When I lived in Barcelona, my Italian roommate and I would cook side-by-side. She wanted to learn how to cook gluten-free since her nephew had Celiac and I wanted to learn how to make traditional Italian food. Surprisingly, most Italian food is easily converted to gluten-free. One day, inspired by a recent acquisition of Parmigiano-Reggiano (which is fairly difficult to find in Spain) at a market, Michela wanted to treat our roommates to pasta alla carbonara.
Carbonara is the closest thing to eggs and bacon as Italians get. The basics of pasta alla carbonara are pasta, cured fatty pork, grated cheese, eggs, and black pepper. Just like my lovely Italian roommate, carbonara is straight forward and beautiful, but can be temperamental if not treated correctly. Michela worked at a restaurant in Bologna for years while putting herself through university and told me that the name refers to the carbon black color from fresh cracked black pepper. The black pepper has to be visible in order for it to be a carbonara according to her. Though the recipe sounds simple, I cannot emphasis how important mise en place is for making it well. That means having everything ready to rock and roll. Otherwise, you would risk, as my Italian friend would say, “Disastro!” This dish comes together very quickly with high reward.
- 250 grams (1 package) Italian corn pasta (spaghetti or fettuccini) such as Le Veneziane
- 3 eggs at room temperature
- 4 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, plus more for garnish if desired
- Finely chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)
Place a large pot of salted water over the heat, bringing to a boil. Cut your choice of cured pork product into small dice, about ¼ inch. In a large fry pan, brown the pork over medium heat with the garlic clove (with skin on) and cook until browned about 6-8 minutes.
During this time, add in the pasta all at once. Stir occasionally to ensure the starch does not build up, making the pasta stick to each other.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs with the grated cheese (in portions) and black pepper. This egg mixture should be a thick slurry. Add more cheese to thicken if needed. Depending on the grate of the cheese, the amount can vary.
Once pasta is al dente, return pork in large fry pan to medium heat (remove the garlic and any excessive fat), and transfer the pasta to the fry pan. If you use a colander to strain the pasta, make sure to reserve at least one cup of the starchy water. There should be enough water in the fry pan with the pasta so it is wet, but not runny. Stir, toss over heat to deglaze the fry pan.
Turn off the heat and immediately add in the egg-cheese slurry and stir constantly. The residual heat should cook the eggs just enough to transform it into a thick sauce. Serve immediately. Garnish as desired with cheese, pepper, and parsley.