How To Cook The Perfect Spaghetti Carbonara
Spaghetti carbonara is one of the most familiar Italian dishes on the family menu today.
Nobody knows exactly where in Italy it comes from (Rome shouts the loudest but there’s no conclusive proof that this is right) but we do know it was named after the “carbonai” the charcoal burners who would have eaten a lot of this dish which could easily be prepared over a fire.
Some, however, claim that this is not true. That, in fact, the dish was created for American servicemen during the 2nd World War as they brought their eggs and bacon rations to local chefs to turn them into something more interesting. This doesn’t appear to be true but is an interesting alternative idea.
What Pasta To Choose For Your Carbonara?
As with all pasta dishes there’s no good reason that you can’t use your pasta of choice for adding a carbonara sauce to but let’s be fair about this – the name of the dish is spaghetti carbonara and not tagliatelle carbonara.
So, we opt for spaghetti partly from traditionalism but also, partly, because we think it works best with the rich sauce. Some do insist on macaroni as an alternative, but we don’t find it as much fun as spaghetti.
What Goes In The Sauce For The Carbonara?
The biggest argument among top chefs when it comes to carbonara is how the sauce will be made. You see there are 3 main options for the base ingredients of the sauce: eggs and butter, cream and butter and the purists who prefer only eggs.
It is fair to say that the traditionalists are right that cream would not have been part of the original Italian dish if it was made by “carbonai”. That’s because cream would have quickly soured on any journey of substance.
We reject it not because of tradition but because we think it’s too much. This is a dish of plenty of rich fatty flavors already, why do we need another?
Thus we turn to the butter and ask ourselves the same question; is this necessary? We certainly preferred butter to cream when testing alternative recipes but in the end, we reached the same conclusion – there’s enough flavor with just the eggs, why add more fat to a dish when you don’t have to?
So, our perfect carbonara relies solely on eggs in the sauce with a little assistance from the fat from the pork we use.
How Do We Treat The Eggs In A Carbonara?
Even when we get to using “just eggs”, there’s a debate over how to approach the perfect carbonara. Some chefs insist that we use only egg yolks and others like to use the whole of the egg.
Which camp did we fall into? We don’t dislike the egg yolks only approach but when combined with a ton of cheese and pork fat, we also find it to be a little rich for our tastes. We also found that using just whole eggs was a little bland. So, we went halfway between the two – whole eggs but with a bonus egg yolk (or two depending on how many you’re cooking for) gave it the creaminess we wanted.
Do We Use Bacon In A Traditional Carbonara?
It’s fair to say that the Italians don’t use streaky bacon or back bacon as we do in the United States. They use pancetta which is a cured pork product that doesn’t come in thin slices but rather a great big slab.
We also want to say that pancetta is our first choice for the perfect carbonara. It’s a less sentimental flavor than bacon and gives it a better overall taste.
However, we also now that pancetta is not always available. So, if you can’t get it – a smoked streaky bacon (you need the fat) is a solid alternative.
Let’s Talk Cheese And Carbonara
Spaghetti carbonara is a cheese dish. It requires lots and lots of cheese. If you’re squeamish about cheese – this is not the dish for you. It is the melted cheese that provides the texture and creamy edge to the sauce.
There is near universal agreement on the best cheese for a carbonara sauce – it’s a blend of parmesan and pecorino romano. The latter is a sheep’s milk cheese which is hugely popular in parts of Italy.
What, No Garlic?
Traditionally, pasta carbonara doesn’t contain any garlic. It’s just not done. However, we’ve found that just a hint of garlic can really improve the taste of the dish and our recipe for the perfect carbonara does contain garlic. If it’s not your cup of tea – just leave it out. The recipe works fine without it.
Finally, before we turn to our perfect spaghetti carbonara – let’s talk the seasoning. You need black pepper and lots of it and that’s it. A top-notch spaghetti carbonara doesn’t need green leaves or silly spices; it’s an unpretentious dinner which needs a rock solid seasoning with pepper.
Our Choice For The Best Spaghetti Carbonara And How To Cook It
So, what do we suggest for our recipe? For two people we say:
We like to keep the serving bowls in a low heat oven just to keep them warm. Serving spaghetti carbonara in a cold dish can cause it to congeal.
Then heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the garlic in it. Remove the garlic body from the pan (with a slotted spoon) and dispose of it. Throw in the pancetta and cook well but don’t let it go brown.
At the same time, cook your spaghetti until it’s al dente (to taste) and make sure there’s plenty of salt in the water while you cook it.
Then, turn to the sauce – in a bowl put the eggs, the bonus yolk, and cheese (though save a little parmesan for a garnish) and lots and lots of black pepper and blend them together.
Now, take a cup of water (from the pan you’re cooking the spaghetti in) and put it in the frying pan to just cover the pancetta. Now, take the frying pan off the heat. Add the sauce mixture and the pasta and toss it over and over again. If necessary, you can add a little more pasta water to thin the sauce.
The perfect spaghetti carbonara is not as challenging as it might seem. You just need the right ingredients. Then the rest just falls in line.
It doesn’t take more than 20 minutes to make a meal fit for even the pickiest Italian carbonai.