Not wanting to venture out to the market in the downpour, Spaghetti alla Carbonara was our choice for lunch on this stormy Sunday afternoon. The creamy eggs, crispy guanciale, and sharp pecorino made for a hearty pasta dish that diverted our attention from the dark, thundering sky outside.
There are differing theories about the origin of la Carbonara’s name. Some say that it was a preferred dish of Italian coalminers (carbonari) because of the non-perishable nature of the dry pasta, guanciale and pecorino cheese, and the availability of fresh eggs from the hens that they carried with them. Others maintain that the recipe appeared shortly after the 1944 Liberation of Rome – a combination of Italian pasta and the bacon and eggs preferred by North American troops.
Many unauthentic versions of la Carbonara are around. This one, though, is just like what you’d find in a Roman trattoria. The trick lies in the authenticity of the ingredients and the technique.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara is one of the classic dishes of Rome, so it is fitting that we paired it with Fontana Candida, a dry white wine from Frascati, one of the hill towns surrounding Rome that make up the Castelli Romani. Fontana Candida is a refreshing, minerally wine with a crisp acidity and green apple and citrus flavors.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
1 lb. spaghetti
100 grams guanciale*
6 eggs (5 yolks, 1 whole)
Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. When ready, salt the water (see the Methods section for more information) and add the spaghetti.
In the meanwhile, slice the guanciale into strips 1/4″ thick, and then cut again into small pieces. Slowly fry the guanciale in olive oil until crisp, but not burned. Remove from heat.
Separate the yolks from the whites of 5 eggs. Place the yolks into a dish, and discard the whites. Add one more whole egg to the yolk mixture, and beat by hand. Set aside.
Grate enough pecorino cheese to add generously to the top of each plate of pasta. Set aside.
When the spaghetti are cooked, scoop out a large cup of the boiling water to set aside, and then drain thoroughly. Return the spaghetti to the pot and place back on the stove on medium heat. Moving quickly, add first the guanciale and the oil it was cooked in, and then the eggs. Stir quickly until the eggs are cooked, adding some of the reserved water so that the mixture is creamy but not runny.
Transfer the spaghetti to pasta plates, grind black pepper liberally on top, and finish with a generous sprinkling of pecorino. Serve immediately.
*Guanciale is cured pork taken from the cheek of the pig. It is more flavorful than its cousin pancetta, which is cured pork from the belly of the pig. Both guanciale and pancetta are best purched in Italian specialty delis. If you cannot find guanciale, pancetta works fine in this recipe. If you cannot find either use pork belly, which is what we did today because we didn’t want to run out in the rain.
**Pecorino is a sharp aged cheese made from sheep milk. We prefer pecorino in our carbonara, but parmigiano can be substituted.