If I had to choose my single favorite comfort food, it would probably be pasta carbonara. It’s a relatively simple dish made with pasta, pork, eggs and a few other ingredients. An important note about carbonara: Correctly made, this dish includes raw or nearly-raw eggs. If you’re squeamish about that sort of thing, don’t make it or eat it. Also, while lots of recipes call for the use of pancetta or guanciale, I actually prefer good ol’ American bacon. I don’t believe in adding cream to carbonara, but some people do. It’s your pasta; add cream if you must.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb. guanciale, pancetta or bacon (preferred), small diced
1 lb. dried spaghetti (or your favorite pasta shape)
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus additional to serve with the pasta
4 large eggs, whites separated from yolks
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt for the pasta water
1. Place the olive oil and pork into a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat. Cook the meat until it has rendered its fat and turned crisp, about 10 minutes. Don’t drain the oil, just set the pan aside, off the heat.
2. While the pork is cooking, bring a big pot of water with a couple tablespoons of salt to a boil. Add the spaghetti (or other pasta) and cook, according to package directions, until just al dente. Scoop out about a quarter cup of the pasta water for use later. Drain the pasta.
3. Add the reserved pasta water to the pan with the olive oil and the pork, then toss the pasta into the mixture.
4. Next, turn off the heat, add 1 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano, the egg whites, and black pepper to taste to the pasta. Toss vigorously, until well mixed. The key here is for the egg whites to coat the pasta, but not to cook so much that they get scrambled. That’s why you want to do this step off the heat. The egg whites will “cook” slightly in the warm pasta.
5. Divide the pasta among four large, warmed serving bowls. You can heat bowls in a warm oven or dishwasher; I just nuke mine for a couple of minutes in the microwave. Make a little nest in the center of each bowl of pasta and gently drop an egg yolk into each nest.
6. Season the egg yolks with an additional sprinkle of Parmigiano and a pinch of black pepper. Serve immediately and allow each guest to stir the raw yolk into his/her pasta.
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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