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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Authentic Spaghetti Alla Carbonara Take II

Rich, creamy, a little salty, and slightly smokey--traditional spaghetti alla carbonara is simple.  It's made with only 6 ingredients--pork jowl bacon, egg yolk, pecorino cheese, olive oil, salt, pepper.  Although you may not be familiar with it right off, it is super cheap and easy to find.  It is exactly what's used in the traditional carbonara sauce in Italy, where it is called guanciale (wahn CHA Leh).  Pork jowl is the cheek meat of the pig.  It is very flavorful and is similar to regular bacon in the way that it cooks and tastes.  

Spaghetti alla carbonara falls into the category of primi piatti in Italy.  Primi piatti are things like rice, pasta, and other starches that are eaten alongside a meat dish.  Although we are accustomed to having the chicken mixed into our spaghetti  alla carbonara here in the U.S., it is traditionally served alongside a chicken main course.

Traditional spaghetti alla carbonara contains absolutely no cream, nor does it contain pancetta.  The pancetta piece is changing and some people have become more flexible on that aspect.  For those who are lactose intolerant, the technique used for this recipe is a great way to get creamy sauces without the use of milk or cream.  The creaminess comes from the combination of egg yolks and Parmesan cheese.  Since Parmesan is a much drier cheese it generally does not cause a negative reaction in those who have a lactose intolerance.  Even for those who are not lactose intolerant, you get the benefits of a nice, rich, and creamy sauce without the gross feeling that cream-based sauces often leave you with.  


Ingredients: 350 grams of pasta, 150g (~1cup) of pork jowl bacon, 2TB of olive oil, 1 egg, 4 egg yolks, 100 grams  (~1cup) of pecorino cheese*, cracked black pepper to taste + salt, and 1 garlic clove, sliced 

*I use grated parmesan in the can because that's what I have around, and it's more economical

Cook pasta until al dente in salted water with the sliced garlic clove.  The pasta soaks up all of that yummy garlickiness, mmm!  You can leave the garlic pieces behind once you strain the pasta.

Fry pork jowl  over medium heat in a TB or two of olive oil.  Yes, this is necessary because otherwise it will stick to the pan.

Continue frying until crisp

Whisk the 1 egg and four yolks.  Once eggs are broken, whisk in parmesan until evenly blended.  Add in cracked black pepper to taste.

Once jowl bacon is crispy, immediately whisk it, along with all of the fat from the frying pan, into egg and parmesan mixture until homogeneous.  

Once the pasta is al dente, strain it lightly, leaving in some of the pasta water.  Immediately toss into into the egg mixture until the sauce has time to thicken and cook.  You must add the pasta immediately after cooking to fully cook the sauce.  Add more pasta water for a thinner sauce.  

Don't worry raw egg police, there is not an egg in the world that won't cook once you pour boiling hot oil, pasta and water over it.  Since the sauce is mostly yolk, and since it's mixed with Parmesan, no curdling! 
 Enjoy :)!

Before you comment on my unconventional method of cooking pasta, let me explain.  When I first moved to my new apartment, all of my things were still in storage because I waited until the last minute to schedule the delivery of my storage cube.  During that time, of course I was itching to cook, so I purchased a couple of cheap pans to hold me over.  I wanted to make pasta one day but I had not pots, so I improvised and made my pasta in a large pan.  The water reaches a boil much more quickly, thus it saves energy, and it holds the perfect amount of water to cover the pasta if you're only cooking for one or two people.  I've been cooking my pasta in a pan ever since.

References: (in Italian).  I learned this wonderful recipe thanks to my favorite Italian chef, Sonia Peronaci of :).

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