Pasta, Noodles, and Dumplings The Book

51. Spaghetti Alla Carbonara p.221

The recipe

This was delicious, but then anything with this much cheese and pancetta had better be. I didn’t have the heart to go out and find guaniciale (unsmoked cured hog jowl), maybe that makes me less hard core that I should be, but the pancetta worked wonderfully. This was very easy to prepare. The fat from the pancetta is rendered, and used to brown the onions. The white wine is then added and reduced to make a sauce, the cooked spaghetti is tossed in, and a mixture of eggs, parmigiano-reggiano and pecorino romano, salt, and pepper is stirred in after the pasta is off the heat. The spaghetti partially cooks the eggs, which gives the sauce the half-thickened super smooth texture that makes Carbonara what it is.

There were two main problems with the recipe as written: water, and salt. The only liquid in here is a 1/8 cup white wine (after reducing) and the eggs. The pasta was wonderfully saucy for the first minute after it was tossed, then it got thirsty and all my sauce was gone. Adding some of the pasta water would have solved this problem, and tossing my plate with a bit of it rescued my dinner. The other issue is salt. The dish has got 5 Oz pancetta, and more than a cup of parmagiano and pecorino. The pasta is cooked in salted water, and a bit of salt is thrown in at the end for good measure. The saltiness of the meat and cheeses can vary wildly, and top producers seem to have less salt than the cheaper brands. Either the folks at Gourmet keep salt licks in their desks, or they had access to less salty ingredients than I did. It wasn’t inedible, but I woke up parched in the middle of the night.

There’s a little note at the bottom of the recipe about eating eggs that aren’t fully cooked. I suppose there is a real risk of contamination, and I’m certain that the people at The Book have lawyers to make sure notes like that get in there, but where’s the joy? As a young healthy person I get to feel invulnerable and poo poo warnings like that. I’m certainly willing to take the one in several thousand odds of food poisoning to eat less than fully cooked eggs, meats, and fish. It’s a risk I understand and am willing to take. Unfortunately it’s not a risk I’m allowed to take in a restaurant anymore. No more medium rare burgers, and maybe I’ll never get to try sous-vide. How long before hollandaise is gone (not that I’d mourn it’s passing actually)? What about a runny yolk for my toast? I worry that these things I love will just become unavailable, or I’ll have to sign a waiver to order off the “irresponsible” section of the menu. What is the world coming to? Why in my day…. grumble, grumble… snore.

Other than those little complaints, it really was a delicious dish. Despite all the cheese and pancetta, it wasn’t nearly as heavy as the Carbonara you’d get from the local Italian joint. In fact there’s no cream in here at all. The texture was also much lighter. Once I’d added a bit of water the strands of pasta were flavorful, and well coated enough not to stick, but not swaddled in the overwhelming amounts of sauce you sometimes find. With the salt and water caveats in mind this can be a great dish, the recipe as written gets slightly lower marks than what it can easily be changed to become.


I'm a graduate student in Montreal. I spend most of my time studying drug addiction using brain imaging techniques. I'm also a foodie, exploring the culinary world both in and out of my kitchen.

8 replies on “51. Spaghetti Alla Carbonara p.221”

I know a lot of people who are squeamish about raw egg, so I will often fake carbonara by just frying up some pancetta and garlic, and tossing it with the pasta and a generous splodge of goats’ cheese (a little olive oil never hurts, either). It sometimes comes out a little dryer than normal carbonara depending on the goats’ cheese, but the end result is still very satisfying.

Not that I want to deprive you of your raw eggs, which you seem to feel very strongly about.

By the way, you are definitely my favourite blog these days.

Thanks Andrew!

Your version sounds delicious. Another option is irradiated pasteurized eggs, they behave more or less like normal eggs, but they’re safe to eat raw.

Is anybody really worried about eating raw eggs? Whatever dude, I’ve consumed plenty of raw egg in my time and never had a problem.

Exactly, it’s never something I would have worried about. Eggs used to be pretty much sterile, but about 10 years ago a strain of salmonella made it’s way into eggs, and now there’s a very small chance of contamination. It’s super minimal, but places that are worried about getting sued are cooking their eggs through. Apparently it’s worse in the states than in Canada, but the food police really are trying to get rid of things like raw eggs. You’ll see.

Nice recipe and I will try it with the white wine. I just had Carbonara 5 minutes ago (made it for 1) but I made it slightly differently. My method is as follows:

I made about a 1/3lb Dececco Spaghetti (al dente), I cut into small strips 3 slices (not too thick) of Pancetta (Guaniciale is very rare in the USA) I brown the Pancetta at a pace that will have it slightly carbonized by the time the pasta is finished (10-12 min). For 1/3lb pasta I use 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk set aside in a small bowl. To the small bowl add, 1-2 tbls of well grated Pecorino Romano, a very small splash of olive oil and allot of freshly ground pepper. Sometimes I cheat and add 1tsp of a lactic butter but not always. When the pasta is done, I drain it fast catching a very small amount (few tablespoons) of water in the pot. Then I splash the cooking pancetta with some red wine just enough to de-glaze the delectable caramelized pancetta in the pan any more and it will be ruined. Throw (Yep, throw it!) the hot Spaghetti into the pan with de-glazed pancetta mixture stirring rapidly to coat the Spaghetti and to ensure that the pasta does not stick. You can add some of the water you saved if it looks dry or for additional deglazing last second (judgment call). Now place the pasta back into the pot and stir in the small bowl of egg, cheese, etc… Into the pasta and mix to a lovely brownish yellow with a slightly moist consistency. Serve immediately garnish with some cracked pepper (I crack them in a plastic bag and use the bottom of an empty wine bottle) a sprinkle of Romano cheese and a sprig of parsley. I have never used white wine but I have used a splash of red wine vinegar when wine was not available and it came out very nice.

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