I love pasta. Of all the different dishes and foods that are dear to me, pasta has a very special place in my heart. It has so many good qualities – the balance between bite and softness when it’s cooked to perfection, its natural affinity for melted cheese, the gloriously comforting way it fills you up with carby goodness – and there are so many fabulous dishes you can make with it. I’ll go for basically anything that involves pasta, but for special occasions, I think it’s pretty much impossible to beat a luxurious, creamy bowl of spaghetti alla carbonara.
I’ve had many a carbonara over the years and formed my own specific requirements for a really good one. I make no claims that this is a proper or definitive carbonara, just my favourite one. I have, however, stuck to what seems to be the cardinal rule of carbonara – that the sauce is made with eggs and no cream – and treated myself to the very best ingredients…
I’ve mentioned the Italian Food Hall a few times on my blog before – it’s a temple to fantastic Italian food, a small bright shop that’s positively packed with delicious goodies, and it was always going to be my first stop for making the perfect carbonara. After consultation with owner Laura, I chose bucatini pasta – although carbonara is often made with spaghetti, I do like a slightly thicker pasta for my carbonara, so bucatini (fat noodles with a hole the size of a pinhead right down the centre) seemed perfect to me. Next, I hit the deli counter, which fills the whole shop with the most gorgeous aromas, to pick up proper guanciale, or cured pork cheek (you can use pancetta, of course, which is made with pork belly, but guanciale is often traditional and has a slightly stronger flavour and slightly more delicate texture) and truffle pecorino, which is so utterly delicious that I couldn’t stop nibbling on it while I was cooking. Alright, it’s a bit of an indulgence – but I can never resist a bit of truffle.
Finally, of course, to make a seriously cracking carbonara I needed the finest eggs in the land. Luckily, I knew exactly where to go for those: New Macdonalds Farm, our friendly local poultry farmers, who sell the most gorgeous varicoloured eggs from their flocks of happy free-range hens. You really can taste the difference with these beauties – they’re rich and creamy, with sunshine-yellow yolks that put supermarket eggs to shame – and I highly recommend you try them.
Fresh parsley is not always a traditional requirement for carbonara, but I like its freshness – ditto a touch of fresh lemon zest – so those are both in my carbonara too. As I say, I make no claims that this is a ‘proper’ carbonara, so don’t @ me. Let’s get stuck in…
Sal's Ultimate CarbonaraPrint Recipe
- 250g bucatini
- 150g guanciale
- Olive oil
- 3 eggs
- 100g truffle pecorino
- Black pepper
- A pinch of salt
- A small handful of fresh parsley
- A lemon
Start by chopping the guanciale – use a sharp knife to cut off the rind and the outer crust of black pepper (but don’t get rid of the fat) and then cut the rest into fat little fingers about 3cm long and 1cm wide. Pop a splash of oil into a frying pan on a medium heat, add the guanciale, and fry gently for about 10 minutes until it’s starting to get just a little crispy.
Meanwhile, break two whole eggs into a jug and add the yolk of the third (you don’t need the white from this one) and beat well with a fork. Add about half of the cheese, a really good grinding of fresh black pepper and a pinch of salt, and beat well again.
Pop the bucatini in a pan with plenty of well-salted boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes, or until it’s soft with just a little bite. Drain the pasta and let it sit in the colander for a couple of minutes, stirring every now and then to stop it sticking, as you don’t want it to be too hot when you add the eggs – this will help you avoid the dreaded scrambled egg scenario.
Add the pasta to the guanciale, in the same pan you fried it in (it should still be quite warm, although not spitting hot), and stir well so that the pasta is coated with the oil from the meat. Then add the egg mixture and stir really well again, for the next few minutes, until it thickens on the pasta in a nice creamy sauce.
Finally, divide the carbonara between two bowls and top each portion with a sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley and a little grated lemon zest. Serve with the rest of the grated pecorino and a few glasses of good red wine.
Both the Italian Food Hall and New Macdonalds Farm provided me with their ingredients free of charge. I hope I’ve done them justice!