Spaghetti alla Carbonara
The first time I had this dish it almost killed me. It was a hot summer night in Rome. Francesco and I were still in the wooing stage of things, and I was still apt to impress him with my taste for fine whiskey (which I hate) and ability to wander museums for loooong stretches (which I don’t possess). He was still apt to impress me by bringing me to the kind of place – simple, salt of earth – he (rightly) thought I’d like. And so we wandered down the hill from our gorgeous hotel (which, by the way, I strongly recommend if you’re still in the wooing stage of things), to Lo Scopettaro.
Perched on the edge of the Tiber, the trattoria was small and full. I remember which table we had and where we sat; I remember the waiters trying to push dishes on me, and, it being one of my first trips to Rome, I obliged, ordering a fried artichoke, rigatoni alla carbonara and coda alla vaccinara; I remember that I was absolutely starving. The rest is kind of blurry.
After the artichoke, I was feeling good and starting to down my wine a bit more freely. And after years of creamy imitations, was excited to try an honest, Roman carbonara. Maybe a little too excited. After finishing the pasta, I started to fade. To be honest, I don’t know what happened – all I know is that Francesco had to literally drag me out of the restaurant and nearly carry me back up the hill. So much for impressing my new boyfriend! But honestly, the carbonara? It killed me. I pride myself on having a pretty strong stomach but the combination of hunger, heat, love hormones and luscious raw egg soaked pasta added up to a crise de foie that no amount of digestivo was going to fix. Francesco says that I passed out, fully clothed. And I believe him. But he also says that the reason I freaked out was because we Americans are inherently, uncontrollably terrified of raw eggs. To this, I say pshhh! It was probably just love sickness. And just to prove how wrong he was, I’ve been making my own, very authentic and very raw, version of la carbonara ever since.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
For four servings: (I generally use one less egg than number of people)
a small chunk (half of your fist) of guanciale or, if you can’t find it, pancetta or good bacon, diced
1 cup pecorino romano (or parmigiano), grated
lots of freshly ground pepper
1 lb (500 grams/1 box) spaghetti (or a short pasta like rigatoni or mezze maniche)
Put the pasta water on to boil. In a small pan, fry the guanciale (or pancetta or bacon) in some olive oil until browned.
When the pasta water is boiling, salt heavily and add the pasta.
Meanwhile, in a very large bowl, use a fork to beat the eggs. Scrape in whatever was in the pan, add half the cheese and grind in lots of pepper; mix.
When the pasta is al dente, quickly scoop out a few cups of the pasta water and reserve, then drain the pasta and immediately put it in the big bowl with the eggs. Using tongs, toss everything really well. If it’s a bit dry, add the reserved pasta water, a little at a time, until it’s creamy.
Serve in individual bowls topped with the remaining cheese and some more pepper.