I'm going to quote myself.
I know, it sounds boldly presumptuous. But I'm going to do it in order to introduce a recipe–which is the topic of my quote–and thus invalidate my quote. Convoluted much? Please, keep reading.
Two years ago I wrote a post listing the most off-limits foods to serve at a meal, taking into account everyday ethical choices, idiosyncrasies, eating whims and food snobism. One of the items on that list was Carbonara.
Here's the quote. I described it as, «Easy dish but so hard to make well. The danger between obtaining "scrambled eggs" and "quick setting cement" walks a very fine line.» One other fact I failed to mention is that the eggs in properly prepared carbonara are essentially raw.
That said, I'd like to share the recipe as one of my culinary strong points, and overrule my carbonara embargo. I should do this because some folks have never tasted the real carbonara (I've heard of chefs that make it with heavy cream, béchamel... mayonnaise, even!). Others don't cook it because they can't overcome the anxiety of figuring out correct heat and timing, factors that divide carbonara into "good" carbonara, and "awful" carbonara. And some people simply freak out about the raw eggs.
I'd like you to read on, and possibly make some at home tonight. The ingredients for carbonara are not hard to find.
Make some, and then you can decide to ratify or reject the carbonara moratorium.
In the meantime, the usual historic note. I'll make it short.
Carbonari were 19th century freedom fighters called 'charcoal burners' perhaps because of their camouflage black face paint (carbone = coal). The revolutionary secret society's goals were patriotic and liberal, and they played an important role in Italy's Risorgimento.
Some believe that the dish was once popular with these fugitives who lived on the mountains near Rome, because the ingredients were easily portable and cooking was fairly uncomplicated. Some others attribute the birth of carbonara to American allies putting breakfast of bacon and eggs on pasta.
Whatever the origin, this dish is a cucina romana stalwart.
To make the real rebellious carbonara for 4 you'll need:
500 g (1.1 lb) spaghetti, I also make it with rigatoni or any thumb-length, ribbed tube pasta
200 g (1 cup) guanciale, cubed or thinly sliced in strips (can be substituted with unsmoked pancetta or bacon)
1 egg + 4 yolks
1/2 cup each Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a gallon of cold water to a rolling boil, adding a fistful of salt when the surface of the water begins to tremble. Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Do. Not. Overcook.
While the pasta boils, sizzle the strips or cubes of guanciale in a hot skillet for about 10 minutes over a low flame, until the fat is translucent, crisp and barely browned. Remove skillet from the stove, discard the rendered fat, blot the cooked pork on kitchen towels and keep aside.
In a large serving bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks, grated cheeses and pepper. Blend well into a yellow paste. I use a fork for this.
When the cooking timer rings, using tongs, fish out the pasta from the boiling water, and immediately toss it into the bowl with the eggy mixture, place the bowl over the pot of boiling water and blend vigorously using your fork. This way you're cooking the egg AND coating the pasta, clever you!
You don't want the egg to set with the heat of the pasta (that's frittata) you want to evenly coat it, while cooking.
If you see the sauce is too dry you can add a slug of starchy cooking water and keep blending the silky delight. Taste and add more salty cheese and ground black pepper, if necessary.
Garnish with the fried pork. Done.