Mambo Italiano

I made one of my favorite meals this week, pasta carbonara! It's been ages since I've had it and cooking it brought me back to my tiny blue kitchen in Bologna. I love when that happens. Italy holds such a range of emotions for me and revisiting them from time to time reminds me that even the hardest times in your life can still turn out to be the greatest.

I moved to Italy in July and was fortunate enough to be invited to a friend's family beach house on the Tyrrhenian Sea coast in Tuscany some weeks later. The friend, Fillo, is the son of a chef and quite a talented cook himself. His culinary talent, which I got to experience first-hand over the course of the weekend, was born by pride in his country’s cuisine and an authentic love of good food. A quality I can admire in anyone. I hardly left his side any time he was in the kitchen cooking a meal for the house and asked lots of questions. I went home a few days later to recreate several of his dishes until I had them mastered.

I don’t make carbonara often, partly because it’s addicting and partly because it’s not the healthiest choice to make on a regular basis. I use American style bacon instead of pancetta because when I lived in Italy I preferred to use pancetta affumicata in my carbonara, which, is just Italian style smoked bacon. I haven’t found pancetta affumicata or even slab bacon in my local grocery stores but I love to use the North Country Smokehouse brand of bacon because it’s thick cut and adds a really lovely smokiness to the pasta. Plus it’s from New Hampshire. You may use any type of pancetta or bacon you prefer, smoked or unsmoked, it’s up to you.

I paired the pasta with Bogle Vineyard's Petit Sirah a lovely balanced fruit forward wine at a great value. If you've got a little extra cash to spend I would suggest it paired with Michael and David Winery's Petit Petit, a bold wine that will cut through the richness but balanced and with enough fruit to enjoy a glass while preparing dinner.

Pasta Carbonara 
Serves four
1 box of thick spaghetti
2 whole eggs plus one egg yolk
6 slices of thick cut bacon, cut into ½ inch slices
2 cloves garlic
4-5 springs of fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
Handful of freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

Put a large pot of water on to boil. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and scramble, add parmigiano, parsley and mix together. Set aside.

Smash the garlic in its skin with the blunt side of a chefs knife and add it and the bacon to a cold pan. Cook over medium heat until the bacon has rendered most of its fat, take off heat and let cool. Discard the garlic and drain all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat.

When the water comes to a rolling boil, salt it and cook pasta according to package directions. When it is ready save about ½ C of the pasta water (you won't use all of it) and drain the rest into a colander.

Here is where it can get a bit tricky, so following the instructions is very important if you don't want to end up with scrambled egg pasta! Place pasta pot back onto stove with the flame OFF, when the pasta has drained, and cooled a bit, add it back into its pot. Add reserved bacon and fat to the pasta then pour the egg mixture slowly over the pasta and mix together with long kitchen tongs. Add about ½ C of the pasta water and toss the pasta until the sauce comes together, adding more if the sauce is too thick.

The starch in the pasta water and the residual heat from both pasta and water will gently cook and thicken the egg (without making scrambled eggs) and turn it into a delectable sauce. Garnish with parsley, serve immediately and with a crusty loaf of bread.

*Tips and suggestions

Cracking and setting the eggs up first allows them to come up to temperature and will prevent the hot pasta from turning cold eggs into scrambled carbonara.

If you’re cooking on an electric stove, like most of New Hampshire does, I suggest using a large glass or stainless steel bowl to toss the pasta and the sauce together. Residual heat from your electric burner will make scrambled carbonara quicker than you can say bacon.

I occasionally add a handful of fresh or frozen (NEVER canned!) peas for a little more brightness and to make myself feel a little bit healthier. Plus it’s delicious with peas.