I took this pasta carbonara recipe from the March Cucina Italiana magazine and massacred its local, farm-raised, artisanal integrity in so many ways that I feel dirty.
So dirty that I’m baking rosemary focaccia bread in the oven as penance to Italy itself (I had to use a big tray). The fresh baked smell of herbs and crisping crust is making me feel slightly less like a charlatan for even attempting a local dish that uses the freshest of fresh ingredients-eggs pulled from the hen’s butt with one hand while the lemons are plucked off a lemon tree with the other. Did I mention the almost extinct Cinte Sense pigs which provide the pork? Check out the whole story which will make you want to gnaw on a piece of pancetta ASAP. Materie Prime by Douglas Gayeton.
The good news first-if you didn’t know–true pasta carbonara does not include cream so it practically falls into the health food category. Sure there’s the pancetta and I suppose a whole bunch of cheese but truly–once you ammortize the fat over a few helpings it’s negligible. I’m almost positive.
The bad news starts with my use of plain old grocery store eggs (I am quite sure the hens did not forage for their own food nor were they supplemented with grains soaked in fresh goat milk). It continues with a package of pre-cut pancetta (world’s apart from Paola Parisi’s guanciale, see below).
“Aside from being an exceptional slaughterhouse, Levoni is known for smoking meat, in this case the guanciale from Paolo’s pigs. The process requires a special machine, one resembling a rotisserie, and the burning of select woods (their type remains a secret). This slow curing takes a week to complete.”
I decided to use Grana Padano since I already had it. In a large bowl I crack the non-fresh eggs, add fresh marjoram (from a plastic container), lemon zest, minced garlic and a “Jamie Oliver” glug of olive oil. I make some quality tagliatelle from the pantry at home. Drain the pasta. I add this to the egg mixture, toss quickly and mix in the cheese. A little pasta water smoothes it all out. It’s steamy, glossy and fragrant as I bring the fork to my mouth.
And yet it has none of the romance, practise or purity of Paolo’s version…..
“He starts by prying massive wedges from a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. He hands them to his second eldest son, Rocco, who quickly goes to work with a circular grater. I am handed a corkscrew and a bottle of 2006 Ansonica from the nearby La Parrina winery. Paolo collects the dish’s materie prime, arranges them on a massive wooden table and dices thick slabs of his guanciale picked up from Levoni the previous afternoon. He grates zest from a few lemons taken from a tree just beyond the kitchen window.”
The true dish must be heavenly because even my industrial version– merely a shadow in Plato’s cave–was dreamy. The nuance of the zingy lemon zest and grassy marjoram elevates the savoury, rich flavours. And the whole thing comes together in the time it takes to boil pasta.
And raise a few hens.
Pasta Carbonara- adapted from Cucina Italina (at Sam’s request!)
The key to this recipe are the eggs. With Farmer’s Markets opening up soon it should be easier to get fresh ones. I did use “what was in the fridge” with good results. You can fiddle with this recipe, assume 1 egg per person and then roughly adjust the other ingredients. I am often a nightmare without detailed guidance but it worked to “eyeball” it.
And for God’s sake–please–use real Parmigiano Reggiano.
4 fresh eggs, large
2 cloves garlic, minced very fine
3 tbsp (45 ml) fresh marjoram leaves, pulled off the stem
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 c (60 ml) olive oil
1 cup (250 ml) pancetta, small dice
1 lb (500 g) spaghetti ( I like Rustichella d’abruzzo, fairly easy to find, brown paper package)
1 1/2 c (375 ml) Parmigiano Reggiano (or Grana Padano), freshly grated
1. In a bowl large enough to hold the spaghetti crack the eggs, add garlic, marjoram, lemon zest and olive oil. Whisk to combine and set aside.
2. Pan-fry your pancetta til getting crispy. Let cool and add to the egg mixture.
3. Boil pasta, salt water generously (should taste like the sea I’ve been told!). Cook spaghetti til al dente or as per package directions. Strain and reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.
4. Add hot pasta to the egg mixture and toss until well coated. Add the grated cheese and keep tossing until you have a glossy sauce. Add a little bit of pasta water as necessary to thin.
5. Eat the damn thing! (Add fresh ground pepper if you like.)
NOTE FROM SELF: I use slightly less spaghetti for four as I like a bit more sauce-maybe 3/4 package? 4/5ths? 6/8ths? Someone stop me…..