Tag Archives: pepper

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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Recipe: Spaghetti with Ricotta and Pecorino Romano

3 Mar

Sometimes, you need comfort food. While home today with a very sore throat and not much food in the fridge, I wondered what to make for lunch. It needed to be soft. It needed to make me feel better. It needed to be made from the few items I could scrounge up, and it needed to be prepared quickly. There was only one possibility: Spaghetti with Ricotta and Pecorino Romano, a double dose of sheep-milk heaven — and ready in less than 15 minutes. Perfect.

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Spaghetti with Ricotta and Pecorino Romano

This is a free-form recipe; you can adjust any of the ingredients to suit your tastes. The quantities below are for one hungry pasta lover, but this dish could serve two people if part of a multi-course meal.

  • ¼ lb. (113 grams) spaghetti, fettucine, tonnarelli, or other pasta
  • 1 tbsp. (14 grams) butter, cut into small pieces
  • ¼-1/3 cup (28-38 grams) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • fresh, coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 ¼ oz. (64 grams) sheep’s-milk ricotta, crumbled or cut into small pieces (* use the best, freshest ricotta you can find)

Preparation

  1. Start boiling lightly salted water in a generously sized pot. When the water comes to a boil, add the spaghetti and cook just until al dente—often that’s about 1 minute less than indicated on the package.
  2. Meanwhile, place the pieces of butter in an unheated skillet or large bowl next to the pasta pot. Add the Pecorino Romano cheese,  grind black pepper over  top (to your liking), and sprinkle 2 tbsp. cooking water around the sides of the skillet or bowl.
  3. When the spaghetti is done, quickly scoop it out of its cooking water with a pasta ladle and drop it into the skillet or bowl. Don’t shake off all the cooking water; it is an essential ingredient. Stir and swirl the spaghetti vigorously to melt the butter, the Pecorino Romano cheese, and the cooking water into a light sauce. Add more cooking water if the pasta appears too dry.
  4. Check the seasonings (adding salt and more ground  pepper if needed), gently fold in the ricotta, and serve immediately, with additional grated Pecorino Romano on the side.

Recipe: Pasta in Cream Sauce with Pancetta and Pecorino Romano

18 Jun

With three children away from home, and the fourth frequently out and about, my husband and I are adapting to eating dinner by ourselves. It is a necessary exercise; in one more year, we will be empty nesters. We have made some adjustments, but not all recipes for six translate easily into a meal for two, so I am beginning to rethink my approach to dinner. Luckily, this recipe is very adaptable and can easily be scaled down (or back up).

It’s also quick, which makes it perfect for a busy week night. But more importantly, it will satisfy proponents of the two different schools of thought on pasta cream sauces. When this dish is first put on the table, the cream sauce will be fairly thin (as in the photo). In our family, there are staunch supporters of a thinner cream sauce; they say a more liquid consistency allows for maximum “soppage” with a nice piece of crusty bread. Other family members prefer a thicker sauce, which coats the pasta very nicely. Luckily, it’s possible to have it both ways: thinner-sauce aficionados can dig right in; thicker-sauce advocates can nibble on salad or bread and let the sauce cool a bit. Regardless of their sauce philosophies, family members agree on one thing: this is good to the last bite, thick or thin.

Note: Feel free to substitute Parmesan cheese for the Pecorino Romano, and bacon for the pancetta (I used bacon this time, after discovering at the last moment that the pancetta I thought I had in the freezer was a figment of my imagination).

Pasta in Cream Sauce with Pancetta and Pecorino Romano
Serves 2-3

1/2 lb. (227 gr.) pasta; I used gemelli
2 oz. (57 gr.) cubed pancetta [in the U.S., Trader Joe’s sells a 4-oz. package*], or 4 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1 small clove garlic, sliced
1 c. (237 ml.) half and half, which is half light cream and half milk (or you can use all light cream or heavy cream–the heavier the cream, the thicker the sauce)
small pinch salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 c. (about 60 gr.) grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

Preparation

1. Bring an ample amount of water to boil in a medium pot and cook the pasta just until it is al dente.
2. While the water is coming to a boil, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan and cook the pancetta/bacon until crisp; remove the pancetta/bacon, place on a paper towel to drain, and set aside. Leave about 1/2 tbsp. of oil/drippings in the saucepan; discard the rest. Add the sliced garlic to the pan and cook just until golden (you do not want the garlic to burn). Remove the garlic and discard. Turn heat to low and add the half and half (or cream). Grind black pepper over the surface of the sauce. Add a small pinch of salt (be conservative at this stage because you’ll be adding salty bacon and cheese to the dish; you can adjust the seasonings afterward). Keep the sauce warm without letting it boil.
3. When the pasta is done, drain it well, return it to the pot, and immediately toss with the cheese. Add the reserved pancetta/bacon, mix well, and then pour the cream sauce over. Stir well and adjust the seasonings (I usually add more pepper at this stage). The sauce will appear thin at first, but will thicken as it cools.
4. Serve with salad and crusty bread.

*I stock up on packages of cubed pancetta and freeze them. Then, I add the frozen, cubed pancetta directly to the hot oil. It cooks (and crisps up) beautifully, and is oh-so convenient.