I’m not a huge fan of celebrity chefs, but I did watch Rachael Ray back before she became the celebrity she is today. When I read that her husband would rather have her carbonara for his birthday dinner than go anywhere else or have anything else, I thought I should give it a try. And I’m so glad I did: this recipe is simple but fantastic, and it’s one of my go-to dishes for entertaining. It’s delicious, it’s hearty, it’s spicy (if you want it to be), and it’s probably not the healthiest thing to eat every day. But every once in a while, this really hits the spot. And using whole wheat pasta, some olive oil, and serving it with heart-healthy red wine almost offsets the cheese, egg and pancetta, right? That’s what I’ll keep telling myself.
I’d like to say that this recipe serves four, and it probably should, but that isn’t usually the case in my house: it usually serves two because it’s so good we can’t stop eating it. Your results may vary.
Recipe adapted from Rachael Ray
1 lb spaghetti
1-2 T olive oil
¼ lb pancetta, chopped
1 t red pepper flakes (adjust to taste)
4-5 cloves garlic, minced (or 4-5 t minced garlic)
½ to 1 C dry white wine
2 large egg yolks
Freshly grated hard Italian cheese (Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Parmesan, etc.)
Parsley and basil, chopped
Cook pasta as directed. While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a large (deep) skillet on low-medium heat. Add the pancetta and let it brown slowly for 10-12 minutes. While the pancetta is browning, beat the 2 egg yolks and add ½ C of the pasta’s cooking water and stir. Set aside. Add the red pepper flakes and garlic and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Add the wine, stir up all the pan drippings, and cook a couple minutes to evaporate most of the wine.
Add the cooked pasta, drained well, to the skillet with the pancetta mixture. Stir to coat evenly. Pour the egg mixture over the pasta and stir rapidly to coat. Remove pan from heat and add a big handful of grated cheese. Continue to toss and turn the pasta 1-2 minutes until it soaks up the egg and thickens. If it gets too thick or sticky, add a splash of milk or water. Garnish with chopped basil, parsley, and cheese.
Step by step details
Get your ingredients ready to go, because once this gets going, it comes together very fast. That’s one reason it’s great for dinner parties. Another reason is just that it’s fabulous. Notice that there is no cream in this recipe. Nor should there be, for authentic Carbonara.
Pancetta is like an Italian bacon. (For those of you in Minnesota, you can find this at any Lund’s/Byerly’s, Kowalski’s, Italian delis, etc.) Ask them to slice it pretty thick (1/4″). If you can’t find pancetta, you can use regular bacon if you soak it in water first to get rid of all the smoky flavor. I’ve never tried this technique, though, so can’t vouch for it. Try and find the real stuff.
Stack the pancetta slices on top of each other and slice in one direction, fairly thick (again, about 1/4″).
Rotate the cutting board, as it’s much easier than trying to rotate stacked, sliced pancetta. Slice it to make an even dice.
Mince the garlic. If you don’t like a lot of garlic, use less; if you love it, use more.
Cook the pasta as directed. While the pasta cooks, heat just a little olive oil in a large (deep) skillet on low-medium heat. Use only enough to just lightly coat the pan.
Add the pancetta and let it brown slowly for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally. While the pancetta cooks, it will render out its own fat, so if you used too much olive oil, it might get a little oily.
While the pancetta is browning, separate your eggs. The easiest way to do with is with your hands. You can wash them afterwards. But it’s probably more important to wash them first. Just crack an egg through your open fingers, letting the white drip into a bowl, then place the yolk in a separate bowl.
Add about ½ C of the pasta’s cooking water to the yolks and stir. This will temper the eggs so that they don’t scramble when you add them to the hot pan later. Set aside.
When the pancetta is nearly done, it will start to look like this, nicely browned with the fat bubbling a bit around it. It will smell amazing!
Add the garlic and the red pepper flakes. Stir and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. If you thought it smelled good before, it’s going to get even better now. Good thing dinner is almost ready!
Now add the wine. Make sure you use something dry: don’t use anything too fruity, sweet, or oaky. I’ve had good luck with just about any kind of Pinot Grigio.
Stir up all the pan drippings, and cook a couple minutes to evaporate most of the wine.
Add the cooked pasta, drained well, to the skillet with the pancetta mixture.
Stir to coat evenly, then pour the egg mixture over the pasta.
Stir rapidly to coat the pasta. When evenly coated, remove pan from heat and add a big handful of grated cheese. If people are watching, you can use a spoon.
Continue to stir and toss the pasta 1-2 minutes until it soaks up the egg and thickens. It may appear runny at first, but it will thicken as it rests.
If it gets a little too thick or sticky, just add a splash of milk or water.
Garnish with chopped basil, parsley, and cheese. Serve with a hearty red Italian wine and enjoy!