24 January 2011

Pasta Carbonara

Are there a kazillion ways to prepare a pasta carbonara or is there only one pure recipe that rests securely in every Italian grandmother's mental recipe file? That's a question I pondered today, as I opened my cupboard and went in search of something  'carbonara'.

Let's back up for a moment, though. When I rolled out of bed today, I knew there was a rack of ribs thawed in the fridge, just waiting for me to give them a good rub and cozy them up in a slow bake before applying a hot baby back  BBQ sauce ... but by the time I gave them their rub, I thought better of rushing that spicy transfer ... and as Scarlett always said, ' I'll think about that tomorrow because after all, tomorrow is another day ...'.

Instead, I turned my thoughts to a big warm bowl of pasta tucked into a carbonara sauce that would be like velvet. Some crunchy green and sweet bite mixed with an al dente fettucine. Some salty meaty prosciutto in little strips. Some walnuts toasted in a bit of walnut oil. Some firm and tangy Parmesan stirred in at the last minute to form cheesy strings. In other words, I went straight for the 'pasta fix'. 

My traditional recipe for Pasta Carbonara does not have peas and onions in it. Those tasty tidbits would be prime ingredients in an Orecciette and Peas recipe, but I wanted fettucine. Hence, the carbonara sauce got a little modification. That's about the time that I started pondering what some Italian grandmother would say...

All this modification comes, I'm sure,  from a blogger friend's discussion of pantry goods and the flexibility you have, when you think about buying and storing varied foodstuffs for the long haul. Audra got me thinking about all the bulk ingredients that I have on shelves and in the freezer. My natural urge to set things by for later use allowed me the flexibility to play with this basic Carbonara recipe. I pulled prosciutto from the freezer and peeled back just what I needed for the carbonara, saw the big bag of frozen peas that gave up a half cup for our dinner, pulled small sweet boiling onions from the potato/onion bin  and sliced them thinly, grabbed walnut oil from the fridge to toast walnuts that are stored in a jar on my pantry shelf. I was feeling so lucky.  There is so much we store away for these cold winter comfort meals! This night's spontaneous carbonara illustrates just a bit of what's stored away here in the grey cottage.

A word about tonight's preparation. This Carbonara came out beautifully because I really paid attention to keeping the saltiness down. I buy prosciutto that is cut at about 1/8- inch thickness. I find that when I fry it up abit, it sheds some of its saltiness in the oils, but doesn't shrivel up like bacon. Thicker slices don't give up the salt as well. I also use unsalted butter in this recipe to keep the butter salt absent.

I also am very careful with the egg yolks and cream sauce whisk ... the printed recipe covers the importance of keeping the direct heat off the egg yolks when it comes time to whisk them into the sauce. Just sayin'.

So... I started with a blank slate ...

I ended up with a side of Brussels sprouts that grabbed some extra prosciutto.

And... I got my 'pasta fix' - Fettucine Carbonara with some added peas and sweet onions ...

Make do with what's in your pantry and you, too, can wonder What Would Grandma Say?

Pssst! - Last year this time ... The Butcher Rant


  1. Everything about your post made the carbonara look and sound absolutely heavenly. I try to make it every now and then. While it comes out well enough I'm never thrilled about it. Yours looks amazing.

  2. I agree with Ann, yours looks delicious. You can see how creamy it is. I dislike peas but I bet I could use asparagus tips and it would be fine.

  3. @ Ann - the trick is with the egg yolks ... you have to have hot butter, whisk the cream in and be careful to keep it from direct heat while you whisk in the egg yolks. I also put two or so TBSP of the hot cream mix into the eggs first to warm them up and then turn them into the rest of the cream sauce and whisk, whisk, whisk!

    @ Susan - asparagus would be fantastic! I must remember this when Springtime arrives!

  4. Once again you make me want to ask, "Can I come eat with you?" How fabulous does that plate of pasta look??? I love carbonara but it's been awhile since I made it, might need to fix that problem! Thanks so much for the inspiration and the thoughtfulness you put into cooking and describing it to us!

  5. My favorite local Italian chef, Craig Richards, serves carbonara with the egg yolk raw on top. You stir it into the dish at the table and the heat of the pasta cooks the egg to a really nice silky texture. Here is a link to a video of him talking about it. http://www.cbsatlanta.com/local-video/index.html?grabnetworks_video_id=4500592


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