I have a friend in Ann Arbor who shares one of my food peeves: attaching the label “carbonara” to anything with bacon.
Guys, there is no such thing as chicken carbonara. It’s chicken and bacon. There’s nothing wrong with chicken and bacon, but it’s not carbonara. Not that we have a solid idea of what carbonara is, anyway. The history’s muddied and full of much rumor and argument for a dish that’s so simple. Pasta, pancetta, cheese, eggs, maybe some cream. Done right, pasta alla carbonara’s simple and easy, a spotlight for quality ingredients that can be pulled together with little work or time.
I love pasta alla carbonara on Friday night. It’s easy to make after a long week, but still luxurious enough to feel a little celebratory. Pastaria deliveries fresh pasta to Larder & Cupboard on Thursdays, and their strozzapreti’s great for catching bits of sauce in the nooks between pasta strands.
Salume Beddu’s pancetta has an herbal touch to the cured pork. Some carbonara purists prefer guanciale, which we also have in stock, but I’m a sucker for this belly.
Our Parmesan Reggiano’s one of the few imported cheeses we carry, because it’s hard to beat the real thing.
I chop my parm instead of grating it to show off the cheese’s crystallized texture. My farm eggs came from Mac’s Local Buys to round out this small producer take on this big flavor favorite.
Pasta alla Carbonara
Extra-virgin olive oil
½ lb. Salume Beddu pancetta, cut into 1″ chunks
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
4 large eggs
⅓ lb. Parmesan Reggiano, chopped, plus extra for grating
12-16 ounces Pastaria Strozzapreti pasta
salt and pepper to taste
1. Bring large pot of water to boil. Add salt and the rind from the Parmesan Reggiano to the water.
2. In a large skillet swirl one round of olive oil. Add the bay leaf from the pancetta, and heat. Add pancetta and saute until the fat’s rendered and the meat’s crispy. Add garlic, toss, and remove from heat. Scrape into a large mixing bowl. Remove bay leaf.
3. In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs until just soft. Stir in the cheese.
4. Add pasta to boiling water and cook 3-4 minute or until al dente. Remove the cheese rind. Drain pasta, setting aside ½ cup of the cooking water. Toss pasta with pancetta until the pasta’s well-coated with the rendered fat, about 2 minutes. Pour in the egg mixture, tossing constantly with a fork. The heat from the pasta will cook the eggs. Keep it moving so the eggs don’t scramble. Drizzle in pasta water until sauce is the consistency you want.
5. Season with grated cheese, salt and pepper.
While my Ann Arbor friend didn’t approve of the strozzapreti, I’m standing by it. It’s dense enough to stand up to the toothsome chunks of cheese and the richness of the egg sauce. It’s definitely not random pasta with some bacon thrown in, though, and that’s what counts.