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Why make something so simple so complicated?

Last night I had the urge to make spaghetti carbonera. Simple, 4 ingredients including the pasta. Very quick and very easy. eggs, cheese, bacon or pancetta, and pasta.

Today on another board from FB a chef was offering a Valentine's dinner for two. He suggested carbonera and gave a recipe that required a roux of flour and butter thinned with heavy cream etc. etc.

As I stated above why? It is such a simple thing that I am puzzled that anyone would want to make it complex.

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  1. It's all part of the American fashion of requiring you to get a university degree in such mundane subjects as nose-picking

    1. Probably because the recipe is for people who aren't so much interested in traditional carbonara as they are in replicating what they had at the Olive Garden (who presumably makes their sauce the way they do so it can be prepackaged and shipped and require absolutely zero skill or training to warm up and add to pasta at their restaurants).

      1. Ever since the caveman invented the wheel, every generation since has tried to re-invent it.

        1 Reply
        1. re: jrvedivici

          Yeah, apparently, it's actually rocket science. Look Ma, no wheels.

        2. Carbonara was likely invented as a simple pasta sauce for American GIs in Rome, using ingredients they had available. Your version seems to be dumbed down to its bare essentials. Marcella Hazan's version, in addition to eggs, cheese and pancetta (or bacon), has garlic, olive oil, dry white wine, pepper, and parsley.

          No doubt the author of the other recipe was trying for something more interesting than the most basic version of the sauce. Do you really think that there is no value in going beyond the minimum necessary ingredients for a dish? If so, I think there are some cookbooks which take that approach.

          10 Replies
          1. re: GH1618

            I don't see anything wrong with adding ingredients to a simple dish, but making a roux turns it into something else completely.

            Although the ingredient list is simple, carbonara isn't the easiest of pasta dishes to make well -- especially if it's your first time. It's easy to make something resembling a good carbonara but out of balance. Or pasta with egg scramble. Using a roux is actually more fail-proof than the traditional recipe, although different.

            1. re: calumin

              Granted, it's probably "something else completely." But innovation is not unknown to cooking. The question is, is the variation any good?

            2. re: GH1618

              I'm all for riffing on a recipe and going beyond the minimum, particularly because I'm famous for "using up" what's in my fridge.
              But, this is turning carbonnara into pasta with cream sauce.
              I won't even call it Alfredo, because that's a whole 'nother can o'worms ;-)

              1. re: GH1618

                I also make the Hazan version and think every ingredient is integral to the dish. I WILL make it if I don't have parsley but it suffers.

                @calumin, I find her recipe to be slam dunk simple. From the very first time. Here's her recipe and you don't EVER get "egg scramble".


                1. re: c oliver

                  Thanks for the recipe link. I like that it's foolproof.
                  I watched Anne Burrel (Secrets of a Restaurant Chef) make carbonara yesterday and she added 8 eggs to her pan of pancetta and spaghetti.
                  Big difference in egg amount.

                  1. re: monavano

                    And with Hazan's the cheese and pepper are added to the eggs and then the pasta so not scrambling.

                2. re: GH1618

                  I'm cool with going all baroque with flavors and such, but the egg vs. roux is a structural question. yes, too many steps.

                  in carbonera the egg IS the thickener. or as a friend once pointed out in my early days of Alfredo attempts "you don't need to make a white sauce, the heavy cream works as a white sauce."

                  1. re: hill food

                    As somebody said, bechamel Alfredo is another can o'worms, but a big peeve of mine. The only excuse for it - again - is that it's cheap'n'easy, especially if you're going to sell jars of it. Learning to do that right – reducing cream – set me off on a whole family of variations, all good. As is lowering the carb content!

                  2. re: GH1618

                    The GI story is only one of the origin stories. There are others that point to it being a country dish and/or something that charcoal-makers would eat when camped out making charcoal, and was the simpler preparation of pasta, eggs, hard cheese and pancetta or guanciale.

                  3. A "chef" gave this recipe?
                    It's not complex, it's wrong ;(

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: monavano

                      That was my thinking. Very wrong.

                    2. That's not making it complex...it's turning carbonara into something completely unrecognizable.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: joonjoon

                        It's turning carbonara into more or less what's served as 'carbonara' in American chain restaurants. If chain restaurants and convenience foods are your frame of reference, that IS how you make pasta carbonara. The recipe is not for something unrecognizable exactly - it's how to make this
                        at home.

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          I eat at chain restaurants from time to time and I've never seen carbonara on the menu...alfredo everywhere but never carbonara. I guess I need to go to Olive Garden more often. :D

                        2. re: joonjoon

                          Exactly. The whole point of Carbonara and other Italian standard pasta dishes is that they are quick simple and made from available ingredients - its an every day dish - like puttanesca. Overcomplicating it by using techniques and ingredients that are foreign to it is not an elevation it is a bastardization. I bet anything that a properly prepared (like Hazan's) will taste much better than the roux and cream version. A relative has a name for this style of American-Italian restaurant food he calls it Pasta-Alla-Gloppa and I think it fits.

                          1. re: JTPhilly

                            I like the name. Apropos for the "Americanization" of other cuisines, like Chinese food.
                            It's glopizication.

                            1. re: monavano

                              "Glopification" works a little better, I think.

                              1. re: GH1618

                                sure but there is the threat of a neutralizing universal 'glopalization' among so many foods...

                                y'know lowest common denominator and all.

                        3. guanciale, not pancetta, and bacon, well, it's ok...
                          and the egg I add at the very last minute, off the fire, stirred through as I am plating...

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Gastronomos

                            If you haven't tried the Hazan method, you may want to give it a whirl. Adding the pasta to the bowl that already has the beaten eggs, cheese, pepper, parsley. Then the wine/pork.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              Sounds GREAT ! and I do add copious amounts of coarsley ground black pepper

                              1. re: Gastronomos

                                It really is one of those "sum of the parts" things, isn't it?

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  just as long as you make it like she says... I'll be there....

                              2. re: c oliver

                                That is what I was doing. I warmed the bowl a bit before mixing eggs and cheese together and got the hot pasta in with the mixture. It was perfect.

                              3. re: Gastronomos

                                guanciale is only available by special order here.

                              4. Job security.

                                Chef's make you believe every dish is complicated. Boiled water included.

                                So you then come to the conclusion, "it's simply too difficult to make at home"

                                Let's go out to eat.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  This chef in the OP makes me think he/she doesn't know how to make a dish as simple as carbonara (although technique is important, no doubt), let alone boil water!
                                  It's a bit embarrassing, really.

                                  1. re: monavano

                                    I wonder if they A. Don't know or B. are making a recipe they think would be more palatable - in cooking and taste for the North American pallet -

                                    In the Hazan method what could be perceived as raw eggs (the hot pasta cooks them fine) would make many cooks squeamish - and is the key to the texture of the dish. A roux based white sauce on the other hand is - basically creamed chicken gravy and familiar in perpetration and taste for many Americans - perhaps the recipe is responding its audience - it makes me sad though

                                    Hazan is always the reference for me on how to do it right - I don't always listen but I always should have

                                    1. re: JTPhilly

                                      JTPhilly 5 minutes ago
                                      I wonder if they A. Don't know or B. are making a recipe they think would be more palatable - in cooking and taste for the North American pallet -
                                      I wonder the same.
                                      In N. America, its pretty common for "Alfredo" to be ascribed to anything with a creamy, cheesy sauce.

                                      I will be putting Hazan's carbonara on my short list-- maybe Sat. after I restock on eggs from the farmers market.

                                2. I think the what we're talking about, aside from specifically carbonara, is "is it OK to add to a recipe and is this considered enhancing it, or changing it beyond recognition?"
                                  I think changing the basic fundamentals isn't complicating a dish, it's changing a dish.
                                  In this case, carbonara is not being made more complicated, it is being changed into another dish entirely.
                                  To add some wine and parsley to carbonara isn't complicated in my book. Changing the fundamental aspect of building the dish, with a roux, just takes the dish in another direction, such that it morphs into something else.

                                  1. That's just WRONG. No roux nor cream allowed. This has been discussed on Home Cooking at great length – talk about complicating! – but some folks insist on "improving" dishes that emphatically don't need any. There is some warp in our monkey brains that makes us not content to leave well enough alone, and while that's what drives progress we often can't tell progress from just an unnecessary fiddle.