While traveling in Italy we ate as many different bowls of Pasta Carbonara as places we visited. Carbonara refers to pasta traditionally tossed in the pan with egg yolks, parmesan cheese, and bacon or ham. Is there anything to complain about with that combination?
Here are two of my absolute favorites... these are the two carbonaras that made my heart truly skip a beat with every bite. Interestingly, they are both very different from each other.
The first is a creamy, utterly indulgent carbonara from enjoyed on Ischia:
Oh how wonderful it was! Each perfectly al-dente noodle of linguine was thickly coated with parmesan cream and speckled with fresh parsley. Each bite hid huge hunks of smoky, savory guanciale. Yes, this portion was pretty much family-sized, and yes, I did eat the entire plate myself.
Then, my other favorite carbonara was vastly different and yet still almost caused me to cry out in declaration that it was, indeed, the ultimate and best carbonara. But, I still felt I could not forget the carbonara I had enjoyed in Ischa. And so they ended in a tie.
This carbonara was eaten at Hosteria Romana, our last meal in Rome. The restaurant is praised here in the New York Times, and now praised here again on Pumpkin Prose. Everything from our quirky waiter (who had enough antics up his sleeve to star in his own Broadway show) to the Italian locals enjoying a Friday night dinner made it a meal to remember. The carbonara came piping hot, and as the Times suggested, "originale". That is, served in the bowl the pasta is tossed in.
The deep orange yellow sauce was strikingly beautiful (but not too beautiful to eat). Tiny chunks of crisp and crunchy, almost burnt, and intensely salty bacon had Matt and I rolling our eyes to heaven in disbelief and wonder. I was delighted when the bowl "originale" was served to me. I even made the ultimate sacrifice and generously shared the end of the bowl with Matt (that is love!)
It was clear that this carbonara focused on a yolk-heavy sauce base while the carbonara in Ischia focused on the parmesan and may have even used cream. I did discover that while I loved both, I do enjoy carbonara best when it is served with a flat and wider noodle such as lingine or fettucine rather than spaghetti. This way, the sauce is able to cling to the surface of every noodle, which truly is the ultimate goal of this Italian dream dish.
Basic Pasta Carbonara: (adapt as you like)
1/2 lb. fresh fettucine or linguine (store bought or home-made)
8 oz. pancetta or guanciale, cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 whole eggs or 4 egg yolks, room temp.
6 tablespoons or more Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
1 t. freshly ground pepper
2 t. salt
2 t. butter
2 t. olive oil
Fresh parsley, chopped
Heat a pot of salted water over high heat. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until barely al-dente. Meanwhile, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan, then add the pancetta and cook until it is barely crisped. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, cheese, and pepper. Keep the bowl near the stove to keep the eggs warm. When the pasta is just al-dente, reserve a small amount of cooking liquid and drain the rest. Add the pasta into the saute pan with the pancetta, then pour the egg mixture in at once, tossing very quickly to combine. The sauce should be thick and creamy. Add more cheese and pepper, and some reserved cooking liquid if necessary, to thin the sauce. Top with parsley. Eat immediately.