Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Spaghetti alla Carbonara--also known as "coal miner's wife spaghetti--is one of the easiest Italian pasta dishes I've ever discovered. It's perfect for weeknight dinners, because it is traditionally made with only five ingredients, cooks up in less than 30 minutes, and is super easy to make. My love requests for this dish all the time, and I am always more than happy to make it for him.

My version of Spaghetti alla Carbonara contains one extra ingredient--garlic. I decided to add garlic because well, I love garlic.


You're going to need: spaghetti, pancetta, garlic, eggs, Pecorino Romano cheese, and freshly ground black pepper.


Preheat a large skillet over medium heat. Dice up the pancetta into small cubes and add it to the skillet when it is hot enough. So far so good, right?


In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add salt (a lot of it) and the spaghetti.


Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, grate the Pecorino Romano cheese and mix it well with two eggs.


When the pancetta turns crisp, add the garlic.


When the pasta is done or "al dente", add the pasta to the pancetta and garlic...


...and mix mix mix!


Remove the skillet from the heat. Now comes the most strenuous part of the cooking process: add the egg/cheese mixture to the pasta, and stir as fast as you can (without making mess)! Not stirring fast enough will only scramble the eggs!


Add a little bit of the pasta water and freshly ground black pepper to taste.


Mix the pasta again one last time, and presto! You're done! (For all you cheese lovers out there, you can most certainly add more cheese! I did!)


Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Serves 2-4

Ingredients

    1 pound dry spaghetti
    8 ounces pancetta or slab bacon, cubed or sliced into small strips (see Cook’s Note)
    4 garlic cloves, minced (see Cook’s Note)
    2 large eggs
    1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano, plus more for serving
    Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready when the sauce is finished; it is very important that the pasta is hot when adding the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs in the sauce.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook until it is “al dente”, tender yet still firm to the bite, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, sauté the pancetta over a medium flame for about 6 to 8 minutes, until it is crisp and the fat is rendered. Toss the garlic into the fat and sauté for less than 1 minute to soften.

Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands in the bacon fat. Beat the eggs and Pecorino Romano together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta, whisking quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble (this is done off the heat to ensure this does not happen.) Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches desired consistency. Season the carbonara with freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. Mound the spaghetti carbonara into warm serving bowls. Grate more cheese over the top if you'd like!

Cook’s Note:

-    Carbonara is traditionally made with guanciale, not pancetta or bacon. However, it is extremely difficult to find (at least where I live). If you can find it, use it! It has a higher fat-to-meat ratio than pancetta, so it has a lot more flavor!

Carbonara is actually made with only 5 ingredients: spaghetti, guanciale (or pancetta), eggs, Pecorino Romano, and black pepper. I add garlic because I happen to like the flavor it gives the carbonara. For a more intense garlic flavor, cook it a little less than the time stated in the recipe. For a more subtle flavor, cook it a little longer. Just don’t burn it! (I love the flavor of garlic, so I’ll cook it for only a few seconds!)

***The best place I've been able to find pancetta has been at Whole Foods in the fresh cured meats/cheese/deli section. Another place I've found pancetta is at Trader Joe's, but it's not as good. If you live in Seattle, I highly recommend that you check out Salumi--they make their own pancetta and the flavor is the best I've ever come across! Plus Mario Batali's family owns that shop (for all you Food Network/foodie fans)!***