As you already know, I'm obsessed with authenticity — most of all in Italian cooking. There is of course only one correct way to make a given Italian dish, and any deviation from that is utterly unacceptable. Don't even think about giving me that "but it tastes good and I like it" bullshit, either.
For those of you unaccustomed to sarcasm, the truth probably lies somewhere in between the extremes of culinary dogmatism and liberalism. If the meatiness of a bolognese sauce can be enhanced with star anise, surely this addition is true to the 'spirit' of ragu alla bolognese. When it comes to a dish such as spaghetti carbonara, the spirit of the dish is simplicity. Add onions, garlic, mushrooms, parsley, chili, spinach, whatever you like, but when it stops being about simple flavours it stops being a carbonara (as much as you might enjoy it).
'Traditional' spaghetti carbonara is made from pasta, eggs, guanciale (cured pork cheek; pancetta or bacon are okay), hard Italian cheese, and pepper. To my tastes, you really don't need any more ingredients. The addition of cream dilutes the sauce's delicate egg flavour, and in terms of texture it simply isn't necessary for a creamy, full-bodied sauce. Use the best quality ingredients you can find. Try it with guanciale at least once, and for the cheese use parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, or a mixture of the two.
When bringing pasta and sauce together, the books say that adding the hot pasta to the egg mixture is enough to cook the sauce. In my experience this isn't enough, so add the pasta to the uncooked sauce in a pan and toss over heat. Make sure you keep it moving in the pan once it gets hot to stop areas from overcooking &mdash the better you get at this, the quicker and hotter you'll be able to do it. This recipe serves 2, but it scales easily (making more than 5 servings at a time could get challenging). For a main meal, use 100 g pasta and one egg per person.
Ingredients (serves 2):
- 200 g spaghetti
- 70 g guanciale/pancetta/bacon, chopped into pieces
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup of hard italian cheese (parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, or a mixture)
- Plenty of freshly cracked black pepper
1. Cook the spaghetti until almost al dente in boiling, salted water while you make the sauce.
2. Sauté the guanciale in a medium-hot pan until it is crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle. Remove from the heat and add a tablespoon of cold water to bring the pan temperature down (this will evaporate, and if it doesn't it won't matter).
3. Add the eggs and cheese to the cooled pan and lightly whisk the egg mixture.
4. When the spaghetti is almost al dente, drain quickly (or just pull it out with tongs) and add to the egg mixture. Toss this over heat until the egg mixture thickens and coats the spaghetti. Add a generous amount of black pepper, toss to combine, and serve.