A warm bowl of perfectly al dente pasta lightly coated with a rich sauce bursting with umami flavor, flecked with salty, crispy shards of pancetta, encircling a glistening egg yolk ready to spread a luscious creaminess throughout the dish…all whipped together in 20 minutes or less? Yup! That’s the insane beauty of carbonara.
Okay, if you really want to bring it down to its lowest common descriptor, I suppose it is bacon-egg-and-cheese pasta. But honestly, that would be like yelling, “Yo, LARRY!” across the room to the esteemed Sir Laurence Olivier. It’s oh, so much more. Superbly decadent. Sublimely fulfilling. Even though, legend has it, it was created as a hearty dish for Italian coal miners.
The carbonara recipe we use is Mario Batali’s. (If you ever have the opportunity to eat at one of his restaurants, particularly Babbo, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200-just go directly to Babbo. Every morsel is unique and heavenly, and you will seriously contemplate licking at least one of your plates at some point during the meal.) There is no cream in this dish; it’s the eggs that gently coat the warm pasta and melt the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, sensuously enveloping each and every slippery strand. Guanciale isn’t a staple in my fridge, so I’ve substituted with both pancetta and good bacon, preferring the delicate laciness of pancetta. It’s absolutely essential that you have everything ready to roll as soon as the pasta’s done cooking -the whole dish hinges on tossing the pasta while it’s still hot so the eggs cook and marry with the cheese. You definitely don’t want to be cracking and separating while the pasta’s languidly lingering in the colander, rapidly losing its heat.
And as downright sumptuous and romantic as the dish sounds, it literally takes 20 minutes to put together. We came back from a neighborhood block party on Saturday evening at about 7:15, and knew we had to feed the hungry dudes. Within an hour, we had shopped, cooked the carbonara, made a homemade Caesar Salad, and put dinner on the table, transforming the cranky troops into a gaggle of gratified guys. Can’t think of a more satisfying treat for a rare Saturday night at home than a bowl of blissful pasta, a pathetically cheesy movie (“Valentine’s Day”) and a houseful of merry men!