Saturday, October 17, 2015

Fettuccine Carbonara

Bacon, eggs and cheese make up this classic Italian restaurant pasta favorite. Rarely made at home, the dish is actually quite simple and even better if can get your hands on some special ingredients.

Julian's Fettuccine Carbonara
Meat:  Here in the U.S. a carbonara sauce is typically made with standard American bacon, but in Italy they would prefer guanciale or pancetta. Guanciale is an Italian cured meat prepared from pork cheeks with a flavor and texture much like American bacon. Pancetta is Italian bacon made of pork belly meat. Both are less fatty than American bacon. Since in the United States standard bacon is always prepared from pork belly meat and I have a nice, quality piece of that on hand, I'll use it in tonight's dinner but I'll drain off about half of the fat. If you are purchasing the meat just for this dish, try for the traditional Italian favorites of guanciale or pancetta. If you can't get either, go to the deli counter and get a chunk of good quality bacon and do NOT have it sliced. Cubes are preferred for this dish, although as you can see in the photos, I'm just using standard breakfast thick-sliced bacon which worked fine.



Julian's Cooked American Bacon
Eggs:  The other thing that tends to make this dish just a little bit better is high quality farm fresh eggs. My friend Timmy keeps a few chickens and supplied me with these delicious, orange-yolked eggs. They were just about 4 days old when I made this dish. While not essential to have, they do improve both the flavor and color.

Timmy's Fresh Eggs
Cheese:  Finally, freshly grated cheese is necessary in this dish as it will melt more readily. If you purchase store grated cheese, it has been processed long ago and treated so it doesn't clump in the container. All of this makes it less likely to melt easily into the sauce.  As it's stirred in off heat with the eggs, the temperature is not high and the cooking is not long, so using freshly grated cheeses that will melt easily is important.

Pasta: You can use any long pasta noodle you prefer, but for this dish I always use fettuccine nests from Barrilla. This is an egg pasta as shown in the image, is just the right width to be draped in the luxurious sauce and enhances the egg flavor.

1 pound dry pasta
4 large eggs, very fresh
8-16 ounces, guanciale, pancetta or bacon
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese
Black pepper, freshly cracked
pinch of salt

Cut up the bacon into chunks or squares. Grate the cheese and crack the eggs into a medium bowl.

Bring about 5-6 quarts of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook per package directions for about 6-9 minutes, just until al-dente (tender by chewy).

While the pasta is cooking, in a deep skillet fry the guanciale, pancetta or bacon until just crisp and cooked through and has rendered its fat. If using American style bacon, remove about half the fat dripping from the skillet and reserve. Turn off heat while you wait for the pasta to be ready. Whisk together the eggs and cheese and set aside.

When the pasta is done cooking, reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Turn the skillet heat back to medium and  transfer the pasta into the skillet and add about half of the reserved pasta water. Stir until most of the liquid is dissolved and the pasta is shiny. Add more of the water or reserved bacon drippings if necessary.

Stir quickly, poor slowly.
Remove the cooked pasta and pork from the cook top and rapidly stir in the egg/cheese mixture. Pour with one hand and stir with the other. Stir quickly to ensure the eggs don't scramble but rather make a sauce on the hot pasta. Seasoning liberally with freshly cracked black pepper and a pinch of salt. Taste and correct seasoning as necessary. Serve while hot.

Julian's Fettuccine Carbonara

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