At long last I’m tying up a few loose ends from my April recipe quests, way back when I was testing recipes for cod au gratin, pasta alla carbonara, molten chocolate cakes and apple crisp.
Over that month, I determined that the Canadian Living recipe for cod au gratin was just fine and needed no tweaking (although you could add onions if it suits your taste). And you can read my raves about David Lebovitz’s hot chocolate (aka molten chocolate) cake recipe, which needed no improving as far I was concerned. However, none of the recipes for pasta alla carbonara or apple crisp were just the thing for me. I played around with both of those dishes to come up with something that satisfied me more, starting with the carbonara.
As mentioned in the introduction to my quest for the best carbonara recipe, the best versions I have eaten were French. They had thick lardons (chopped bacon), rich cream sauces, and were finished with a raw egg yolk. Giada De Laurentiis’s version had cream and eggs, and it tasted good, but got cold too quickly. I thought that maybe Mario Batali’s version, being all crazy authentic as it is, would rock my tastebuds with the raw egg yolk, but it was a bit bland. Nigella Lawson’s version, with the reduced white wine, sounded promising, but the extra work didn’t bear extra tasty results.
In the end, I worked out my own version, experimenting with sauce amounts, using pasta water, not using pasta water. I even tried infusing the milk with garlic which resulted in an Alfredo sauce with bacon—not what I was looking for. My version is closest to the Penne alla Carbonara from Giada De Laurentiis’s Everyday Italian. There are a few differences including this: I heat up the cream and eggs so that the sauce is hot and stays hot long enough to eat it and avoids any health risks (like salmonella) associated with eating raw eggs. It is important to temper the eggs so you don’t have scrambled eggs floating around in your cream sauce. Here’s how it is done:
How to Temper Eggs
The goal when you temper eggs is to bring them slowly to the temperature of the heated liquid in order to create a smooth sauce with no lumps of cooked egg.
- Beat the room temperature eggs in a large bowl and set aside.
- Heat the milk and cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low to medium heat until hot, but not boiling. For the Pasta alla Carbonara you want it just hot enough to be enjoyable to eat.
- Whisk a small amount (about a couple of tablespoons—you don’t have to measure, but keep the amount small) of the cream mixture in a thin stream into the eggs. Keep the whisk moving—it helps to prevent the eggs from scrambling.
- Always pouring the cream in a thin stream, gradually whisk in more, until you have added about a cup.
- Check the temperature of the egg mixture by feeling the side of the bowl. If it has warmed up to almost the heat of the cream mixture, you can now whisk it slowly into the remaining cream mixture in the saucepan (not on a heated element). If it is still cool, continue slowly adding the cream to the eggs until they have warmed up.
- If you like, you can add all of the cream mixture (gradually and slowly, whisking constantly) to the egg mixture before transferring it all back to the saucepan.
Tempering eggs is an easy technique that is useful for making custards and sauces.
And here is my recipe for Pasta alla Carbonara. I didn’t use parsley, because of my seven year old daughter’s aversion to all foods green. If you like it, use it!
Leah’s Pasta alla Carbonara
4 to 6 servings
- 1 pound (454 grams) bacon or pancetta, diced
- fresh ground pepper, to taste
- 6 large eggs at room temperature
- 3/4 cup heavy cream (35% milk fat)
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1 cup grated Parmesan (use the best you can afford for the best flavour)
- 1 pound (454 grams) dried pasta
- 1 small handful chopped parsley, optional
In a sauté pan, fry the bacon or pancetta at medium heat until crispy.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta. Stir occasionally and follow package directions for cooking time.
Temper the eggs with the cream mixture. Add the pepper and grated Parmesan to the egg and cream mixture in the saucepan. Return the saucepan to low heat to keep it warm.
When the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pot. Toss the bacon with the pasta and then add the cream sauce and parsley, if using.
Variation: If you are not concerned about eating raw eggs, set aside four yolks. Cook the whites and remaining yolks as above. Serve each of four dishes of the pasta with one of the four egg yolks on top.
Next on posting docket: My recipe for apple crisp.