Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Creamy Carbonara: Hold the Cream

As you probably know by now my husband and I lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn during our engagement and a couple years into our marriage. We loved it. We loved it so much that when I was forced to move on up to the Upper West Side to a deluxe apartment in the sky (not deluxe, but it had a killer view!), I was bummed. Really bummed. Perhaps the thing that bummed me out most, aside from leaving all of our friends, was leaving Franny's, an incredible pizza and wine bar which started the upscale pizza trend now taking over Manhattan. About 5 years ago, Andrew Feinberg and his wife, Franny Stephens, created a pizza and wine bar around local, organic ingredients and meticulously made foods. It's truly Almost Slowfood because chef Feinberg cures his own meats and sardines and makes a pizza from scratch like none other.

What's more, Feinberg's such a perfectionist that if he isn't thrilled with a dish, he'll take it off the menu no matter how much two of his regulars plead its pardon. At least that's what the apologetic waiter explained to us all those years ago as we pleaded with him to put Bucatini alla Carbonara back on the menu. If you haven't had carbonara at Franny's and chances are you haven't because it was only on the menu for like a month, then you missed out. Unlike most recipes that call for cream and butter and all sorts of other things to make it creamy, Franny's carbonara was real and true like a Hemingway novel using only eggs, parmesan cheese, guanciale and pasta water.

At the time, I had no idea that's what Feinberg was up to, going back to basics in a hugely exciting way. But then, a couple years back, (after yet another conversation with friends about how friggin good that carbonara was and why oh why couldn't we have some!?!?) I found myself thumbing through Mario Batali's Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home, and I hit pay dirt. There it was, like a sign from the pasta gods, a recipe for Spaghetti alla Carbonara and it looked easy!

The very next night my husband and I made it and to our delight, it was everything we'd hoped for: al dente pasta lightly coated with a thickened sauce of cheese and egg and accented with bacon. It became a staple in our diets, a once a week meal due to its extreme ease and tastiness. Then something happened, a baby perhaps? and I kinda forgot about it. That is, until this weekend. We're headed out of town for a week and a half so I was doing my best to make dinner without buying anything. All I had was some farmer's market bacon, CSA eggs and a thing of fresh grated parmesan. That's all I needed!

My daughter went wild for it as she does for anything with noodles, but this was especially comforting to her as it was a gentle mix of her favorite ingredients and ours too. After a long recess, carbonara is back on my plate and it should make it onto yours too. Enjoy!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
(Made from stuff you probably have on hand, it's an easy and delicious afterthought leaving you to wonder why you try so hard in the kitchen every other night of the week! -
Adapted from Mario Batali's
Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home)

What You'll Need:

One (4 serving) box of spaghetti or bucatini (if you can find it)
5-6 strips of good bacon (or a big hunk of guanciale or pancetta) cut into bite-sized chunks
4 large eggs separated
About a cup of parmesan cheese
A splash of pasta water

Over a high heat, boil a big vat of salted water. Cook the spaghetti until it's al dente. About 8-10 minutes. Reserve a cup or so of pasta water and set aside.

Over a medium-high heat, cook the bacon in a frying pan until it's gently crisped. Pour out the fat while preserving the bacon and return the pan to the heat. Add the cooked spaghetti to the pan with a splash of pasta water and about three quarters of the parmesan. Stir vigorously and turn off the heat. Still stirring, add the egg whites and mix well and fast so as to avoid scrambling. The heat will cook the whites and thicken the sauce.

To serve, quickly plate the pasta in four bowls and place an egg yolk on top of each portion. Batali thinks it's a nice way to present the dish to guests and I agree. However, if you are skittish about such things, go ahead and add the yolks when you add the whites. It's will be just as tasty!

Approximate Dinner Cost
• Groceries - $7.00
• Leftovers – Expect 4 servings at $1.75 a serving.

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  1. Your photo reminded me of a meal I just had for the first time--at a Japanese restaurant! Soba noodles with a quail egg on top. The noodles were cold, so I think i was a bit skiddish of the egg. I will have to try this warm, Italian version!

  2. How do you decide what wine to pair with your meals?

  3. why do you think people add the cream to the carbonara?

  4. This looks so good and so easy. I love the use of the pasta water to make it saucy instead of cream. I can't wait to try it!



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