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Like lobster, a current delicacy that was once considered a mark of poverty and was commonly served in prisons, Spaghetti Carbonara is some of the finest peasant food an aristocrat could ask for. One of the best indications of a good dish is whether or not its ingredients are hotly debated and Carbonara is certainly no exception – try this traditional version of the dish and forget the cream and peas!
- 1 lb dry spaghetti
- 4 large fresh eggs
- 12 oz slab bacon, cubed
- 1/2 cup grated Pecorino
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Green onions for garnish
1. Begin by bringing a large pot of water to a boil. I typically shoot for about a gallon and a half of water per pound of pasta. I do this for two reasons: 1. you want to have enough volume so that you when you put the pasta into the water, it recovers to a boil immediately, and 2. you want to have enough water for the pasta move freely so that it cooks evenly and doesn’t stick to itself. Generously salt the water. It’s become popular to say that the water should “taste like the ocean,” but I’ve never felt that was a particular helpful thing to say. I use two tablespoons of kosher salt per gallon and a half of water. Especially for dishes like Carbonara where there is little sauce and the noodle is the primary focus, making sure it’s seasoned appropriately is the single best thing you can do.
2. While the water is coming up to a boil, cut the slab bacon down into half inch cubes. Add a little bit of olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat and render down the bacon until it is crisp and has released most of its fat. Depending on your bacon, you will likely want to pour off some of the fat and shoot to have about 3 to 4 tablespoons of bacon fat left in the skillet. Turn off the heat and set the pan aside.
3. The bacon should be crisped and done by the time water comes a boil and the spaghetti is cooked. Before draining the spaghetti, use a ladle to save about a cup of the pasta water.
4. Meanwhile, whisk the four eggs and the cheeses together in a large bowl until well combined. To make things easier on yourself later, I recommend doing this step when you are first bringing the water to a boil. Doing this early will allow the eggs to warm up a bit, giving you better protection against scrambling them later when making the sauce.
5. Bring the skillet with the bacon back over medium heat and add in the pasta and about a quarter cup of the pasta water. Mix well to coat the pasta in the bacon fat to keep it from clumping and sticking. By the time you have finished mixing the pasta around, the pasta water should be mostly evaporated.
6. Remove the skillet from the heat and quickly stir in the egg and cheese mixture. Stir constantly for a minute or two to prevent the eggs from scrambling while the sauce thickens. The residual heat from the noodles and the skillet will gently cook the eggs so that it becomes a rich and creamy sauce. Depending on multiple factors, you may find that the sauce is a bit too thick and so add in splashes of the reserved pasta water to help thin it out and make it more creamy.
7. When the sauce has thickened and been incorporated with the pasta, taste the dish. With the combination of the bacon, parmesan, and salted pasta water, there is a good chance that you will not need to add any salt to the dish, so make sure to taste it first before adding any. Divide the noodles and bacon across four bowls and top each bowl generously with slivers of green onions and freshly cracked black pepper. Serve immediately.