Nothing is better than getting a bacon, egg, and cheese at a bodega on a hungover weekend morning. Nothing. I don’t know about you, but I think breakfast is the best meal of the day and I could eat breakfast food any time, any place.
Yep, Ron Swanson is my spirit animal.
Carbonara is essentially the Roman version of BEC. Although after some quick Wikipediaing, it turns out this “Roman” dish may have been an American construct!1 US troops supplied Italians with eggs and bacon following the Allied bombing and liberation of Rome. Since it was post-WWII, I’m pretty sure everything was flattened and there was nothing to eat besides what the American troops brought and pasta of course. I think if you dig deep enough, every fat-laden bacon dish can be traced to some American.
In fact, bacon’s recent obsession2 is actually the result of good-ole American lobbying. Come to think of it everything we consume is probably the result of lobbying and marketing. I wouldn’t be surprised if we found out in 20 years avocados are actually terrible for your health and the avocado demand surge was pushed through by the mysterious, shadowy Haas avocado liberation lobbyists (HALLs) NGO.
Anyways the bacon story goes like this. In the 1980s there was a low-fat craze (another bullshit lobbying thing) and Big Pork was losing a ton of dinero on fattier cuts of pork, like bacon. Pig farmers were rightfully pissed at this price drop and urged their lobbyists to stir up demand for pork belly. Pork marketers then concocted a strategy to pair bacon with then lean fast-food burgers (Ha!) as a flavor enhancer. After some amazing bacon R&D advancements and subsidized recipe development, fast-food chains went full steam ahead (hello Wendy’s Baconator). The trend eventually caught on enough to trickle-down and lift supermarket prices of bacon. So that’s right we were basically conditioned into equating bacon -> flavor during a stupid war-on-fat era by a bunch of bigwig Don Draper like stooges. I guess those corporate pigs knew what they were doing. We are all sheep.3
1 I guess Carbonara can join the list of classic American exports like McDonalds, Coca-Cola, and steroid-fueled baseball.
2 “Pork bellies got so undesirable at a certain point that pork farmers were taking their bellies to Eastern Europe to look for anyone who’d buy them. Imagine that! Americans dragging bacon across the ocean to beg a buncha friggin’ Slavs to take it! The shame of it. Imagine the god damn shame of it.” – Favorite quote from the linked article…must have been dark, troubling times for Big Pork
3 Holy cow…apparently the bacon popularity was so monumental it effectively curbed pork belly seasonal sales volatility. Thus in 2012, the Chicago Mercantile Exchanged stopped trading pork belly futures contracts, since bacon demand was so predictable that there just wasn’t enough volume in pork belly futures anymore. You can still trade lean hogs futures though!
- Spaghetti (1 lb)
- Guanciale (1⁄4 lb) if you can’t get guanciale, panchetta or thick cut bacon is fine
- Egg Yolks (2)
- Whole Eggs (2)
- Pecorino Romano (~1⁄3 cup)
- Parmigiano-Reggiano (~1⁄3 cup)
- Garlic Cloves (4)
- Salt and LOTS of Pepper
The total cook time is ~0.5 hour. Timing is incredibly important in this recipe. A few seconds off or temperature degrees too high could be the difference between a silky, smooth carbonara sauce or scrambled egg pasta. Please read the entire recipe before attempting (especially step 6!).
Dice guanciale in 1⁄4 inch cubes and crush garlic. Cook the guanciale in a large flat saucepan over medium heat until fat has rendered and the guanciale is browned and crispy. Take saucepan off burner and cool on countertop.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks.1 If you have difficulty separating the yolk from the egg white,2 place a small colander mesh over a bowl and crack the egg over the colander mesh. The mesh will catch the egg yolk while the egg white will fall into the bowl.
1 Save the egg whites for later use…make like a healthy egg white omelette with tomato, spinach and complete with no flavor.
Add grated cheeses to the egg mixture along with freshly cracked black pepper, and whisk.
Bring a large pot of salted water1 to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente.
I would highly recommend investing in a steel colander with a handle. This is an incredibly easy way not only to strain pasta, but also to reserve pasta water. Place the steel colander in the large pot and lift up when the pasta is ready.
1 For the love of god, DO NOT put olive oil in your pasta water. It is true adding olive oil helps stops the pasta from sticking together. But it also prevents ANYTHING ELSE (umm your sauce!) from sticking to the pasta. It is also true adding olive oil prevents the water from boiling over the pot. But you can also…you know: use a bigger pot, not fill water to the brim, or turn down the heat when the water starts boiling.
Here is where you will actually have to start to pay attention.
Drop the pasta in the guanciale saucepan.
Transfer the pasta and guanciale into a deep stock pot (making sure to get all fat drippings) and lightly toss. Let the pasta rest for about 1 minute.
The simple key to a silky, smooth carbonara is to make sure the egg and cheese mixture does not go above ~150°F, which is the temperature eggs start to curdle leading to wonderful scrambled eggs, but terrible carbonara.
Measure the temperature of the pasta water using a cooking thermometer.1 Add a couple ladles of pasta water to the egg and cheese bowl and whisk vigorously. This helps gradually raise the temperature and form the carbonara sauce without the risk of overheating and hardening the eggs.
1 If you do not have a thermometer you can either add smaller portions (a teaspoon at a time) of pasta water or wait ~2 mins for the water to cool?…Actually I’m not sure about 2 mins. There are too many variables at play: size of pot, amount of water, or altitude. Water boils at a lower temperature at higher altitudes due to lower atmospheric pressure…so water in Denver boils at 95°C (Nothing like a reminder of high school physics to lose the interest of all my readers!)
Slowly add the egg and cheese mixture into the pasta and toss.
Serve immediately and garnish with chopped parsley and grated parmesean.