2009 May: Pasta Primer

2009 May: Pasta PrimerThis is one of my all-time favorite pasta dishes. The Italian word “carbonaio” means “coalman” or “dealer in charcoal”. This dish takes on that name because of its coal dusted appearance from the abundant use of freshly ground pepper in the preparation. Pancetta (unsmoked Italian bacon), the fat generally used to give this dish its added kick of flavor, is generally what I use. However, I find that substituting prosciutto for the pancetta works just as well. Buy the prosicutto in a chunk or cut in a slab off the leg for the dice (thinly sliced prosciutto will work, but not as effectively).

Serves 4-6 (scale up in direct proportion)

1 cup finely diced prosciutto
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 large eggs
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
1 pound spaghetti
Freshly grated Parmesan on the side

Put the prosciutto in a small sauté pan set over medium heat. Cook and stir for about two minutes to release some of the fat and to crisp it up a bit. Add the olive oil, butter and garlic. Sauté and stir for another minute or so to combine. Transfer the sauce to a sauté pan large enough to hold all of the spaghetti after it has been cooked. Keep the sauce warm over low heat.

In a mixing bowl combine the eggs, Parmesan and black pepper. Set aside.

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until it is al dente. Drain well. Working quickly, turn the cooked pasta into the sauté pan holding the butter and oil sauce. Add the egg/ cheese/pepper mixture to the pan. Toss rapidly and thoroughly to coat the pasta. Serve with grated Parmesan on the side.

Chef’s Notes: The above master recipe is designed to give you an overall view of what this classic pasta dish is all about. However, in restaurant service, the ideal method is to prepare and cook to portion size. For example, using the same ingredients as in the master recipe, scale down accordingly. So for, say, a serving for one, you would cook the pasta ahead (2-3 ounces dry) and hold. You would combine a smaller portion of prosciutto, olive oil, butter, and garlic and keep warm. Probably one extra-large egg and 1/3 cup of Parmesan should do it. Add black pepper to taste.

Put the cooked spaghetti in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and butter sauce and stir to combine. Combine the egg and Parmesan and pour that mixture over the spaghetti. Toss well. Presto! One order of spaghetti carbonara.

Safety Note: if using raw eggs poses a problem, buy liquid pasteurized eggs (¼ cup liquid egg is equal to one large egg). I don’t generally like to give variations on a pasta dish as classic as this. However, if you wish to add an extra touch of creaminess overall, stir 3 tablespoons of heavy cream into the egg, Parmesan and pepper mixture.

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.