Spaghetti alla carbonara is a much abused recipe. As I was growing up, it was always a dish slathered in cream. Imagine my surprise, nay, shock, when on my very first visit to Italy many, many moons ago, I was served a pasta dish with absolutely no cream to speak of, or taste, for that matter.
Of course, I did think that perhaps it was an aberration and spent the next few days, sampling endless bowls of pasta alla carbonara all over Rome! Did I find one with cream in it? Nope. Nada. Not a drop. And so began my real Italian culinary education! Forget all those Italian restaurants in Singapore and countless books I’d studied – ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby!
I adore Italian food, and, am convinced that I was Italian in a previous life! And while London was super cool and full of wonderful places to eat in the 90s (when I lived there), and still is, what really set me on a course to mastering Italian cuisine, was my Italian flatmate and her frequently visiting mum. And it’s a deliciously, infinite journey. Pasta from scratch, panettone from scratch, cannoli, the all-too-common tiramisu, there were so many things Mamma Anna taught me, it was a real eye opener and burst a whole lot of spurious bubbles!
I was happy to go out on Friday nights after work for a drink or two, but many a Saturday night you’d find me at home, cooking with friends and for friends. I think back to those days very fondly, even if many of those memories kind of blur into each other these days – that makes me sound positively geriatric, doesn’t it?! On a side note, as my Saturday morning workouts were often very tough, even the Friday nights were pretty tame and ended early. What a good girl I was, eh? Young and single in cosmopolitan London, and I was more interested in exercise and food! Not always in that order.
Today’s recipe is a recipe I learnt from Mamma Anna (I think her name was Annalisa) and one I’ve been teaching for a long, long time. And because it’s also a super quick recipe, it makes a regular appearance on my catering menu, as I can whip it up in no time at all. Of course, this not being Italy, the pasta is the main, not the primo (first course). Sorry mamma!
Crucial Ingredient in Spaghetti alla Carbonara:
Guanciale is the traditional meat used in carbonara, and is the cured meat derived from the jowls or cheeks of a pig. It is more expensive and when cooked, has a slightly different texture from bacon and pancetta, its closest substitutes for this recipe. Guanciale has a slight tang to it and puffs up slightly, both from the initial frying and when the pasta water is added, when cooking carbonara. So, if you can get it, do so, otherwise, pancetta is your best bet, then, bacon.
And by popular demand (!):
Kosher Spaghetti alla Carbonara or Halal Spaghetti alla Carbonara
This is actually pretty easy. Of course, as with many substitute ingredients, the taste is never going to be the same, but to me, it at least allows one to appreciate the dish to some extent. There are so many kosher (which will be halal) turkey bacon and turkey pancetta out there in the market these days, with just the right amount of smoky flavour, perfect to make an alternative pasta alla carbonara.
So, with that in mind, any kosher/halal quick cooking, cured, smoky meat will do perfectly.
Kosher: you also have to go a step further and omit the cheese completely in this recipe. I’ve made it this way, and while it is certainly missing the the creamy flavour from the parmesan, I make up for that with a teaspoon or two of tahini. I know it’s not the same, but we are talking about substitutions. Needs must.
Here we go folks, spaghetti alla carbonara, as it’s meant to be made!
Authentic Italian Spaghetti Carbonara, made with guanciale, with not a drop of cream in sight! The way it’s made in Italy.
- 200 g (7 oz) Spaghetti
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 60 g (2 oz) Guanciale or pancetta/bacon cut into small cubes
- 2 eggs
- 60g (2 oz) Parmesan cheese (or pecorino) freshly grated
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling salted water until al dente.
- Halfway through the pasta’s cooking time, heat the oil in a large pan and fry the guanciale or pancetta until crisp.
- Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl with the grated cheese.
- When the pasta is ready, drain and add to the pan with the guanciale and mix thoroughly, tossing the spaghetti and coating it with all the lovely flavours in the pan.
- Take off the heat and let cool slightly, perhaps for a couple of minutes. You could transfer it all into an unheated pan to aid this process, if you fancy. TIP: If the spaghetti and guanciale are too hot, the egg might scramble, and you don’t want that, you’re going for a creamy mixture.
- Now add the egg and cheese mixture and stir quite vigorously to coat the pasta, adding a tablespoon or two of the pasta water to lighten it, if you fancy.
- Serve immediately.
- Category: Starter if you're in Italy, Main, if not!
- Cuisine: Italian
- Serving Size: 2-3