Company’s Coming Carbonara (spaghetti, fettucine, linguine, whatever)
So last night I totally ruined dinner. Ok, maybe I didn’t ruin it completely, but the fact that dinner still tasted pretty good was more of a kitchen/recipe miracle than it was an indication that I still possess any culinary skills whatsoever.
I burned the bacon, I forgot to defrost the cheese well in advance so it kind of clumped together, the bacon grease popped up right as I was about to stir the sauce and almost blinded me, and that was after the hot pasta water had spilled on my hand, giving me a mighty burn that I tried to ignore because I didn’t want to ruin dinner. But after the whole bacon grease popping up and nearly blinding me thing, I was less compelled to ignore the pain in my hand. The beloved carnivore ran (literally) to CVS to get burn ointment, which I should probably keep in the kitchen anyway, and I kept stirring and stirring the pasta till he got back, we applied the ointment to my hand, and then we ate. He served the pasta, though, because I didn’t want to add “poisoning my fiance with accidental drops of burn ointment in his pasta” to my list of accomplishments that evening.
And dinner still tasted pretty good, although not nearly as good as the other times I’ve made this recipe – but the last time I made this recipe exactly this way, I forgot to take any pictures and by the time I realized that, the beloved carnivore, his best friend, and I had already finished the pot. Which should not indicate that this recipe only serves 3 people – it generously serves 6 to 8 people, but we were hungry. And boys eat a lot, dudes. A whole, whole lot.
This really is a great pasta recipe to bring out at dinner parties – it’s got just enough pizzazz to wow even that snooty foodie that every circle of friends has, but it’s simple enough that you can be a more relaxed, welcoming host. That is, unless you’re having such an unlucky, clutzy night in the kitchen that you spend a good portion of the evening flooding your eye with cool water.
As far as the bacon/pancetta called for in this recipe goes, I’ll note that I vastly prefer the flavor of pancetta for carbonara. However, pancetta can be hard to find if you don’t have a Whole Foods or other fancy-pants grocery store nearby. And by fancy-pants, I mean any grocery store that reliably sells unsalted butter. Which, where Em and I live, is hard to come by, sadly – especially if you’re sans car.
I also prefer using spaghetti to using linguine or fettucine, but the beloved carnivore already had a pound of linguine and you know how much we here at EmandAm hate waste.
- 1 lb spaghetti, linguine, or fetttucine
- 6 oz pancetta or bacon (1/2 of typical 1 lb bacon package, or all of typical 6 oz pancetta package)
- 1 and 1/4 cup frozen peas
- 3 whole eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (grated)
- 3/4 cup Romano cheese (grated), divided (1/2 cup and 1/4 cup)
- 1 TBSP olive oil
- 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 2/3 cup dry white wine
- salt and pepper to taste
First, the prep work. Dice the pancetta or bacon – you want it to be diced finely (about 1/4 inch), but it also shrinks substantially when it’s cooked, so you don’t need to go crazy with the dicing. Just try to make it as even as possible.
Mince the garlic cloves.
Prepare your peas – do not prepare them strictly according to the package directions. Add a little bit of water and microwave them for about 1/3 to 1/2 of the time that the package directs. For my peas, the package said to microwave them for 5 minutes for a half-package. I microwaved my cup and a quarter of peas with a tablespoon or two of water for 3 minutes and they were still on the too-well-cooked side, so I suggest 1/3 or 1/2 of the cooking time on the package. Then check them – they only need to be warm and tender enough to eat, they don’t need to be super soft or piping hot.
Get a large pot of salted water boiling for the pasta.
Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and then cook the bacon in the olive oil until it’s nice and browned. Don’t be like me (or at least, the me of last night) – don’t say to yourself “Ok, I should take that out in about a minute, it looks done, but I just want to be safe.” No, take it out as soon as it’s all brown and crispy, or you’ll have dry bacon and some burned pieces that you have to carefully pick out. Not cool, man. Remove the bacon from the pan using a slotted spoon that’s sturdy enough not to melt in piping hot bacon grease. Lay the bacon on a paper-towel-lined plate to let some of that heart-stopping grease drain off of it. Temporarily set the pan with the bacon grease off to the side, off heat.
At some point during the bacon-frying, the pasta water will be boiling. Throw whichever pasta you’re using into the boiling water and stir occasionally.
Prepare the cheese and egg mixture. Crack 3 whole eggs into a medium to large bowl. Add in the two egg yolks. Whisk until smooth. Stir in the Parmesan and 1/2 cup of the Romano cheese until as smooth as cheese & eggs can be (which is not very – but it should be well-mixed.
Now, most recipes will tell you to throw all the ingredients into the pasta at the end. I have a problem with this. I think the peas, especially, need to be well-coated with the sauce – and if you just add them to the pasta at the end, not only will they not be well-coated with the sauce, but they’ll be harder to stir evenly throughout the pasta. So I throw them into the egg and cheese mixture and stir. Last night I also did this with the bacon, but I don’t recommend that. I think it makes it less crispy. Hey, it was worth a shot.
Drain some of the bacon grease from the pan, leaving only a couple of tablespoons of grease in the pan – or enough to just coat the pan. Return the pan to heat (only about medium heat this time – you don’t want to burn yourself. Trust me). Add the minced garlic and sautee for thirty seconds before adding the white wine in two batches. After the first batch of white wine stops sizzling, scrape up any bacon bits, and then add the rest of the wine. Let it reduce briefly, about two minutes, and then pour into the egg, cheese, and pea mixture.
When the pasta is perfectly al dente, or even a bit shy of al dente, reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water. If you have a nice Pyrex measuring cup, you can just dip it into the pasta water, collect some water, and remove it. If you don’t have a glass measuring cup, use a ladle to remove the pasta water and put it in a glass or mug.
Drain the pasta and run a little bit of cold water over it while it’s in the colander – just enough to stop the pasta from continuing to cook but not enough to make the pasta cold and gross, since none of the ingredients you’re adding to the pasta will do much to heat the pasta back up. Return the pasta to the pot, stir in the egg/cheese/garlic/wine/peas mixture, then stir in the bacon and the remaining 1/4 cup of Romano (add more if you want – which you will if you’re addicted to Romano cheese, like me). Thin with the reserved pasta water as necessary – if it’s not necessary, keep the pasta water around in case you want to thin the pasta a bit before serving seconds.
Finally, salt and pepper the pasta to taste. You’ll need very little salt, if any.
Enjoy! And if you’re wondering what to do with the peas that you have left over at the end of this, consider making a half-batch of peacamole.