Sunday, September 9, 2007

Recipe of the week: Pasta Carbonara

The recipe of the week is for a simple and delicious Italian dish that I have eaten in restaurants but have only ever made once myself. In that recipe, like in the Silver Palate recipe below, pancetta (Italian bacon) was replaced by regular bacon. I was unhappy with that recipe and decided to try the Silver Palate version.

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The recipe:

Serves 4-6.

500 g (1 lb) thick-sliced bacon, diced
2 tbs salt (I am inclined to think this is an error and it must be 2 tsp)
500 g (1 lb) spaghetti or linguine
3 eggs
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Sautée the bacon in a skillet until crisp. Remove and drain well on paper towels

Bring 4 liters (4 quarts) of water to the boil in a large soup pot. Add the salt and drop in the pasta. Stir to separate the strands. Cook until al dente (tender but not mushy) according to instructions on packaging (if you make it yourself, you will know best yourself when it is cooked).

While the pasta cooks, beat the eggs well in a serving bowl large enough to take the cooked pasta and other ingredients. Have the bacon and parsley at hand.

When the pasta is cooked, drain quickly in a colander and shake briefly to get rid of excess water.

Pour the drained hot spaghetti into the bowl of eggs and immediately begin tossing it. Toss until the pasta is coated with egg and the heat of the pasta has cooked the eggs.

Add the bacon and parsley, toss again to mix and serve immediately. Grated Parmesan is delicious with this dish, freshly ground black pepper is essential.

My alterations and substitutions:

The book mentions that in the original authentic dish pancetta or proscuitto would be used, and I decided to try it with Proscuitto di Parma: dry-cured ham from Parma. Knowing that Parma ham is both saltier and more flavourful than the local bacon, I used less of it than I would have of bacon. Additionally, I was unable to get Italian parsley, and had to use curly parsley instead. I used a lot less salt than the recipe calls for, since I knew the ham would add to the saltiness of the dish.

Since there were only two of us, my mother and myself, I made half a recipe. The final recipe I used looked like this:

160 g Parma ham, thin slices cut into small squares and sautéed until cooked through but not crisp (about 1 minute)
1/2 tsp salt
250 g spaghetti
2 small eggs
About 1 1/2 tbs curly parsley
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste (as you can see in the photo, I had not added the pepper when it was taken – in fact we had started eating when I remembered the pepper and added it, and we agreed that the pepper was a good but not necessary addition)
Grated Parmesan cheese (we tried it, but decided the dish was better without it)

The instructions are the same as for the above version.

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Magnifico! This is such a simple dish, and it is so good. I like it with bacon, but with proscuitto it it is simply delicious.

The halved amount of proscuitto was just right. If I had used more the dish would have been too salty. The rich, salty flavour of proscuitto, the freshness of the parsley and the mild flavour of pasta and eggs combine beautifully and deliciously and this dish will definitely be going in my recipe notebook for further use.

My mother is already "threatening" to make me cook it for her again.

More information about carbonara
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