I get really great gifts this time of year. It’s not only Christmas, it’s my birthday too. My husband always comes through with great jewelry and usually something technological (I’m hoping for a new camera). But one of the gifts I always look forward to is the one from my neighbor Marisa, in Todi.
I’ve mentioned Marisa’s gifts already in the past (truffles? too many truffles?) Last Tuesday Domenico came back from Todi with the biggest, plumpest chicken I’ve ever seen. While I put that in the freezer, I have been cooking all week with the other part of my gift: three dozen farm-fresh eggs.
Today is Sunday, and like the true Italian mama that I have morphed into over the years, I am making pasta for lunch. The combination of the gift of eggs plus Sophie being home from college means one thing, and one thing only: carbonara.
In my last post my friend Ari told you a bit about guanciale. In preparation for Sophie’s visit I bought an entire guanciale last week. Let me tell you, happiness is having a whole guanciale in the house. It really does come in handy.
Another reason I decided to write about carbonara today – besides the early eggy christmas present – is because my friend Edward wrote to ask me for a recipe. He was complaining that the carbonara you get in the New York is too often like Pasta Alfredo, with heavy cream. For the record: heavy cream has no business even being in the same room as carbonara. So, Edward, this is for you: Classic Carbonara.
1 pound linguine (or pasta of your choice)
3 thick slices of guanciale
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
4 egg yolks
1 egg white
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
freshly grated pepper
I know I repeat this over and over, but with these simple recipes, ingredients make all the difference. If you can get imported pasta, then use it here. I love Faella, which comes from Gragnano, outside of Naples (I get mine in Orte). Guanciale: I know it’s hard to find, and there are a few sources in Ari’s post. If you have to substitute thick-cut bacon, that’s ok, but not smoked. And definitely not lean! (you want that fat). Eggs are the main ingredient here, and you will be eating them raw. So…farmer’s market, fresh please, if possible.
Chop guanciale into small cubes. Heat a pan big enough to hold all the pasta, and pour in the olive oil. Add guanciale and let cook until the guanciale starts to give up its fat, and get crisp at the edges. (But you want it to stay chewy, not get brown and hard like bacon). Turn off heat. (Do I have to say it? Do not drain the fat? Well, I’ll say it: do not drain the fat. This is one of the main ingredients of this dish. If you want something with no pork fat, this dish isn’t for you)
In a large serving bowl put the four egg yolks and 1 egg white. Beat just to break up the yolks. Add the grated cheese and pepper and mix well with fork, creating a creamy ‘sauce.’ I find this is the secret to a great carbonara, mixing the grated cheese with the yolks before you add the pasta.
Bring a big pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook until on the hard side of al dente (you will be adding the pasta to the hot guanciale and also letting it sit a bit with the yolk/cheese mixture, so you don’t want to over cook).
In the meantime re- heat the quanciale.
Drain the pasta, reserving a half cup of the hot pasta water. Add drained pasta to the pan with quanciale, stirring and making sure you coat the pasta well with the contents of the pan.
Turn off heat and add pasta to the bowl with the yolk/egg mixture. Toss well, adding a bit of the reserved water if you think it is too thick. Cover the bowl with a lid, and let sit for 2 minutes, to let the egg set a bit. Take off the lid, stir one more time and serve.