I had been on the quest of learning to make real Carbonara when I met Michele. Michele is a cocky, young chef from Calabria that lived above us last year when he was working in the kitchen of San Michele, a hotel in Fiesole that charges 1500-3000 euro a night. During the summer when we were eating in our very small yard, he would lean out the window and mock my cooking. "You call that Carbonara?"he'd say as I set the plates of pasta down for the family. Or he'd shake his finger at me and say "Non va bene". Finally I put my hands on my hips and said in my best italian, "If you're so smart get down here and show me how to do it!" To my delight, when he wasn't working or chasing young girls he would show up at our door and ask, "What do you have in the kitchen?" The first time, it was the ingredients for "the perfect pasta" which I will share with you later. The second time I made sure I had fresh eggs, pancetta, red onion, and parmeggiano so we could make La Carbonara. I also had panna (cream) in the refrigerator which he wound up using but which I think is a cop out. What does he know about real Carbonara anyway, he is from Calabria. Real Carbonara comes from Rome and doesn't usually include cream. The American version's I've seen is nothing like Roman Carbonara as it is mostly cream so you might as call it pasta with cream sauce rather than Carbonara.
This is not an easy dish to make even though it only has 4 ingredients in the sauce. If you aren't careful you will wind up with scrambled eggs and bacon in pasta which is so far from what this dish can be it makes me cry to think about it. If done right it has a silky creamy texture without the heaviness of cream.
The best thing about Carbonara is that my boys love it and I can get protein in the pasta dish if I'm not making a secondo (meat course). I love the smiles on their faces when I say I'm making La Carbonara!
Here is the recipe. Let me know if you achieve the creamy texture or scrambled eggs. I have a weakness for leeks so sometimes I substitute them for the red onion but try the traditional way first.
140 grams Pancetta chopped (bacon in the States)
Half a red onion minced
4 to 5 eggs (actually 1 egg per person and if over 5 people increase other ingredients
parmesan cheese (as you like but I put about 1/2 cup grated)
500 grams of spaghetti
Put the water on the boil for the pasta (make sure you salt the water) Saute' the pancetta and onion in olive oil until it starts to brown a bit. Add a little pasta water as needed if it starts to stick to pan.
Break the eggs in a bowl and beat. Add the parmesan and then when you cook the spaghetti a 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Don't salt the eggs at this point as it will cause them to "cook" too fast. If you want to you can add a little cream to this but the authentic way is just with eggs.
Cook the spaghetti al dente. Take it off the heat when it is still a little firm drain it then put it back into the pot. Immediately put a little olive oil on the pasta, add the cooked pancetta and onion, give it a stir and then add the eggs all at once. If you add the eggs before everything else they will scramble. Add more pasta water if needed.
Stir the spaghetti to incorporate everything and then put it back on very low heat and keep stirring until it reaches the right consistency. Should be a smooth slightly runny sauce but not too runny. The slight heat will firm it up to just the right consistency as you stir. DON't cook too much! Add salt and pepper and more parmesan on top and chopped fresh parsley if you want!