Saturday, 27 July 2013

Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara is, in all its simplicity, probably one of my all time favourites. In addition to my Dad's Spag Bol, that is. At its best it's rich and voluptious, without being smothered by a heavy cream sauce.

The most puristic recipes actually don't even use any cream, but the creaminess comes from the egg yolk- parmesan- mixture. If it does, however, look like it's not quite creamy enough, I wouldn't shoot anyone for adding a tiny splash of cream. Especially if the cook in question is still in the middle of her cheese aversion therapy. I can't vouch for the Italians though.

Sure I have been eating quite a bit a lot pasta of late, but on the menu in Hanko Carbonara was one of the dishes I simply couldn't stomach (literally). And I had to put that bucatini I bought from there to use one way or another, right?

Traditionally this is, of course, made with spaghetti, but I just love that plump chewiness of bucatini. Another key ingredient is black pepper, which needs to be freshly ground from the mill. I believe in that ready-made-powdered stuff even less than I believe in baby Jesus and will not abide by it at a restaurant table either. Freshly ground variety has more kick to it and inspired by Finnish Cacio e Pepe - blog I gently toasted mine on a pan, which really took the fragrance to a whole new level.

I admit: in authenticity stakes this has nothing on its Roman cousins - they would probably kick this one's arse for the use of garlic alone but I love it. Usually I make this out of bacon, but often I use Serrano ham - seeing how that's something I have lurking about most of the time. This time I used taquitos (those chunks of serrano ham used in cooking that the beans were cooked with in habas con jamón we had in Benalmadena).

In Tel Aviv I've even had Carbonara with duck (how decadent is that?) and seeing how last time in Spain I found some duck ham (so unbelievably rich and yummy - especially with cranberry jelly!) I just might have to give that a go too...!

The quantity of yolks needed depends of the type os pasta too - bucatini is quite a bit thicker than spaghetti, so you will probably need more of them to provide the kind of creamy coating this dish calls for.

For 2

2 portions of spahgetti/ bucatini (à 75-100g)

100 g bacon/ Pancetta/ lardons/ Parma ham/ Serrano ham/ taquitos
2 cloves of garlic
1 dl grated parmesan
3 -4 egg yolks
(depends on the size - if yours are really big, even 2 might do. Mine were small.)
black pepper

Separate tolks from the whites. Whites can be used for meringues or macaroons. Beat the yolks lightly and mix in the cheese. Roast bacon/ ham in a pan until crunchy. Keep the heat fairly moderate, this way they don't burn, but crispen up nicely rendering the fat.

Lift the bacon/ham off the pan and if they are very fatty, drain on kitchen towel. Leave some aside for finishing the portions.

Depending on the amount of fat your meat has left behind (a couple of tablespoons would be ideal) add some butter in the pan (yikes! I know! I just find that butter adds the kind of richness that works better than oil with the salty edginess of bacon and parmesan) and sauté finely sliced garlic over gentle heat. Last thing you want it to fo is to get colour and burn - then it's just bitter. A.k.a. bad.

Once garlic and the residual fat have cooled a bit, add them into the yolk-cheese-mixture. Wipe the pan dry and toast some black pepper in it.

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. Once it's a little but shy of al dente, lift it into the pan with the black pepper. No need to drain it first - a little bit of the starchy cooking liquid won't hurt. Toss in the bacon bits and cook for a while until cooked (add some more pasta water if needed). Remove from the heat and quickly fold in the yolks and cheese. If you do this while the heat is still on, the eggs start scrambling which we don't want. The heat of the pasta (and any residual cooking water) will make sure the final product will be cooked to creamy perfection.

Divide onto plates (preferably heated with some boiling water - feel free to use the pasta water) and sprinkle the remaining bacon bits on top. Grate some parmesan on top. And why not some more of that black pepper, too. Because of the cheese and bacon there shouldn't be need to add any salt at any point.

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