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Here is a centuries old recipe for people who love to eat good food but don’t want to spend lots of time cooking. An Italian classic, it is foolproof, calls for only 6 or 7 ingredients and takes no more than 20 minutes from start to finish, including pasta-cooking time.

Despite the fact that it is included on many pasta menus, this classic (and by far the better) version it is almost impossible to find the in most American restaurants. Why? Because they make it with cream or a béchamel rather than eggs so it will hold for hours.

Pasta Alla Carbonara
Serves 4

Ready to eat Bucatini Alla Carbonara. Note the light, egg-cheese and olive oil sauce on every strand of pasta. No cream or white sauce here!

Hints

  1. Italian tradition calls for spaghetti or bucatini (shape of spaghetti but thicker, with a hollow center). Thin (half-inch) fettuccini works well too.
  2. Dry pasta takes about 12-15 minutes to cook; fresh pasta takes 3-4 minutes. If you use dry pasta make the sauce while the pasta cooks. If you use fresh, put the pasta in the pot just before adding the eggs to the meat.
  3. Either pancetta or guanciale, both cured cuts of pork, are the meat of classic Carbonara sauce. Pancetta is Italian bacon. American brands are available in most large supermarkets; Italian imports are in specialty food stores. American-made often comes pre sliced for sandwiches, with slices so thin that they are almost impossible to separate and/or cut into bite-size pieces. Guanciale comes from the jowl or cheek of the pig and is not readily available. I sometimes substitute high quality, milder smoke bacon (definitely not maple sugar cured!).
  4. In classic recipes the garlic is removed and discarded after it has cooked with the meat. I happen to like its flavor so I remove and slice it, then return it to the pan.
  5. Because I grow Italian parsley year round and like the bright green accent, I mince some and sprinkle it over the finished plates as garnish; it is not necessary. “Northwesty”, yes; classic Italian, no.
  6. The cheese is salty enough that you may not want extra salt. I add freshly ground pepper at the table.

Seven simple ingredients. This time I used a combination of good quality, light cured bacon and pancetta (not pre-sliced). Actually the olive oil isn’t Kelly green; the light was weird. Note the bucatini, slightly thicker than spaghetti

Ingredients

1# uncooked spaghetti or bucatini pasta
2-3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
4oz. pancetta, guanciale or bacon, cut into pieces
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 large eggs, room temperature, beaten with a fork to blend the yolks and whites
¾ cup medium grated Pecorino or Parmegiano Reggiano
2-3 tbs. minced fresh Italian parsley

Procedure

  1. Boil water in a large pot. Add dried pasta and stir a little to keep pasta from sticking.
  2. In a skillet large enough to hold the cooked pasta, cook garlic and meat over medium heat until the meat is firm but not at all crisp. Add 1 or 2 tbs. olive oil to keep it from sticking. Use less olive oil for bacon. Remove and discard garlic.
  3. The cooked pancetta is darker than the cooked bacon. Olive oil has just been added.

  4. Blend about 2 tbs. of the grated cheese into the beaten eggs.
  5. Medium grated mixture of Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino

  6. Drain cooked pasta using some of the hot water to heat pasta bowls. Add drained pasta to the cooked meat, and over low heat, add egg mixture and ½ cup of the grated cheese. Mix with tongs or large forks until it’s all combined with a light coating of sauce. Do not let the eggs set up.
  7. Empty water from heated bowls and divide pasta among them. Garnish with remaining cheese and parsley. Serve immediately.

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