Cracking the Carbonara CodePosted: April 1, 2011
This week I learned some interesting things about Pasta alla Carbonara. Did you know that carbonaro means charcoal burner in Italian? It’s even rumored that the dish was either created by or named in honor of secret society of Italian charcoal men.
Or, that the rich sauce is typically made with just eggs, parmesan and pepper? Traditionalists don’t use milk or cream to thicken it. And lately, it seems to be a very popular dish for late-night restaurants, because it’s made using common ingredients and can be whipped up in a flash. Or so they say. I decided to see for myself.
But first, a small confession. Before making my version of pasta carbonara, I wasn’t a big fan. I really don’t know why — bacon, eggs, parmesan and spaghetti are all things I love. But for some reason it always seemed greasy and heavy. So, I wanted to do away with all of that and make something that I’d love. I also added a few things (mushrooms, spinach leaves) so it wasn’t ALL bacon, eggs and cheese. And it really does come together fast.
– 1/2 lb of spaghetti
– 4 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
– 2 large handfuls of baby spinach
– 1 cup of crimini mushrooms, diced
– 4 eggs
– 1 cup of grated pecorino romano cheese, plus a little more to sprinkle on top
– Salt & pepper
– Cracked red pepper flakes
Start by boiling a pot of salted water. Because everything needs to happen all at once, it’s best to have the water ready to go for the spaghetti.
Next, fry the bacon on medium heat in a large pan. (I used the biggest pan I have, since everything is mixed together at the end.) When cooked, place on a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Once the bacon is done, add your spaghetti to the boiling water and cook until al dente.
Then saute the mushrooms for about 3 or 4 minutes in the bacon fat. (You can add a little extra oil or butter if you want.) Then add the spinach, season with salt & pepper and saute another 4 minutes. Then add the bacon back to the pan.
Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a medium-sized bowl. Add the pecorino romano, salt & pepper to taste, a few sprinkles of cracked red pepper flakes and mix really well with a fork. Set aside.
When the spaghetti is ready, drain and add it to the pan with the bacon, mushrooms and spinach. Turn the heat down to low, and add the egg and cheese mixture. Stir everything together, and keep stirring, for about 1 minute until it turns into a creamy sauce. Be careful that the pan isn’t too hot because the eggs could scramble — and you don’t want scrambled eggs and pasta. Or, maybe you do. But that’s a different recipe. After a minute or so, it’s ready to eat.
You’ll discover that the dish isn’t heavy or greasy. Instead, the eggs and cheese form this unbelievably smooth and creamy sauce. It’s really flavorful, and the pecorino gives it a nice salty bite. The fact that this dish comes together so quickly is also a plus. Pair it with garlic bread and a simple salad — and presto! — you’ve got the perfect Italian meal fit for any night of the week.
If there really is a secret society based around this dish, sign me up.