When I was a single gal in my 20’s, I did a five-week trip to Israel, Italy, and Greece. It was a life-changing trip and I longed to bring my husband to Europe at some point in our lives. Then a house got in there, a couple of kids, and a dog, and Europe was a far off reality.
We started talking about a European trip for our 15th wedding anniversary. My husband even surprised me with a life size replica of a boarding pass to Rome. Finally!! I started to dream again.
Unfortunately, not a week after receiving this boarding pass, my husband’s employment crumbled to pieces and a large trip was the last thing on our minds. We had to be responsible adults and downsize and reduce all our bills, not go off on the adventure of a lifetime. I kept that boarding pass in my closet for a few years though …. until finally one day I let reality set in and off it went into the trash.
Finally, for our 20th wedding anniversary, we made it happen. We planned and planned and off we went for 3 weeks. The first part we traveled with good friends through Switzerland and Italy. We parted in Rome, they went home to their four children, and we continued through Italy and Greece for another week and a half.
Being the foodies we are, food was just as an exciting part of the trip as seeing the Colosseum and the Acropolis. We had never had pizza in Napoli, and when we did, we understood what all the fuss was about. How do they get such flavor in the crust? How do they make it so thin and yet sturdy? This is my newest obsession that should be saved for my 72-hour pizza dough crust recipe that I am working on. Sorry, I get distracted easily.
Back to pasta. When we arrived in Rome, my husband asked our Air-BNB host where the best places to eat locally were. She wrote down a few places within walking distance of our condo. Off we went to the closest one. There were some tourists there, but mostly locals, which means you know it’s good. I almost always order pizza when I go out because I can make pretty good pasta. So that’s what I did. My husband ordered carbonara. When it was brought to the table, he offered me a try.
It. was. perfect.
How can something so simple be so delicious? Eggs? Cheese? Noodles? Each noodle was coated with the sauce, perfectly seasoned. I became obsessed.
For the four days we were in Rome, we ate there three times. The last night we actually went and ate in sadness, savoring every bite, wondering if we would ever eat this food again.
I still dream of that carbonara.
When we returned home, I went into a post-European-vacation depression. I bought Italian wine only and made pizza and pasta and gained more weight after my vacation than on my vacation. And nobody feels sorry for your post-vacation-depression, which makes things even more depressing.
I came home and tried to re-create some of the foods that we had eaten in Greece and Italy, and let me tell you, it wasn’t too easy. We just don’t have access to the same ingredients so copying is almost impossible. Caper leaves that they only grow on Santorini? Nope. I hadn’t even heard of caper leaves before, never mind actually having access to them.
But the Carbonara, I had to try. So here’s where my food obsession sets in. I watched perhaps a few too many hours of Italian chefs on YouTube in Italy making Carbonara their way. The answer?
Everybody does it their own way. Some use whole eggs, some use only yolks, some separate the fat from the meat and combine with the egg, and so on and so on. I decided to try Carbonara all the different ways and see what I like best. The answer is in the recipe below.
I found using the yolks only coat the noodle better. Just make sure they are at room temperature, otherwise the difference in temperature so quickly could scramble the eggs. I went and bought Pecorino Romano, which is the cheese they use in Italy for Carbonara, without exception. It’s made with sheep’s milk instead of cow, and is sharp, salty, and perfect for a recipe with such few ingredients.
The Italians swear by “guanciale”, which UPDATE: I CAN BUY HERE IN MEXICO! If you can’t get your hands on any, I’ve also used pancetta before they sold guanciale here and it worked great. Most videos I watched said pancetta is a good substitute, but some true Italians yelled in the video and said SOLO GUANCIALE. Both are nicely salted, and so along with the cheese, you don’t need to add any more salt.
Carbonara is also, I have learned, not a sauce that sits well, it must be consumed quickly. Otherwise that silky sauce seems to soak into the noodles and it’s just dry coated noodles. Make sure to FINELY grate your cheese; otherwise it looks like you’ve scrambled your eggs even when you’ve haven’t. Do the opposite of what you usually do when cooking meat and put the meat in a cold skillet, then turn on the heat. This makes more fat render and make the sauce more flavorful.
Finally, Carbonara is about timing. It doesn’t take long, but, if you leave stuff on the stove, it’ll be cold and unable to reheat unless you scramble the eggs and that’s not what you want. So try and give it the 15 minutes of pure attention that it deserves. And eat it RIGHT AWAY!
So, call everybody to the table, forks in hand, napkins tucked in shirt, wine on table, and serve them some of the best Carbonara they’ve ever had.
*If you’ve never made Carbonara before, read some of the tips above; it will help plenty.
- 2 egg yolks, room temperature
- 3/4 cup cup finely grated Pecorino Romano
- 3 oz. diced guanciale
- 250 grams good quality pasta
- Freshly ground pepper
Whisk egg yolks and cheese together in a little bowl.
Finely dice guanciale and put into a cold medium size skillet. Put skillet on heat and let fat render and cook about 5 minutes until softened but not too crispy. Turn off heat. Remove guanciale from skillet and set aside.
Boil pasta until al dente (it will cook a little more after so better under then over cook). Save (at least) 1 cup cooking water, and drain.
Turn the heat for the skillet back on to medium low. Into the skillet, pour about 3/4 cup of the cooking water. Add pasta to the skillet and toss with the water to warm (and to create that beautiful, starchy sauce) for about 3 to 4 minutes. Add guanciale and toss for another minute. Turn off heat. Then add egg/cheese mixture. Keep shaking pan to toss everything together, adding more cooking water if you like to make it more saucy.
Serve immediately, adding salt if necessary (usually with authentic guanciale and pecorino it makes the entire dish salty on its own) with more pecorino grated on top.
Makes 2 servings.