10.24.09: dinner (fettuccine alla carbornara, per favore!)

Fresh eggs:  a carbornara must.

Fresh eggs: a carbornara must.

Ever since the Mrs. and I honeymooned at Baur B&B, she has been devoted to making our own carbonara.  It’s the kind of place where you feel like you’re best friends with everyone who walks through the door, so much so that another couple staying there offered to share their dinner with us and the proprietor one night for no reason other than fellowship and kindness.  It’s the inherent  greatness of sharing a meal with kind people.

Hang on a minute, sailor- you should be saying.  You two got married a while ago, right?  Why the hold up? Honestly, this dish is fraught with peril. The carbonara conundrum, so to speak, is that you have to be very, very sure of your eggs before you proceed or risk a very, very unpleasant evening.  And so, trepidatious to say the least, we waited.

Browning pancetta...

Browning pancetta...

Finding ourselves reveling in the splendid tumult that is the Union Square Green  Market last Saturday, we resolved to concoct a meal out of whatever looked good to us there, mainly because rain was coming and we didn’t feel like schlepping to Fairway.  What we found was farm fresh eggs, guaranteed by the seller to be valid for raw or semi-raw consumption for five days hence.  The lovely thing about the dish is that once you bite the bullet with the eggs, the rest is quite easy.

This dish needs a hardy, dry pasta to stand up to the bacon and eggs you’ll soon be slinging:

Fettuccine alla Carbornara

Serves 2 as a main course

  • 2/3 lb of fettuccine or bucatini (dried, not fresh)
  • 2 very fresh eggs
  • 1/4 lb pancetta or guanciale, cubed
  • 1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano, grated (plus more for topping, though that’s optional)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Whisk the eggs, season with salt and a generous amount of black pepper, as the latter will provide the “carbon” look so classic to this dish, and set aside.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted water until a minute shy of al dente, reserving a ladle or two of the salted, starchy water.  Then get to browning some pancetta and garlic, then adding a bit of pasta water and then the cooked pasta.  Remove from the heat and add in the eggs , stirring to cook them.  (Mine scrambled just a little bit, which didn’t bother us so much but I hear it can be a faux pas.  I assume that letting the pasta cool a bit would prevent this, but I feel safer with my eggs on the solid side of done.) Finish with a ludicrous amount of parm, stir to combine and drink deeply of the best pasta dish you’ve ever made.

Fettuccine alla Carbornara

Fettuccine alla Carbornara

With this meal, we started with grilled calamari and San Marzano bruschetta, but they can wait for another post.  This may make some of you wince, but remember that restaurants sell this dish everyday, and we have no control over how they do it or what they do to it.  [Ed.–They often cheat and use cream, which is a load of crap.]  Sometimes it makes the diners sick but it stays around.  And what’s the alternative?  Burying the recipe for ever?  Never.  The moral for the weekend was respect and know-how can vanquish fear and open doors for the home cook that would otherwise remain closed.  So fear not, fellow readers, and cook on!

  1. I love the line…”finish with a ludicrous amount of parm…” That’s MY kind of pasta!

  2. That was a really nice evening. I have made this carbonara so often, the one that Paula made that night. I love the fact that there is no cream. Paula used a bit of olive oil and I think she added parsley as well that night.

    The eggs we used that night here at the B&B? Paula had brought them from her house, they had been laid the morning before they came to stay here, so they were exactly 48 hours old.

    Those evenings really show the benefit of having a big kitchen at a B&B, that is for sure.

    • I’ve had carbornara with cream at this little Italian restaurant in Saugatuck, and I definitely got sick from it.

      I definitely recall how fresh those eggs that Paula and Angelo brought (along with their lemons!), as well as her instruction to always speak to the growers about the freshness has stayed in my mind ever since.

  3. Malcolm said:

    I guess I am confused about one of the basic points here…are you saying that the somewhat-undercooked eggs added to the pasta have made you sick?

    Jillian keeps promising carbonara, but has yet to deliver. We will follow your recipe and deliver a full report.

    • A few years ago I went to lunch with two work friends at this little Italian place, and two of us ordered the carbornara. All I know is that a few hours later I was mighty uncomfortable, and it turns out so was the other person who had the dish, so I’m chalking that up to them using less-than-fresh eggs.

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