so, and look at you with a gimlet eye if you ignored her. She says what she means and means what she says, and all that.

            1. re: Karl S

              I'll take your word for it that she would.

              But she's not in my kitchen eating my food, so I frankly couldn't care less what she thinks of my riffs on her recipes (or anyone else's, for that matter). It's hypothetical. It's --ssshhhh -- only in your head '-)

              Besides, I agree with others that basil would not be a good addition to carbonara in terms of flavor, but I don't need an imaginary authenticity cop ruling what I can or cannot add to my dish. Crazy, I know.

              1. re: linguafood

                And it's not so much about authenticity (for me; for Marcella, it would be), but communication. That when we speak of dish X that has a strongly defined array of ingredients and technique, that's what we mean when we say it. If not, then we call it something else, say, Lingua's Linguine. Calling it dish X and straying from the typical ingredients and technique is wasteful, equivocal communication. (That's editors at work, not police.)

                1. re: Karl S

                  Throwing a basil leaf on top of a dish of carbonara makes it carbonara with a basil leaf on top. Oh, the humanity '-)

                  1. re: linguafood

                    A chiffonade is not a leaf, and is much more difficult to remove once served, as it tends to blend in. YMMV.

                    1. re: Karl S

                      My mileage doesn't vary, because I don't use basil on or in carbonara.

                      But I'm glad we had a chance to talk about it.

            2. re: linguafood

              Authenticity police? Nobody has said, gee that sounds great, but it's not authentic so you daren't do it. Everybody has said it sounds like a bad idea, period. Fresh basil goes a lot better with tomatoes than with eggs. And as for authenticity, I'm inclined to trust the generations of Italians who have perfected these combinations, and nobody needs to show a license to the cops.

              1. re: linguafood

                I'm completely with Linguafood on this one. That's how new dishes come into being. Use your wonderful homegrown basil with everything until you decide what you like it in and what you don't.

              2. I don't care if it authentic, but to me it doesn't sound good.

                1 Reply
                1. I decided to leave the basil off. Now I wish I had just put a little on one side to try for myself.

                  It didn't come out very good anyway. I'm on a (bad) roll with the carbonara. This was too salty, I think I must have salted the pasta water twice. Used some of the water to thin the sauce...

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: kengk

                    Fear not. If you persevere, you will get the hang of it, and it's a dish worth getting the hang of. Cooking simple recipes with eggs is actually one of the great tests of a cook's* skill (like fish and shell fish), because it requires you to develop technique.

                    * Whether it's a nonna in the home kitchen or a great professional chef. Eggs are like pie crust and biscuits: simple but they require constant practice. Anyway, that's why so many people are crazy about keeping things typical with carbonara - done well, it's a good measure of technique (so all the short cuts and additions people muck it up with disguise the gift it is).

                    1. re: kengk

                      carbonara is also one of those dishes you can serve up when you have surprise guests, or there's absolutely nothing else in the house to eat -- and still look like a hero.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        Nothing in the house but you just happen to have guanciale or pancetta, that is. (The other stuff I agree are staples we probably all have around).

                        1. re: christy319

                          We always have bacon or pancetta in the house or at least bacon and pancetta grease in the little jar in the refrigerator. ; )

                          1. re: christy319

                            I always have lardons in the freezer.

                      2. I would try to perfect a classic carbonara before throwing irrelevant herbs into the mix…

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: lidia

                          I know it is not what you are asking, but since you said you had some difficulties, this is a link to a video that helped me immensely.

                          1. re: cleopatra999

                            My carbonara is normally quite good, imo. I think part of the problem this time was an excess of Friday afternoon Bourbon in the cook. : )

                            I'm most assuredly going to put some basil on top the next time I make it so I can report back. I may even write a letter to Marcella suggesting she try it.

                            1. re: cleopatra999

                              Maybe you have posted this response in the wrong place, but *I* wasn't "asking" anything. I was responding to the OP's request for opinions.

                              I think it's funny that you link to a Japanese chef to illustrate an Italian dish. I'm sure it came out all right, but I would worry about the high heat cooking the egg; I do my combining off the heat, and use little or no extra water. I didn't see much pepper, if any, in the final dish. Good fresh-ground black pepper is important.

                              Now that video has made me hungry… I must go make some carbonara right away!

                              1. re: lidia

                                I was referring to the OP commenting about their carbonara quality this last time around. Don't be too quick to judge the chef because he is Japanese, he works in Rome, this video was recommended by a colleague of his from a well known restaurant there. I have used many different recipes including Marcella's and I found that watching and following this technique worked perfectly (time and again). I find using the pasta water and allowing it to "thicken" with the egg gives me a carbonara much closer to what I enjoyed in Rome. I will try adding some black pepper next time, although I really don't recall much in the black pepper department in Rome.

                                1. re: cleopatra999

                                  Black pepper is one of the canonical ingredients. The restaurant Al Moro uses red pepper and, as a consequence, calls the dish "spaghetti al Moro" instead of carbonara. Of course the quantity of black pepper will vary, but it should be there.

                                  1. re: mbfant

                                    Maureen, do you know which restaurant this chef works at? It was Katie Parla who posted it. my best guess, because of the 'colleague' she refers to, is Metamorfosi.

                                    Just because I don't recall black pepper at the 3 restaurants we tried carbonara at, certainly doesn't mean it wasn't there.

                              2. re: cleopatra999

                                Great video - I'll have to tweak my preparation next time and see how it turns out.

                                (but the international melange makes me grin - a Japanese chef preparing an Italian dish with a French soundtrack for American viewers)

                            2. Do you like basil in your pasta? If the answer is yes, then use it. If the answer is no, don't.