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Food: Spaghetti alla Carbonara

August 18, 2010
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If you’ve ever tried to make a carbonara sauce, you’ve probably only done it once, and you’ve probably failed. (Sorry, but you know its true.)  You bought all of the ingredients, invited people over, set out the nice bowls for a delicious meal, and then had to order pizza when you realized that instead of the traditional “breakfast” pasta with a creamy, smooth texture, you made an unfortunate spaghetti omelette.

It’s not your fault- SB has been there too. And she is here to tell you that there are a lot of bad carbonara recipes out there.

The basic recipe calls for bacon (or pancetta), onion (or shallot), romano cheese (or parmesan), and several raw eggs (the problematic part). Different recipes use olive oil, cream, garlic, or parsley, and of course salt and pepper. After much research, I’ve decided that the most error proof method of cooking the dish uses cream over oil, and fewer eggs than are usually prescribed. The rest of the ingredients can be tinkered with as you see fit.

At least 90% of this recipe is easy- but start by taking your eggs out of the fridge and setting them on the counter. It’s very important that your eggs be room temperature. Now, cook the onion and bacon in a pan over medium heat (full recipe below). Put the water on for your pasta at the same time. After about 8-10 minutes, add 1/2 cup of cream, salt and pepper to taste, and as much grated cheese as you’d like to the onion and bacon mixture. Once your pasta has finished cooking, drain it VERY well (you don’t want the sauce to get watered down) and add it to the sauce, cooking over low heat for 1-2 minutes, turning the pasta so that it is completely coated. Now, here is where things could get tricky.

If you know anything about cooking, you’ll quickly realize that you need to be careful for this next step- adding raw eggs to a warm pasta. If you make a wrong move the eggs will react the same way I do when I realize I’ve accidentally wandered into the “petite” section of Ann Taylor- they start walking away quickly and stating loudly “Wrong! Wrong! I know I’m not petite! I did not mean to be in this section!” In other words, they scramble.

Here is how to avoid this problem:

1) Crack your room temperature eggs, and separate into bowls. All the whites go into one bowl, each yolk goes into a separate bowl.

2) Remove pan holding the coated pasta from burner/heat. There is no need to wait for the pasta to cool at all, in fact, you MUST do this step while the pasta is still warm.

3) Add the WHITES to the pan immediately and stir well, until fully mixed.

4). Separate pasta into serving bowls, the add one yolk to the top of each serving.

The whites will incorporate into the dish and create a creamy, silky finish. When your diners mix the yolk into their portion they will add an extra layer of earthiness. And best of all, your eggs will not be scrambled and you will feel like a regular Giada De Laurentiis (hopefully minus the abnormally large bobble-head).

Recipe: Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Serves 4

4 eggs, at room temperature and separated. Whites in one bowl, each yolk in its own separate bowl

1/2 cup heavy cream

8-10 oz bacon or pancetta

1/2 onion, chopped

approx 1 cup parmesan or romano cheese, grated

salt and pepper


1 lb pasta

Put water on for pasta, once water is boiling add salt and cook pasta until al dente. Cook bacon, onion, and garlic in large saucepan over medium heat, about 8-10 minutes. Once cooked, add cream and cook for 1 minute. Add grated cheese, salt and pepper. Add well drained pasta to pan, coat fully with sauce and cook for 1-2 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Add 1/2 of the room temperature egg whites to pan and stir well (if you want to add all of the egg whites, go for it, but start with just 1/2). Separate pasta into bowls, top each serving with one egg yolk, more cheese, and parsley. Voila.

*credit for the basis of this recipe goes to Mario Batali, though I’ve made several changes to it.

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