This is one of my weekday favourites which is so easy yet delicious and satisfying. The only danger is that you might be tempted to throw the egg mix into the pasta while it is still too hot and the egg will split and you’ll end up with bacon scrambled egg spaghetti, not inedible but not very tasty and definitely not what we are aiming for here.
There are as many versions of carbonara as you’d care to google. This one is adapted from a Nigella recipe for two but I am greedy and often eat a big plate by myself. There are broadly two camps of carbonara fans, those who use cream and those who think that cream in carbonara is an abomination, I fall into the latter camp but if you insist on using cream then go ahead, just use two egg yolks instead of one whole and one yolk. It can be scaled up to feed a few more hungry souls but it is quite time sensitive and needs to be served up and eaten as soon as it is ready. It really won’t be nice if you leave it standing for even five minutes. My recipe calls for white wine or a dash of vermouth but you can leave these out and instead use a little of the water the pasta was boiling in. I always have a pack of pancetta in the fridge as it is so cheap, keeps for ages and all the chain supermarkets stock it these days. If you can’t find pancetta for whatever reason then do feel free to use streaky bacon or lardons instead.
CARBONARA - SPAGHETTI, LINGUINE, TAGLIATELLE OR OTHER
- 200 grams Spaghetti or whatever pasta you’re having yourself
- A tablespoon of olive oil for frying the bacon
- 100 g of pancetta or streaky bacon cubed or sliced into thin strips
- 1 clove of garlic (optional but I love the stuff)
- A splash (50ml if you must) of white wine or vermouth or pasta water
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 whole egg
- Lots of freshly ground black pepper
- Freshly ground nutmeg (optional but adds a lovely exotic background taste)
- 20 g freshly grated parmesan or other hard cheese (about 3 or 4 tablespoons)
- A good knob of butter
- Salt for the pasta water
- I use a little splash of extra virgin olive oil at the end to cool down the bacon and add a little fresh taste to everything but totally not essential
Get a big pot of water on to boil for the pasta, use a kettle if you are really in a hurry. Add a good teaspoon or two of salt. Some people put a little oil in their pasta water which supposedly stops the pasta from sticking together but if you use a big enough pot which the pasta has enough room to move about in I find this completely unnecessary. Anyway, throw your pasta in when the water is properly boiling and give it a stir to get all the pasta underwater.
During the meanwhilst, get a medium saucepan onto a low to medium heat and put the oil in there and throw in your pancetta or streaky bacon.
While the pasta boils and the bacon sizzles prepare your eggy mix. Get a bowl and separate one egg using the half a shell to half a shell technique or just crack into your hand and let the white run through your fingers, Nigella advocates keeping whites for a meringue or suchlike but I really can’t be bothered with that and tend to let my whites wash away down the kitchen sink. Put the yolk into a bowl and crack the other whole egg in there with it. Grind in as much black pepper as you like and the nutmeg if you have it, (don’t use the dried powdered stuff here, you’re better off omitting the nutmeg entirely) add the grated cheese and give it a good whisk.
Check your pasta and get back to your bacon... when it starts to brown I add a minced or finely chopped clove of garlic and fry that for a minute then add the wine/vermouth/pasta water and give it a good stir, this ‘deglazes’ the pan which simply means you scrape all the lovely brown bits that stuck to the pan and amalgamates them back into your sauce. Lower the heat and let this reduce down and thicken up for a few minutes. Stir occasionally and with enough time it should reduce down to a thin syrupy kind of consistency. Add the butter and a little extra virgin olive oil at this stage and you are ready to add the pasta to the bacon
When the pasta is cooked to your liking drain it and add to the bacon, you can remove one or the other from the hob to wait if your timing is off, which mine usually is.
Stir the pasta through the oily buttery bacon and take off the heat.
Now wait a minute or two. This is the part where you can turn a delicious Italian classic into a mess of scrambled eggs. Go pour yourself a glass of wine or wash a dish or chop some parsley for garnish or whatever. When the pasta and bacon has stopped being steaming hot give it another stir and add the egg mixture and mix through the pasta. You will know immediately if it is still too hot as the egg will quickly split and scramble, I’d wager that this has happened to everyone who has ever made a carbonara so don’t despair, you won’t starve and you’ll get it right next time. You’ll know you got it right if the egg emulsifies (becomes a creamy silky sauce) and coats itself all over your pasta as you stir.
Serve immediately and enjoy the fruits of your labour.