February 15, 2008

Bacon & Eggs

No, no, no. Not the classic American breakfast. The classic Italian pasta dish, “alla carbonara.”

The long-awaited first foray with a Zuni recipe finally took place last Sunday, spaghetti alla carbonnara. A wicked winter wind-induced power outage forced me to make it in somebody else’s kitchen, but it still turned out exceedingly well, and was remarkably easy to execute.

The recipe calls for mixing the egg/ricotta mixture with the pasta in the still-hot pan in which the bacon was cooked. But I kept the pan on a burner on low heat to cook the egg mixture just a bit more than might happen otherwise.

The sauce’s consistency was perfect: slightly thick, but still “loose” enough to thoroughly coat the pasta. I typically subscribe to the Mario Batali, less-is-more – or, as he puts it, “condimento,” – approach to saucing pasta. But with this carbonara, the condimento approach doesn’t work for me. Not that it should be swimming in the sauce, like so many Americans prefer (or think they prefer), but this sauce is the star, in my opinion, and deserves to be more than a supporting actor for the pasta.

Finally, timing is important here. The pasta will take only slightly longer to cook than the bacon, so once you get the pasta started, you want to get the bacon going just 2-3 minutes later.

The only thing I will do differently next time is load up more on the cracked pepper. Overall, though, this was highly enjoyable, and will undoubtedly become a staple. And my in-laws are owed a debt of gratitude for letting me borrow their kitchen, because I had been looking forward to this Sunday meal since the previous Monday!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara (adapted from the Zuni Café Cookbook)
  • 1 pound of spaghetti [Zuni recommends penne or bucatini, as well, but, for me, the thick, round spaghetti noodle seemed the best option]
  • 5-6 slices of a thick, quality bacon, chopped into small (1/2-inch) pieces [garden-variety bacon, I would think, will produce a disappointing result]
  • 4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil [a few good turns around the pan]
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup ricotta cheese
  • ¾ cup of peas [fresh, would be ideal of course, but organic frozen peas, quickly thawed in a bowl of warm water, worked very well]
  • Good pinch of salt
  • 1 cup of loosely packed, freshly grated pecorino romano
  • Many turns of freshly cracked black pepper

Heavily salt a pot of water and get it to boiling. Put in your spaghetti.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauce/sauté pan (enough to hold 1 lb of cooked pasta). Add the bacon and cook for about 7-8 minutes, until the edges are just getting crispy, but the middle is still tender. This should not be a “crunchy” dish!

While the bacon and pasta are doing their thing, crack the eggs in a bowl and lightly beat together with the ricotta and salt.

When the pasta is just short of al dente, drain it. If the bacon is done before the pasta, be sure to remove it from the burner (remember, tender, not crunchy). Add the well-drained pasta and the peas to the pan with the bacon.

Immediately pour the egg mixture over the spaghetti and add most of the pecorino and the black pepper.

Put back on the burner over low heat, and toss well (with the spaghetti, some long tongs works well here) for just a minute or so, until the pasta is well-coated and the egg mixture appears to be slightly cooked.

Serve immediately and pass around some freshly grated pecorino.

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