Spaghetti alla Carbonara

September 12, 2010

I love a pasta dish that can be whipped up in half an hour. And when all of its ingredients are something I almost always have on hand, it’s even better. A few dishes that meet this criteria come to mind, such as Aglio, Olio, Pepperoncino — garlic and hot red peppers sauteed in a healthy dose of quality olive oil. Italians nicknamed this dish Pasta di Mezzanotte (Midnight Pasta) because it’s so quick and easy, it’s often the first choice when one comes home hungry after a night on the town. And there’s Penne and Broccoli, Tuna and Capers, Butter and Parmigiano, but my hands-down favorite is Spaghetti all Carbonara. It’s packed with protein and bursting with flavor. And when properly made, it’s creamy, deeply satisfying and the perfect choice for spur-of-the-moment guests.

30-Minutes or Less to Carbonara!

What you’ll need:

  • 1 pound Spaghetti
  • 1 medium onion, chopped small (not fine)
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 8 slices good bacon (I prefer thick-sliced)
  • 3 – 4 eggs *
  • 1 – 2 Tablespoons parsley (depends on your taste and how fresh and pungent your parsley is)
  • 1/2 cup fresh-grated Parmigiano cheese
  • Fresh ground pepper

* Properly made, this dish uses barely cooked eggs. As with past recipes I’ve posted,  using uncooked or barely cooked eggs comes with a warning: Although FRESH raw eggs do not usually carry Salmonella or other bacteria, it is possible. Such bacteria can be dangerous to small children, elderly, and sick people. Only use fresh eggs from a trusted source. (Thank you Ian!) If you’re not comfortable consuming raw eggs, you can buy pasteurized eggs or pasteurize your own (directions easily found online).

To Make Spaghetti all Carbonara:

  1. Start heating your pasta water and add a healthy dose of rock salt. (Eating under-salted pasta is like eating under-salted bread: bland, bland, bland. Serving a great sauce over unsalted or under-salted pasta will not do the meal justice. Remember, your pasta only absorbs a portion of the water, and therefore only a portion of the salt. The rest goes down the drain with the excess water.)
  2. In a frying pan large enough to hold the cooked pasta and the sauce, melt the butter and saute the chopped onions over medium heat. After a few minutes, when the onions soften but before they start to brown, add the bacon and the wine. Cook until the wine evaporates then remove from heat. As it is boiled rather than fried, the bacon will not (and should not) crisp. The time it takes for the wine to evaporate is plenty enough to fully cook the pork.
  3. Keep an eye on your pasta water. As soon as it boils, add the spaghetti and cook al dente.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the parsley, cheese and pepper.  (Beautiful bowl made by Eugene Saturday Market potter Amy Palatnick.)
  5. Strain the cooked pasta, reserving a tablespoon or two of cooking liquid, and add the pasta to the pan with the bacon, onions and butter. Turn the burner back on and toss with the hot oil. When the spaghetti is well-coated, REMOVE FROM HEAT. Add the egg, parsley and cheese mix and toss to mix well. Serve immediately, preferably with a loaf of crusty bread and a nice bottle of red.

DO NOT COOK THE EGGS. Spaghetti alla Carbonara should never NEVER never resemble spaghetti and scrambled eggs. The hot oil and pasta will heat the eggs and they may firm up in spots, but the sauce should still have a creamy appearance.

Buon Appetito!

Kitchen Tip: Parmigiano cheese condenses a sauce and will over-thicken it if too much is used. When recipes call for a lot of cheese, add it slowly so you can gauge when taste and consistency are in balance. In this recipe, where it’s mixed in with other ingredients, keep a few tablespoons of pasta water on hand. If the sauce dries out too much, toss in the pasta water a tablespoon at a time until it looks right.

Enjoy ~

Make your own Pizza Stone

September 4, 2010

As promised, a post about my homemade pizza stone. Here it is in action, baking yesterday’s lunch: roasted duck,  caramelized onion, sage and mozzarella pizza. (No, I did not roast a duck for this pizza. As I said in my pizza post, think leftovers and get creative with your toppings!)

Caramelized Onion, Duck & Sage Pizza

Where to start:

  • Measure the barbecue or oven you’ll be using the stone in, and find the the best-sized tray to fit your space and your needs, the heavier duty the better. I use an undersized cookie sheet only because I have yet to locate a 16″ x 22″ industrial baking sheet.
  • Locate enough firebricks to fit your tray. The ones I found are 4 3/8″ x 9″ x 1 1/4.” If I remember correctly, they were only a few dollars each. Bought them at Willamette Greystone, a local vendor for concrete and rock products.Fire Brick

Now all you have to do is get the bricks to fit into the tray. Owning, begging or borrowing a wet saw makes this whole process easier, but it’s also relatively inexpensive to rent one. If you’re only clipping corners, a cheap masonry bit on a circular saw will do your trick. Even better: Find your fire bricks at a hardware store that offers a few free cuts with a purchase, and they’ll do the work for you. If none of the above is doable, find a tray that will fit full-sized bricks without making any cuts.

WELL-Seasoned Pizza Stone

Here’s another idea: Maybe the bricks could be placed directly on the grate. They’re weighty enough that they’re not likely to move around to much during the cooking process… Only time I see it as a hassle is when you’re baking bread just before barbecuing a main course, but a heavy-duty hot pad and sturdy metal spatula might make it simple enough to remove them one by one. No cuts. No tray. Hmmm…

As with just about everything, there’s room for improvement here.

My brother is currently experimenting with bricks cut down to half their thickness. If this doesn’t make them too fragile, may be the way to go as they’ll heat faster and therefore cut down on prep time for breads and pizzas. Also need to make sure they don’t heat too quickly in relation to the barbecue’s ambient heat, meaning the bottom of a pizza or loaf would overcook by the time the top is ready…

If only the process of removing one pizza and inserting another didn’t let most of the heat out of my barbecue… but until the time comes to build one of these, my homemade pizza stone will do just fine.

Forno Bravo Pizza Oven

Forno Bravo Pizza Oven


P.S.  Coming soon: Pesto! Pesto! Pesto!