Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Can you Carbonara?

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Several years ago, I went to Europe (specifically, Paris and London) for my birthday. I've always treated myself to travel on my birthdays and its a great reason to get out and see the world. While in Paris, I remember having dinner with my friend, Jodi. I'll never forget what I ordered - Spaghetti Alla Carbonara.

It was the very first time I ever had this dish and ever since, I was always hesitant to make it at home. Maybe it was the timing involved... I had to time it just right so I got the perfect consistency. Maybe it was the nervousness of using raw egg and leaving it to the mercy of the residual heat of my pasta to cook it enough. But I've overcome those concerns and have made Spaghetti Alla Carbonara confidently. How? With the help of my trusty America's Test Kitchen Cookbook. What we wanted: Restaurant carbonara is often an unctuous, congealed mass of cheese, eggs and bacon. We set out to make the sauce silky and smooth.

What we learned: Use a blend of cheeses for the right flavor, combine the cheeses and eggs in a small bowl and pour this mixture over the host pasta for even coverage. Use regular American bacon, white wine and raw garlic to balance the richness of the eggs and cheese. Also, add sea salt flakes to the pasta cooking water. We like the full flavor they bring to the carbonara.

This recipe has never failed me and the result is a smooth, creamy sauce... perfectly balanced with the pasta and bacon. The hint of wine carries nicely into the bacon and throughout the dish. This is definitely a winner! Here is the recipe from the America's Test Kitchen Cookbook, pages 17-19:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound bacon (6-8 slices), halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 3/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)
3 large eggs
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
3 small cloves garlic, minced
1 pound spaghetti
sea salt
ground black pepper
basil, chiffonade for garnish

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, set heatproof serving bowl on rack, and heat oven to 200 degrees. (I just microwaved my serving/mixing bowl for 5-7 minutes to keep it nice and hot.) Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil in large stockpot.

2. While water is heating, heat oil in large skillet over medium heat until shimmering, but not smoking. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and crisp. about 8 minutes. Add wine and simmer until alcohol aroma has cooked off and wine is slightly reduced 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm. Beat eggs, cheeses, and garlic together with fork in small bowl; set aside.

3. When water comes to boil, add pasta and 1 tablespoon sea salt; stir to separate pasta. Cook until al dente; reserve 1/3 cup pasta cooking water and drain pasta for about 5 seconds, leaving pasta slightly wet. Transfer drained pasta to warm serving bowl;l if pasta appears dry, add some reserved cooking water and toss to moisten. Immediately pour egg mixture over hot pasta, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes or 3/4 teaspoon table salt; toss well to combine. Pour bacon mixture over pasta, season generously with black pepper, and toss well to combine. Garnish with basil and serve immediately.

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