Dinner is later than usual tonight due to an evening meeting, so I’m using it as an excuse to make one of my favorite late-night dishes–pasta alla carbonara.
I’ve made this dish many different ways but my favorite version of it was taught to me by my neighbor, Beppi. Last summer, he invited my family over for dinner to join his family and served this dish. It was a marvel, and I couldn’t figure out what made it so great. Like most dishes made by experienced hands, I had to actually watch it being made. One evening a couple of months later, I invited him to my house for dinner and I jumped when he offered to show me how to make the dish for my guests.
I was surprised by a couple of things–butter (lots of it) and chicken broth (a good amount). The eggs in the dish were fully cooked, but the dish still retained its creamy quality. The reason was the copious amount of pecorino romano cheese and also chicken broth.
The other element of the dish that was markedly different from all versions that I’d learned before it was that the pancetta was sliced very thinly (not in little cubes, the way I’d always used it). The thin slices were further diced by hand, and by the time the pancetta was browned in the skillet, it practically melted away. All that was left was its salty porky essence with some tiny crunchy bits–no meaty cubes of bacon.
The only change I’ll make to Beppi’s carbonara is inspired by the carbonara that I had in Rome recently. Rome is the birthplace of this dish, so I took the Roman method of making it very seriously. At the restaurant where I had this in Rome (San Eustacchio) they used both bacon and pancetta. This gave the dish some salt from the pancetta, but also a bit of smokiness from the bacon.
Pasta alla Carbonara
1/4 lb pancetta, sliced thinly and diced into 1″ pieces
4 slices bacon, diced into 1″ pieces
6 tbls butter
1/4 c fresh chopped parsley
1 tsp black pepper
3/4 c grated pecorino romano
5 large eggs
1 1/2 cups good chicken broth
1 lb spaghetti
While the pasta water is coming to a boil, saute pancetta, bacon and butter over low heat, until the meats start to melt and caramelize and the butter just begins to color. Turn off heat and set aside.
Boil the spaghetti in salted water. In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, 1/2 c of the pecorino, all of the parsley and black pepper and whisk.
In a small pot on low heat, bring chicken broth to a simmer.
Right as the pasta nears completion (about a minute shy), turn on heat again under the pancetta mixture until it reaches a sizzle, then turn off.
Add the hot pasta into the mixing bowl with the egg mixture and toss. Immediately dump the pasta and egg mixture into the skillet with the bacon and pancetta and toss vigorously (it will sizzle and basically cook the eggs), while adding hot broth a ladle at a time. Toss with tongs until all the elements of the sauce are blended and the sauce is creamy. Sprinkle on the remainder of the grated cheese and immediately serve in heated shallow bowls.