Sunday, February 1, 2009

Linguini Carbonara for Deux!

Ladies and gents, I have found my new favorite go-to dish.

The other night, the hubs and I were planning to spend a long evening at home, during which I had planned to make a pizza with chanterelles, spinach, proscuitto, and chevre (yum!). But, as is normal on a Friday night, our plans changed when a good friend called us with a last-minute game night invitation, leaving me with only 45 minutes to scrounge together a quick meal, eat, and make it to our friend's house. After a quick perusal of the pantry, I decided to try my hand at linguini carbonara.

Pasta carbonara is an incredibly delicious yet easy dish to prepare, and it only takes about fifteen minutes from start to finish. It is at once comforting and surprising: the smoky undertones lent by bacon and the pungent heat from peppercorns are perfectly balanced by the velvety smoothness of yolks and cheese. For the palate, this dish is a lesson of perfection in simplicity; for the stomach, it is deeply satisfying.

I like the adaptability of pasta carbonara- you can increase or decrease the pepper, egg, and cheese, depending on how peppery and how creamy you like your sauce. I would like to insert a disclaimer, though: I do not enjoy the American version made with cream- it's too heavy for a carbonara, and it interferes with the incredibly ethereal texture that only unadulterated egg yolks can create. I prefer the old-school, cream-free method. I should also mention that this dish involves raw egg, so if you have bacteriaphobic tendencies, you probably won't care for it.

Before I dive in , I want to pass on a few notes about the ingredients. First, carbonara is traditionally made with guanciale (pork cheek that is seasoned and cured for a few weeks), but I live in Kansas and won't be finding local guanciale any time soon, so I used bacon. Pancetta would be better than bacon, but again- small town living calls for desperate measures! Secondly, freshly-crushed peppercorns MAKE this dish. Don't use the powdered stuff. Thirdly, use a good-quality block of parmigiano-reggiano. None of that pre-grated stuff in a tub (or worse, that canned powder...euhhh...). Ok, now that that's out of my system, onward we go!

mise en place... and the wonderful riesling I sipped while cooking
(Please forgive the poor-quality photos. I was rushed).

Ingredients (makes enough for one small and one large appetite) :

enough sea salt to salt your pasta water
1/4 lb bacon, diced
1/3 lb linguini (or preferred pasta)
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons (or to taste) of whole black peppercorns, crushed
1 1/2 cups freshly-grated parmigiano-reggiano
2 roma tomatoes, diced

First, heat a pot of well-salted water to a boil and cook the linguini to al-dente. Some people like to continually boil pasta, and others remove it from the heat and let it sit to cook. Do what makes you happy. Once the pasta has reached al dente, drain, but reserve some of the pasta water. Put the linguini back into the pot or into a large bowl.

While the pasta cooks, brown the bacon in a small skillet. Instead of browning it in olive oil, I melted a little bit of bacon fat in the pan while it heated, then added the bacon to do its wonderful magic in its own juices. Cook until nicely browned, then drain the fat. Add the bacon to the drained pasta.

Temper the egg yolks (see note below)*with a bit of the hot pasta water to prevent them from scrambling, then stir the yolks into the pasta. Stir in enough parmigiano-reggiano for desired consistency and add the crushed peppercorns. You can garnish with romas, as I had planned, but I ended up eating my linguini carbonara without them because I remembered how much I hate out-of-season tomatoes, and because this dish is superb without any extras.

So there you have it! Next time, I am taking cues from my friend Kirsten and making Tom Ka Gai soup... Until then, Bon Appetit!

*Tempering eggs prevents them from scrambling when they hit the hot noodles/pot by using a warm liquid to slowly increase the temperature of the eggs. To do this, just drizzle a little bit of pasta water into the yolks while constantly stirring them. I drizzled a few tablespoons into my yolks and had no scrambling issues.


  1. Sounds delicious! I have never had this dish homemade before, I am very excited to try it.

  2. Funny how the first time cyclewrench tried it, you were with him/us!!! He did like it very much and I'm making it tonight. Ironically, he told me I could get anything I wanted tonight (like, I could eat out). But I still decided to make this because I was looking forward to it all day!! I'm glad it makes quickly, though; it is already 8:00!

    And I broke the rules. I unknowingly bought a tub of pregrated (it was cheapest). But it still tastes very fresh!