Peggy Lampman's Thursday dinnerFeed: Spaghetti carbonara
Peggy Lampman | Contributor
My persona must scream "American tourist" when dining in these countries, as waiters automatically hand me the dubious sheet. I'm highly suspicious of these menus, concerned this "tourist menu" food isn't as deliciously authentic as are the items on the regular menu.
I especially bridle, in Italy for example, I see the "bacon and egg" spaghetti on the "tourist menu." On the "Italian menu," the corresponding item is "Spaghetti alla Carbonara".
What menu item could possibly sound more anglicized than "Spaghetti with Bacon and Eggs"? "Spaghetti with Cheese-Burger," perhaps? Hold the fries.
Guiliano Bugialli, cookbook author and veritable master of Italian cuisine, specifically instructs not to use bacon when preparing this dish. "Pancetta", he writes in his carbonara recipe headnote, "of course, is not bacon, because it is not smoked; do not substitute bacon."
Through the years I've taken several of Bugialli's cooking classes, and he's achieved "guru" status with me. I don't take many liberties with his recipes; therefore, I don't substitute bacon for pancetta. (Shhhh...keep this to yourself...quality smoked bacon is delicious substituted for pancetta in this recipe!)
Spaghetti carbonara, compared to many national dishes, is a relative newcomer. Wikipedia dates its genesis to mid-20th Century and notes that carbonara's legends are vague. The name is derived from the Italian word for charcoal; therefore some believe that the dish was first made as a meal for Italian charcoal workers. Others say it was initially made by the Italians, using the rations of eggs and bacon brought over by Americans in World War II.
Whatever its origins, the recipe has survived because it is delicious! Admittedly, it's a rich dish, perhaps to be avoided if cholesterol is a concern. In its defense, many other recipes calling themselves a Carbonara are twice as caloric, liberally bathing themselves in additional butter and cream. I simply added a bit more pancetta and Parmesan than the Bugialli recipe calls for.
I do, however, insist my pasta, pancetta, olive oil and cheese be the finest my pocket will allow. I purchased my pancetta at Sparrow Market in Kerrytown. Excellent Parmesan and Pecorino may be bought there, as well,or at Zingerman's and many local groceries in town.
If good fortune finds me dining in Italy again, I'll dress like an Italian fashionista. I'll hide my camera, fanny pack and passport "necklace" under a fabulous shawl. I'll wear knock-off Armani, over-sized shades and replace my running shoes with spiked heels. l only hope my menu-translation guide won't give me away!
Yield: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
Cost: Approx. $9.50
Recipe adapted from Guiliano Bugialli's "Spaghetti alla Carbonara" (The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, 1977)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces pancetta, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large eggs, whisked
1 cup grated Parmigianno Reggiano plus additional for grating*
1 pound spaghetti
*Pecorino Romano may be used as a substitution, or in addition to, the Parmesan.
1. In a heavy-bottomed sautÃ© pan over low heat, heat the olive oil and sautÃ© the pancetta, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until most of the fat is rendered from the pancetta and it is lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
2. While pancetta is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions, until it is tender but firm.
3. Warm a large bowl by filling it with hot water; drain water, then whisk the egg and cheese together in heated bowl. After spaghetti has just been drained, immediately toss hot spaghetti with the egg and cheese mixture, pancetta and any fat remaining in the sautÃ© pan.
4. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Pass additional Parmesan and the pepper grinder.