My husband and I were lucky enough to spend some time in Italy on our honeymoon. We got to see the Colosseum in Rome, stayed in a 16th century private villa with an olive grove in Florence, toured Pompeii, rode on a Gondola with a singing Gondolier in Venice and even got a glimpse of that leaning tower as we passed through Pisa on a train ride. We loved every moment of it… Did some shopping, site seeing and I even got in some cooking in that villa! But, the food. The food in Italy was amazing.
Each region offered up something new and delicious. Pizza in Naples, Lasagna in Florence, Salami in Genoa. I even made a red sauce that I paired with some fresh pasta, yum. All of which was paired with a red wine… it had no name, just red, which was perfect. My husband, however, ordered the same dish everywhere we went… Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Sure, he would always try a bite of whatever I ordered, but he just couldn’t get enough of the Carbonara.
So, when we returned stateside, I had to learn how to make it. I discovered there are lots of variations to the famed Italian dish… But, the basics are all the same. There is cheese, egg, fresh herbs and bacon. I will try to explain some of the variations throughout the recipe guide below, but if you see something you like more or less, then add more or less of it! Make it your own or follow my recipe, either way it will be a quick, delicious and satisfying meal your family is sure to ask for again and again!
This dish is all about the preparation. It is very quick and easy to put together, but can be screwed up royally if your ingredients are not prepped and ready to go when they need to be. Timing is everything! Follow these steps and you will be eating this delectable plate of pasta in under 20 minutes!
First start off with bacon or pancetta. (Pancetta is uncured Italian bacon.) Today, I had bacon on hand, so that’s what I used. The important thing to remember is that the bacon should not have any sort of flavoring. Try to avoid ‘applewood smoked’ or ‘maple’. A nice smoked or uncured bacon is fine here. Fry it up to the style you like your bacon. We like crispy, but not burned in my family.
Drain bacon. I like to set aside about 2 pieces per person to be served. I hide the bacon at this point so it is not confiscated by passers-by! Reserved the rendered bacon fat in the pan.
Next, you will want to set a pot of water to boil. While the water is coming to a boil, you should have enough time to prepare the rest of your ingredients. Once the water comes to a boil you can add in the pasta (we will get to which variety of pasta in a minute). Cook to the package instructions or a minute less if you like it aldente.
Crack a couple of eggs in a bowl large enough to include not only the eggs, but the parmesan cheese.
Scramble the eggs. Set aside.
Shred up the parmesan. Some people like to use Parmigiano-Reggiano, and hey, if you have it, use it… I happened to have Parmesan at my disposal. The two are similar although the Parmesano Regiano is a higher grade and more traditional. Also, some like to use Pecorino cheese here as well… I say, use whatever you have on hand and whichever you like. Any hard, salty, italian cheese will do just fine.
Add the parmesan into the scrambled egg you have set aside.
Now onto the parsley. This is Italian Flat Leaf Parsley. It is not the same as the curly variety you may see garnishing buffet tables across the country. This parsley has a distinct flavor and adds a great pop of freshness to the dish, please don’t skip this, It’s like a buck at the grocery store fresh. note: Do not confuse this with Cilantro although they are similar in appearance, they have two totally different flavors.
Chop up about a cup of parsley, set aside.
Now chop up your bacon. Set aside.
Now let’s talk about your pasta. After all that chopping, your water is probably boiling, so it’s time to drop the pasta. (Don’t forget to salt the water! – Like the sea… I typically use about 3T. kosher salt for 6 qts of water) But, I digress… you can really use any type of pasta you like. This dish is traditionally made with spaghetti. I have here Fetuccini Rigata. The Rigata is denoting the ridges that are on this pasta. I normally like to get Spaghetti Rigata or Rigati… But the grocery store didn’t have it, so I got the Fetuccini Rigata this time. I like the ridges because it holds on to the sauce better, but if you just have plain ole spaghetti, use it! (My kids like this with Angel Hair, so sometimes I do that for them too)
OK… So, after reading that last paragraph on the pasta, your pasta is probably almost ready to come out of the water. Let’s make sure you have everything you need because once the pasta comes out, it’s go time! So, in addition to the scrambled eggs with parmesan, chopped bacon and chopped parsley, you will need some kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper and about a cup of frozen peas.
Once the pasta is done… Be sure your reserved bacon fat is still warm, if not turn it on medium. Then, drain the pasta and coat all the noodles in fat. Just wiggle it around a bit and stir.
Now, this is important. While the pasta is piping hot, pour the egg and parmesan mixture over it and have a pasta tool at the ready to very quickly stir it in. Your goal here is not to end up with scrambled eggs… you want to coat the pasta with the egg mixture just like you did with the rendered bacon fat. This must be done quickly.
Again, while it is all still hot, quickly add in the peas and the parsley and stir. The heat from the pasta will be enough to cook the frozen peas.
Add in the bacon and stir again… Now drizzle with some olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Please taste this before plating it.
Shred some additional parmesan atop the pasta and add just a touch more of the fresh parsley and enjoy!
Pasta Carbonara Recipe:
1 lb. dry pasta, spaghetti, fettuccine, Angel Hair etc.
6 qts. water with 3 T. kosher salt
1/2 lb. bacon or pancetta, fried, chopped, rendered fat reserved
3 eggs, scrambled
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
1 cup frozen peas
salt and pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
Prepare all ingredients in recipe. Boil pasta. Add drained pasta to the rendered bacon fat, coating pasta. Add parmesan to the scrambled eggs, quickly stir into hot pasta. Add in parsley and peas. Add in bacon. Drizzle with olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Shred additional parmesan over the top with some additional chopped parsley. Enjoy!