Easy Everyday: Spaghetti alla Carbonara

May 16, 2012

Photo by Joseph De Leo; styled by Mariya Yufest

Whether they're perched atop steak tartare or whisked into homemade mayo or Caesar dressing, raw eggs have found their way into recipes for centuries. Almost always, raw eggs (and cooked, for the record) serve to affordably enrich a dish (OK, maybe affordability doesn't come into play as much for steak tartare!), and their role in Spaghetti alla Carbonara is no different.

But if you're apprehensive about eating raw eggs, there isn't even room for the cost discussion at the table. Here's the deal: there's no reason to be uneasy; the eggs get cooked. For carbonara, it's all about mis en place, reserved starchy pasta water, and gentle, last-minute cooking. Here's how this dish comes together safely:

  1. As with any recipe, assemble your mis en place (a.k.a. prepped dish components) first: cook the pancetta and place the beaten egg in a ramekin. Boil water for the pasta. Measure out the grated Pecorino. Set an empty, heatproof container on the counter for the pasta water you'll be reserving.
  2. If you're a very speedy cook, you can do this ingredient prep after you've brought a pot of water to a boil, while your pasta cooks; otherwise, don't drop the pasta until your pancetta is crispy and your egg is out of its shell. Better to wait for the pasta to finish cooking (have a sip of wine, set the table) than make yourself nervous about the temperature of the reserved pasta water -- you want it as hot as possible. 
  3. Reserve more pasta water than you think you need. There's obviously no harm in tossing unused pasta water, but if you save too little, you'll be serving up a gluey mess.
  4. As soon as the pasta's drained, immediately toss everything into a skillet set over low heat (along with 1/4 cup of hot pasta water) and stir and toss like crazy for a minute or two. The hot pasta water and heat from the skillet will cook the egg to a safe temperature (at least 160 degrees F). Plus, tempering the egg with hot water and cooking over low heat prevents it from scrambling. The only thing left to do is stir in the cheese and pepper, and serve at once.
  5. Note: If at any point you begin to see little curds forming (any sort of "bumpy" texture), shut off the heat and stir in the cheese. (This will help bring the temperature of the sauce down. Once you see curds forming, there's no concern that the eggs aren't hot enough.) You should be able to stop the cooking process before the sauce breaks.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

This traditional recipe from Rome comes directly from our Pecorino Romano importer, Michele Buster. If you can't find pancetta, bacon is a good substitute.

Serves 3 to 4

1/4 pound pancetta, diced
1/2 pound dried spaghetti
1 egg, beaten until foamy
1/2 to 3/4 cup grated Genuine Sini Fulvi Pecorino Romano cheese
Pepper to taste

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

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Wine Pairings:

Whenever I see pasta, I think Chianti. I grew up with it at our family dinners. Applied here, Chianti would be fine -- the richness of the pancetta and density of the pasta is robust enough to carry a wine like Sangiovese (the grape used in Chianti). But, I prefer a white now. The egg and pancetta match well with the whites of northern Italy. Friulano, Pinot Bianco, or Pinot Grigio with their racy edge and focused texture will offer strong relief from the fat. A white will cool your mouth, too, if you heap on the pepper...

Top Picks

2010 Scarbolo Friulano, Italy
2010 Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco, Alto Adige, Italy

Jake Rosenbarger

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What fresh spring vegetables would you add to this simple pasta supper? Share your cooking tips and serving suggestions in the comments section below!

Like this post? See the Easy Everyday topic from last week: Raw Fava Bean Crostini.

1 Comments Add a Comment
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    Lucia says: I usually cook the pancetta or bacon with chopped onion and a bit of rosemary and at the end I will stir also some chopped parsley!

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »

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