I’m not Italian but I love Italian food. It’s satisfying, hearty and soothing…and it’s relatively simple to make. Some dishes are so simple in fact, that what separates a fantastic dish from a great dish is the quality of the ingredients more so than the cooking techniques. Take the classic Italian dish spaghetti carbonara; it’s spaghetti, pancetta (or guanciale), pecorino romano cheese, pepper and eggs. That’s it! The only real variation is whether or not you going to add garlic (which I always do). The best version of this dish is the one made with fresh pasta instead of boxed, and guanciale instead of pancetta. Guanciale is a cured pork cheek which carries a ton of great-tasting fat and, if it’s available to you, is a better choice than pancetta—although not by much. When I have a great piece of guanciale I don’t use any olive oil. I’ll do a slow, low-heat sauté of the meat, which will render its delicious fat without requiring the aid of the oil. Now that’s classic!
But if you look up this recipe on many of the food and cooking websites, you’ll get some whacky variations that totally destroy this dish. And most of them come from American cooks that try to ‘improve’ this classic by making it ‘healthier.’ Substituting wheat pasta, egg whites and ground turkey sausage may make it lower in fat content, but where do you think the taste comes from? And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average life expectancy for us health-conscious Americans is 78.2 years. For native Italians? 81.7 years! Those wine-swilling, chain-smoking Italians would never THINK to use turkey sausage in this dish so why should you? You ever hear Mario Batali talk about his cholesterol level? Get real! If eating this classic is shaving a few years off my life, so be it! Just stop calling your turkey-and-wheat-pasta versions carbonara, ‘cause they’re NOT!
Katt’s Classic Spaghetti Carbonara
1 lb spaghetti
Extra virgin olive oil
4 large eggs
8 oz pancetta (or if you’re lucky enough to have it in your area, guanciale)
4 gloves of garlic
Pecorino romano cheese
Fresh cracked black pepper
This dish takes as long to prepare as it does to boil your pasta. First, salt your water and bring your pasta water up to a boil. While that’s happening, crack the four eggs into a large bowl and add 2 tablespoons of freshly grated pecorino romano cheese and a healthy amount of fresh cracked black pepper. Lightly whip the eggs, pepper and cheese until blended. Chop up your garlic, pancetta and parsley.
Pour two tablespoons of olive oil into a large skillet and bring that up to medium heat. Once the oil is hot add your chopped pancetta and sauté it until it begins to brown. At that point ad your chopped garlic and continue the sauté for about another minute. You don’t want to overcook the garlic. If the pasta isn’t ready yet, remove the pan from the heat. It should stay warm for another 8-10 minutes so don’t worry. Once your pasta is al dente, take it straight from the water into the skillet with the pancetta.
Mix it thoroughly and then pour in the eggs and cheese. If your pan is too hot it will scramble the eggs which will destroy the dish. The heat from the pasta water is all you need to cook the eggs. Just keep mixing the pasta with a set of tongs until it is well coated. Add another two tablespoons of cheese, some more fresh cracked pepper, and then sprinkle on the parsley.
Serve immediately with a large goblet of your favorite red wine and give the finger to the Lord of the Underworld—‘cause if he takes you now he won’t be able to wipe that stupid grin off your face.