Sunday, February 27, 2011

Spagetti Carbonara

This was one of the more popular dishes from the recent fundraising dinner we did for the Homer High Ski Team (competing at the State competition this weekend up in Fairbanks....Go Mariners!)
My first exposure to Spagetti Carbonara was at an italian restaurant in Colorado Springs where, as a young Carri, I learned to hone my skills in working with chefs who are jerks. And also where I learned about how a dish can get so far away from it's roots. The one they served was a cream laden mess with green peas and thick sauce. Carbonara is not an old country italian dish, necessarily speaking, though any noodle eating culture has some version in their traditions. This one originated in Rome, where I hear they really love their pasta, and is specifically called carbonara (rooted in the italian word for charcoal) for the coal miners who labored in midcentury italy (perhaps it was their favorite?). It was brought to the states by the soldiers of WWII who's european rations were made up of powdered eggs, bacon, pasta...add some local cheese and there you go. This is a simple dish, prepared fairly quickly and must also be eaten right away, before the cheese cools. It is a great pasta course for an elegant dinner, just a few bites of silky fabulousness to get the mouth ready for the entree to come. At least that's what I was thinking when I planned that dinner. I used my home cured pancetta (thanks again Mr. Ruhlman) and eggs from my friend Samantha's chickens to make it extra special. 
There are many versions of this dish out there besides my old chef nemesis' heart attack on a plate.
Many people just fry the bacon and toss in the eggs and the cheese, which is just dandy, especially if you have great bacon. I like to add a little extra flavor by adding in carmelized shallots. they completely disappear in texture but the flavor adds a little something...the white wine doesn't hurt, either.  
Here's my version of Spagetti Carbonara for two.
You will need:
12 ounces (3/4 #) dried spagetti or angel hair (really anything would work, for gluten free, I like quinoa pasta)
1/4 pound pancetta or bacon, sliced into thin chunks
1 large shallot diced (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup dry white wine 
2 eggs
2/3 cup (at least) pecorino romano cheese, freshly grated
plus extra for sprinkling on top. 
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

To assemble:
Start an 8 quart pot of water to boil and throw in a handful of salt. It is important to salt the pasta water, because this seasons the pasta as it softens in the boiling water. While the water is heating, fry the bacon in a large skillet until it is crisp. As bacon is frying, your water should come to a boil, add the pasta and stir frequently. Pull bacon pieces out of frying pan and let drain on a little paper towel. if you have a lot of fat left in the pan, pour some off (not down the drain, either. in the trash or, better yet in a container to use for later!) leaving about 2 Tablespoons in which to fry your shallots. Put shallots in pan and saute over medium heat until they are very tender and browned. Add white wine and cook until liquid is almost gone. At this point the shallots will be completely decimated. (word for the day, means to reduce drastically, among other things) Your pasta should be cooked to just soft, with a bit if 'tooth' still left in the center. Once it is done, drain, reserving about a cup of the cooking water. Whisk together the two eggs in a bowl and add in the cheese. whisk in about 1/2 of the reserved hot pasta water. Place the drained noodles into the hot pan with shallot reduction turn off the heat and pour over the egg mixture (the heat from the freshly cooked pasta will cook the egg), toss on 1/2 of the cooked bacon and mix the whole mess using a pair of tongs or a big fork. If you must, switch to a larger pan or go right to your serving dish. If it's too thick add the remaining pasta water, sprinkle on the chopped parsley and finish with the rest of the bacon and more cheese on top. A little arugula salad (the bitterness of the greens really balance out the slightly sweet, fatty bacon) on the side makes this a nice dinner for two...okay, my husband would say add a grilled steak to that, but, hey...the bacon is enough for me. To each his own, right?