Bacon, Egg and Cheese Pasta

As evidenced by yesterday's poll results, there's much bacon love in the air. And because more than half of you are foaming at the mouth with baco-thusiasm, I'll reciprocate with spaghetti alla carbonara, one of my all-time favorite bacon-lickin' dishes.


Carbonara fixings, minus the cheese. (Kim O'Donnel)

Rome is the ancestral home of carbonara, derived from the Italian word carbone, which means coal. It is unclear whether the dish is referring to the bacon's resemblance to bits of charcoal or to carbonari, the actual coal miners, who may have cooked over a fire upon resurfacing from their lengthy underground stints.

When exactly Americans fell in love with bacon, eggs and pasta is a bit fuzzy, but it seems that returning World War II soldiers who were stationed in Italy developed a hankering for the dish and may have been responsible for bringing it to this side of the Atlantic.

Traditionally, carbonara is made with pancetta, Italy's version of bacon. Although cured like most American bacon, pancetta is not smoked, which yields a milder, somewhat chewier result. Traditionalists may argue that American bacon's smoky flavor and aroma is too strong for the dish, but that has never stopped me from my carbonara-esque pursuits.

As with most traditional Italian dishes, there are many schools of thought on what makes a carbonara originale. Somewhere in the migration of the recipe, cooks started adding cream, peas, even garlic. I am of the school that argues against all of these enhancements and prefers the basics -- a few eggs, plenty of cheese and a little bit of patience. The most common carbonara pitfall is scrambled-egg pasta, but the how-to details below work like a charm and will keep your curdles at bay. It took me a while to get carbonara right, and that's because I would add unbeaten eggs right into the pot with the drained pasta, and a curdling disaster would ensue. Be gentle with those eggs, and you'll end up with a creamy, not clotted coating.

Bacon-ready or not, have a delicious weekend!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Adapted from the December 2007 issue of GQ magazine

Ingredients
The amounts below make two servings, as long as there's a salad or some kind of side to fill out the meal. Amounts may be doubled.

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
6-8 ounces pancetta or thick-cut or slab bacon
1/2 box spaghetti
2 large eggs
1/2- 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese
Salt and black pepper to taste
KOD garnish fave: Handful chopped fresh parsley and/or zest of 1/2 lemon

Method

Bring at least two quarts of water to a boil and add at least one teaspoon salt to the pot. Add spaghetti.


While spaghetti is cooking, chop pancetta or bacon into quarter-inch matchsticks and heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add meat and fry until crisp. Turn down heat to low until you're ready to assemble the dish.

Break eggs into a mixing bowl. Add a small handful of grated cheese and a pinch of pepper. Beat mixture together, only enough to combine.

When spaghetti is al dente (about 10-12 minutes), drain it and add to egg mixture in bowl. Reserve some of the pasta water just in case. Add another small handful of cheese and using two forks or a pair or tongs, toss the mixture until spaghetti is well coated.

Drain at least half the fat from the pancetta or bacon, and sprinkle the crisped bits into the pasta, plus remaining fat. Sprinkle with more cheese and black pepper. Do not stir immediately; allow contents of bowl to sit for about 30 seconds, then toss to combine. If mixture seems to dry, gradually add a few ounces of pasta water to make it creamier.

Taste for salt, pepper and cheese, and season accordingly. Add garnish, if using. Serve immediately.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 11, 2008; 8:01 AM ET Dinner Tonight , Meat
Previous: Debating Bacon | Next: Bridging a Gap With Paella

Comments

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Posted by: Sass in Arlington | January 11, 2008 8:40 AM

Mmm that sounds wonderful. Great comfort food for such a nasty, wet day.

Didn't get the chance to weigh in yesterday... but boy do I love bacon. I made your Hoppin' John recipe last night, and followed the advice to use the crumbled bacon as a garnish. It really made the dish! And the leftover bacon will make some delish carbonara.

After that, no more bacon for a while. like you I try to limit myself to buying it once every month or two.

Posted by: Violet | January 11, 2008 9:46 AM

Rachel Ray did a pasta carbonara "pizza" on her show the other night that looked good. Bacon lovers might want to check it out.

Posted by: Arlington Biscotti Fan | January 11, 2008 10:02 AM

Does the heat from the pasta cook or set the egg mixture?

Posted by: Florida | January 11, 2008 10:20 AM

Carbonara is my go-to dish when I can't think of anything else to make or just want something comforting and guaranteed to be delicious. I usually drain the pasta and then drop it in the pan with the bacon to let it pick up all that flavor before it goes into the egg mixture. I also temper the egg mixture with a bit of the pasta water so they don't scramble. Works like a charm every time and is so creamy and wonderful I want to run home right now and whip up a batch!

Posted by: Juicy | January 11, 2008 11:10 AM

Kim -- Am I right that the eggs stay in the mixing bowl and never go into the pan? Does the heat of the pasta cook the eggs?

Posted by: Maryland | January 11, 2008 3:08 PM

Great Caesar's Salad, Kim! "Fry bacon in olive oil..."

I couldn't resist. Stopped at the market on the way home... the bacon is crisping, the water is boiling for the pasta, and since eggs, oil, and bacon didn't sound unhealthy enough, there's a loaf of garlic bread in the oven.

Serves 2 if you have a salad? HAH! I'm doubling the recipe! Salad would be far too healthy. And while I agree that adding peas would be evil, I will be using a little garlic. That's just how I am.

I'll post again later and let everyone know if it worked...

Posted by: Dennis in Arlington | January 11, 2008 6:17 PM

OMG, people, do NOT double this recipe!

Kim was right. It was easy and turned out delicious. But the two of us barely put a dent into a huge bowl of pasta. Next time, the only ingredient I'll double is the bacon...

Posted by: Dennis in Arlington | January 11, 2008 7:12 PM

Oh, I forgot to mention... to those that asked if the pasta cooked the egg? Yes. Leave the egg in the mixing bowl. (I used a large one to have room for tossing the pasta.) Drain the pasta and immediately start putting it together.

Posted by: Dennis in Arlington | January 11, 2008 7:58 PM

Please tell me turkey will work just as well as I don't eat pork bacon?

http://www.flanboyanteats.com

Posted by: Flanboyant Eats | January 12, 2008 7:10 PM

Wow, this was fabulous and hit the spot Friday night! I had some pancetta at home and just had to pick up some spaghetti. I followed the instructions exactly as written and the pasta cooked the eggs, resulting in a perfectly silky sauce.

Posted by: Allison | January 14, 2008 10:26 AM

Posted by: Umberto | February 28, 2008 7:22 AM

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