For me, pasta alla carbonara calls to mind a small town, nestled on a hillside surrounded by green farms abundant with laden fruit trees; a town where the bakeries outnumber the banks and the locals gather for long chats over produce stands. It was there that my love affair with this dish began, there in Villers-Bocage, Normandy.
What’s that, you say? Are you sure it wasn’t a hillside near Rome, the reputed birthplace of carbonara?
I had eaten pasta alla carbonara before in Canada, but had never found it so satisfying as the one at the little pizza and pasta restaurant on the main street of Villers-Bocage. The combination of the local cream and salty lardons (cured, fatty French pork, similar to bacon), topped with an egg yolk became one of my favourite pasta dishes.
Turns out I wasn’t eating a “true” carbonara, which purists insist includes no cream and gets its rich flavour solely from the eggs. Sounds to me like a good place to start with a recipe challenge!
This month’s versions of carbonara recipes include two with cream and egg, and one with egg only. “Penne à la Carbonara” from Giada De Laurentiis’ Everyday Italian is the heaviest on the cream having twice as much as Nigella Lawson’s recipe. Mario Batali goes totally traditional in his version of Spaghetti alla Carbonara, right down to offering the how-to for curing your own hog jowls, should you decide not to go with pancetta or bacon.
Purist Alert: I’m not going to be trying to reproduce a carbonara that could have been cooked in a late 1940′s Roman kitchen. What I’m looking for is the carbonara that I (okay, and maybe my family) enjoy eating most.
Here are the ingredients for Giada De Laurentiis’s recipe:
Penne à la Carbonara
from Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lb pancetta, diced in one-inch cubes, or bacon
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 6 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 lb(454 gram package) dried penne
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
De Laurentiis combines the cream, eggs, cheese, salt, and pepper before adding them to the cooked pancetta and penne. Being the crazy rebel that I am, I just might forgo the penne and spaghetti and go with rotini.