I made carbonara twice lately – purely to try to perfect it, of course, not because I love pasta, bacon and cheese, whether combined in some way or just as individual food items. I had an idea of how it is traditionally made, rather than just making macaroni cheese and putting bacon in it. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with that – I’ve been known to put chicken in, too, for extra badness. I relied on that vague knowledge rather than looking up a recipe, and kind of freestyled it. My main learning point was to have everything ready ahead of time, and then have a nice relaxed journey through from bringing the pasta to the boil to eating the finished product. I learned this by doing quite the opposite first time, most notably in the form of forgetting to grate any cheese until I was ready to add it, then realising that I’d have to try to keep everything warm while I got that ready… So, ingredients and method for carbonara for two as follows. Making it look like the Flying Spaghetti Monster is optional:
- 160g wholewheat spaghetti (or normal, but wholewheat makes me feel less guilty)
- spot of olive oil
- half an onion, diced
- one extraordinarily large garlic clove, or two normal ones, minced or finely chopped
- 8 slices smoked bacon (should be pancetta), chopped
- three egg yolks, separated from the whites and beaten
- 75g parmesan, grated
- handful of flat parsley leaves, chopped finely
- freshly ground black pepper
As mentioned, it’s best to have everything prepared first off. Then get the pasta into a big pot of boiling, salted water. Put the onion and garlic into an even bigger pot, with the spot of oil. Cook over a medium heat until the onion is translucent, about three or four minutes, then add the bacon and cook for a further six or seven. You want whatever fat is on the meat to render down, it’s all part of the flavour, though I did choose lean rashers out of habit. By this time the pasta should be cooked; drain it, but don’t be too particular about getting all the water out. You want to keep some in there to help the egg and cheese to hold to the pasta – it’s something to do with the starch that helps it to stick. Put the pasta in with the onion, garlic and bacon and toss through. Then remove the pot from the heat and stir in the egg yolks, making sure to stir through quickly to allow them to coat the pasta without scrambling. Then tip in the parmesan and mix through again. I found that putting a lid on the pot at this point, just for a minute or so, helped to melt the cheese without overheating the eggs. Once the cheese is mixed in, add plenty of freshly ground black pepper, the chopped parsley, and serve. You probably won’t need salt, with the smoked bacon, but of course it’s down to taste. A good back up plan is to hold back some of the pasta water in case the end result is too dry or anything, a tablespoon or so of the starchy water will thin it out without making it watery.
That is all I have to say about carbonara, except that I really enjoyed my own efforts, as usual, and will make it again without any of the fear I’ve previously had of making spaghetti and scrambled eggs by accident.