Recipe: Pasta Carbonara for Two

7 Mar
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In Rome, there are four classic pasta dishes: Amatriciana, Carbonara, Cacio e Pepe, and Gricia. The two base ingredients that are constant across all four sauces are Pecorino cheese and black pepper. Cacio e Pepe, which means cheese and pepper, is a perfect example of the magic that occurs when the two base ingredients are combined with pasta cooking water. Gricia omits the water and adds guanciale (pork cheek/jowl). The purest version of Amatriciana (from the town of Amatrice itself) also omits water, but adds tomatoes to the guanciale. (Note: the black pepper can be a very controversial ingredient in an Amatriciana sauce, depending on who you ask. I include it, as I was taught.) Carbonara is Gricia with eggs; it never, ever includes cream. Essentially, a small handful of ingredients trade places across the four classic Roman pasta sauces.

This Carbonara recipe came about when we were living in Rome as true empty nesters. It took me a few years to adjust from cooking for 6 to cooking for 2 (even though our children left home in phases), but I finally did it. This is a recipe my husband and I enjoyed often, one that can be easily doubled (or tripled) when guests arrive. The photos below show guanciale (pork cheek/jowl), which typically has a peppery outer coating. If you cannot find guanciale, look for pancetta (pork belly). If you cannot find pancetta, use bacon. Pancetta and bacon may not be authentic, but you should use what is available and make something that tastes good to you. The beauty of recipes such as this one is their ability to be translated in a way that still preserves their essence. I will never speak Italian like an Italian, but what I do speak is still recognizably Italian and I hope it demonstrates my love for (if not my complete mastery of) the language.

Note: This recipe uses raw egg yolks. They are cooked by being tossed with the hot pasta, but if this may be a problem for you, try Pasta in Cream Sauce as an alternative.

Pasta Carbonara for Two

Ingredients

  • 100 gr. (about 1/4 lb.) guanciale, cubed or diced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 225 gr. rigatoni (1/2 lb)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 30 gr. (about 1/4 heaping cup) finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for garnish

Preparation

Cook guanciale in olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until crispy. Remove the guanciale to a plate. Put 1-2 tbsp. of the guanciale drippings in a large bowl; let cool. Add egg yolks, grind a healthy amount of pepper over the yolks, then mix with a fork to emulsify.

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Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water, stirring occasionally until al dente (according to package directions). Before draining, reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid— and place a tbsp. measuring spoon into the reserved pasta water.

When the pasta is ready, drain it and immediately add it and 1 tbsp. of the reserved pasta water to the egg mixture; tossing vigorously to coat and to make sure the egg yolks don’t scramble. Add the Pecorino in batches, stirring and tossing until the cheese is mostly melted and the sauce thickens. (Add more pasta water or pepper if desired.) Just before serving, mix in the crispy guanciale.

Divide among bowls. Serve with more grated Pecorino Romano.

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2 Responses to “Recipe: Pasta Carbonara for Two”

  1. Linda Worthman March 7, 2021 at 10:23 am #

    We are beyond delighted to find you posting again, Gwendy. I have forwarded your url to the entire family. Thank you and much love.

    Like

    • perennialpastimes March 7, 2021 at 11:17 am #

      Hi Linda. Thank you! Yes, it was definitely beyond time to start back up again…

      Like

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