Though far from the most exotic pasta recipe, spaghetti alla carbonara - more or less literally translated as 'spaghetti as that of the charcoal maker' - is a great mid-way step between that and just plain marinara. Essentially spaghetti with eggs and bacon, it is simple to make and delightful to eat.
- Bring at least 4-liters of water to a vigorous boil. Use enough water to allow the spaghetti to float independently to prevent sticking and provide room to heat evenly. Add a dash or two of salt.
- While you're waiting for the water to heat, pour olive oil in a frying pan and add the pancetta (bacon), diced into small pieces. Fry to the point of being well cooked, but not crunchy. About three minutes should do it. It should still be soft and pliable.
- While you're waiting for the bacon to cook, in a medium bowl, beat the two eggs.
- Cook the spaghetti to al dente, this is firm, not soft. A few minutes should do nicely. Drain the pasta, but don't rinse. You want the starch to stay on the spaghetti where it provides a good binding agent. Drop it immediately onto the eggs and mix well. If you time it right, the heat from the pasta will cook the egg. Mix well.
- Toss and serve.
The beaten egg will cook with the heat of the pasta and fried pancetta.
If you don't have pancetta, use smoked American bacon, diced.
Key to a good spaghetti alla carbonara is to pour the pasta still hot over the eggs. Otherwise, you have raw egg in your dish, which is unsavory and potentially dangerous. If the pasta cools from draining too long, you won't achieve the proper effect. One way to help that is to drain the pasta in a plastic strainer, not a metal colander which absorbs more heat from the pasta.
- For a lighter meal, drain the bacon. For extra flavor, add the bacon with frying fat, then top with grated cheese and season with black pepper to taste. You can substitute guanciale, which is unsmoked bacon, for a nice taste variation.
- If pecorino romano is a bit full, there are many good alternatives, such as half Romano, half Parmigiano. But keep in mind, the other ingredients will soften the flavor so don't go based on the taste of the raw cheese alone.
- As an alternative, you can toss the cheese into the uncooked egg and stir before adding the pasta. For a delightful twist, try a 1/4 cup of white wine in the sauce.