Mario Batali, the well known Italian-American chef, is a purist when it comes to his spaghetti alla carbonara. He uses eggs only–no cream–and offers instructions on how to cure your own hog jowls, should you want to go more authentic than bacon or pancetta. I opted for bacon, even though I used pancetta when testing Giada De Laurentiis’ version, because it’s the sauce I’m really interested in figuring out. How do I replicate the mouth-warming heartiness of the best carbonaras I’ve eaten?
Batali’s recipe uses four separated eggs. The whites are mixed with some parmesan and then added to the cooked pasta. As the chef promises, it is tough to mix this in so that the whites and cheese are smooth. Sure enough, my whites cooked a tiny bit, although it was hard to tell if the particles were congealed eggs or unmelted cheese. It wasn’t unpleasant texure-wise to eat, so the big question is if the flavour makes it worth it.
The egg yolks are added at the very last moment, served unbroken atop the heap of pasta. Ooo…exciting! The raw egg yolk has always been an element of my favourite carbonaras. I used free range eggs as I always do now. (I can’t stand the sight of those transport trucks packed full of chickens with no clucking room.) What a disappointment to find that the yolk added little in the way of richness or flavour. How can this be? Is it something to do with the chickens? I see there are regulations in Canada about chickens being raised in areas where the floors are perfectly smooth and therefore easier to clean. Would the eggs taste better if the chickens were grass-fed, as Farmer Rob of Oregon claims?
In any case, the meal stayed hot, unlike the one made from the recipe by De Laurentiis, and it worked fine as leftovers. With no cream, the eggs couldn’t turn to pasta quiche when reheated. Still, given the blandness of the flavour, I wouldn’t use this recipe again. Unless, of course, I get my hands on some grass-fed-chicken eggs. Oh, and maybe I should try out those hog jowls. Mmm hog jowls.