Pasta Carbonara – Trust me, you don’t need any cream

Note: Apologies for being away for quite a long time! I have been on medical break since late last year, and as I have promised, on good days, I will write more recipes. And before I went on a long break, one of the recipes that I was supposed to share was on a classic take of Carbonara.

Carbonara is one of the dishes that I really love to have on Sunday. Growing up, I remembered first having a version of it in a small restaurant at the mall: al dente pasta, rich and creamy with a good amount of bacon. I was so happy with it that I went on a quest to find the best Carbonara dish in the places that I went to. I thought Carbonara had to have a good amount of cream, yummy bacon and a good balance between sauce and noodles. But as I grew up and became more curious with its origins, I realized something: The original recipe had no cream!

A friend had gifted me with a pasta recipe book that had all sorts of interesting recipes and the first thing I searched for was Carbonara. It had eggs, cheese, and Pancetta—but no cream! And eggs? I was so curious and so I tried it. Since then, I couldn’t have Carbonara any other way, and it still remains to be one of my favorite things to make.

Origins of Carbonara

Carbonara is thought to have originated in the Rome region of Italy, but most common theories believe it is a dish that originated in Lazio. There are a lot of stories about its origin. Some say it is derived from the word Carbonaro, which is the Italian word for charcoal burners—therefore that it was being made and eaten by coal workers. It’s not a dish that was found before the second world war, so many believe that it was when the Americans distributed powdered eggs and pork to the Italians that people started making this pasta dish. Whatever the actual origin is, this dish is something now well-loved by Italians and also people around the world.

This dish is something that I have also learned from my pasta-making class last year. One of the students kept on insisting on adding cream, even if our Italian chef instructor has already mentioned that the original recipe does not call for cream. “If it has cream, then it isn’t Carbonara!” Our instructor said a bit gruffily. “Add cream if you want, but don’t call it Carbonara!”

Some who are used to the creamy Filipino version of this will find the original Italian recipe odd. However, trust me, it does taste creamy and luscious and much more delicious than the recipe that stemmed out of this.

Each strand of pasta is coated with this velvety mixture of egg and Pecorino Romano—the smokiness of the Guanciale or Pancetta or bacon also adds some saltiness and depth of flavor to this pasta dish. It’s so good, it makes my mouth water, even while I write about it!

For my recipe, I usually use Pancetta, but when it isn’t available, I make it using a smoked bacon slab. Tyrolian Bacon is also a wonderful option because of the way it is cured and smoked. Guanciale is rare in my country, but that is definitely still the best option if you have it on hand.

Most recipes don’t call for garlic, but I prefer a clove or two, just because I love the flavor that garlic brings to the dish.

So here’s the recipe I have for Pasta Carbonara. I hope you enjoy it!

Pasta Carbonara

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 10-15 minutes

Serves 2-3

Ingredients:

  • 250 grams of spaghetti
  • 3 free-range egg yolks
  • 1 whole free-range egg
  • 80 grams Parmesan cheese or Pecorino Romano (or a combination)
  • 200 grams of any of the following: Guanciale, Pancetta slab, smoked bacon slab, or Tyrolian bacon slab, whichever is available
  • Salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • Optional: 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced

Optional additions:

  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced or sliced thinly
  • 1 tablespoon of butter

Instructions:

2. If you are using Guanciale or Pancetta, cut any hard skin off the guanciale or pancetta and set that aside. Chop the meat.

3. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add about a teaspoon of salt before dropping the pasta into the pot, making sure that all the pasta is submerged into the water.

4. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, or until al dente. Because I like mine quite al dente, I usually test a strand or two 2 minutes before the actual time to see if the bite of the pasta is good enough, or almost there. Turn off the heat once it is al dente.

5. Midway through the cooking time of the pasta, rub the skin of the pancetta or guanciale on the surface a medium pan and place the pan on medium-high heat.

6. If you would like to do so, add butter. This is not a traditional thing to do, although our teacher said a lot of people in Lombardia do this.

7. Add the chopped meat and render the fat. If you’re using Guanciale or Pancetta, be careful not to make the bits and pieces too brown. This might make the dish bitter.

8. Add the chopped meat and render the fat. If you’re using Guanciale or Pancetta, be careful not to make the bits and pieces too brown. This might make the dish bitter.

9. When the pasta is al dente, use a pair of tongs to transfer the pasta from the pot of water to the pan and mix well to incorporate the meat and pick up the drippings and the flavor from the pan.

Note: Different pan, different batch 🙂

10. Add the egg and cheese mixture. When combining the egg and cheese mixture to the pasta, one has to make sure that the pan or the bowl is not too hot to avoid the eggs from scrambling. I usually turn off the flame right before I add the eggs and the cheese, and toss the pasta around the pan frequently to prevent the eggs from scrambling.

11. You will know if your proportions are right when the “sauce” clings to the pasta but the pasta is still a little moist. If you see that the pasta is too wet and the sauce slides, add a little bit of cheese. If the pasta looks a bit too dry and it feels grainy, add a little pasta water to moisten up the pasta.

Serve right away and enjoy!

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