Pasta Carbonara (also known as Spaghetti Carbonara) is a fast, easy, and extremely filling dish. It's basically bacon and eggs for dinner. It's delicious.
Rosaria and I went through a few tries before we got this dish to work gluten-free. The trick is to use a pasta that can withstand a lot of handling after it's cooked. I recommend using either a quinoa pasta, a corn pasta or a white rice pasta. Both fresh pasta and brown rice pasta gave poor results. I used Ener-G brand white rice spaghetti for this meal, and it worked rather well. I have a full review of this pasta in another post.
Traditional recipes are very specific for Italians, meaning that if they call it pasta carbonara, they do not experiment with substituting ingredients or techniques when they are making it. (Sure they will experiment, but they will call it something else.) The recipe has already been perfected, and the only thing to do is to make the dish as perfectly as possible. Through making suggestions for changes with Rosaria I learned the following things:
- Pancetta cannot be substituted with prosciutto or another cured meat. However, you can, if needed, substitute American bacon for pancetta for economy or ease of purchase.
- You must use a high-quality Parmesano Reggiano.
- In other regions they may use garlic for this recipe, but in Naples they make it the right way, which is to use onions.
- Pasta Carbonara does not contain cream.
- You can't go easy on the salt.
- Spaghetti cannot be substituted wtih linguine or any other shape of pasta.
If you want to experiment with this recipe and add alternate ingredients, make sure you tell your Italian guests that it's "carbonara-like," (that is, not traditional) or they may raise an eyebrow. I have not admitted this to Rosaria since, but I have tried experimenting with it since she left to return to Italy. None of my variations improved the recipe - rather the opposite.
Italians are very understanding of the gluten-free diet. Rosaria helped me make several GF Italian dishes, including Eggplant Parmesan, one of my favorites. Last year I traveled to Italy and visited Rosaria. I found gluten-free pasta to be widely available, and some restaurants even served it. Everyone seemed to know about celiac disease, and there were always good things to eat.
The traditional Pasta Carbonara recipe is quick and easy, but it involves timing as much as ingredients. I will give you the original version of this recipe, however, if your gluten-free spaghetti takes longer to cook than the average semolina pasta you may need to adjust your timing. This recipe takes about 1/2 hour and serves 2 generous portions or three small portions.
Pasta Carbonara Recipe
First, cut into pieces:
Turn on your burners to heat a large pot of generously salted water and a large skillet or frying pan big enough to accommodate all of the pasta once it's cooked. Add to the skillet:
3 Tbsp olive oil
When the olive oil is hot (use a medium setting), throw in the onion and saute. Don't let it brown too much. When the water is boiling, add:
10 oz pasta
At the same time, add to the skillet with the onions:
6 thin slices of pancetta, cut into pieces and separated to avoid clumping
a generous amount of salt
Saute the onion and pancetta, not letting it get too browned. When the pasta is al dente (still very firm), drain and rinse, if necessary, in hot water. Turn off the heat on the skillet. Make sure the spaghetti is well-drained after the rinse, then add all of the pasta to the skillet. Crack over the top of the pasta:
Stir the eggs into the pasta with a pasta spoon, chop sticks, or a fork, mixing the onion and pancetta into the pasta from the bottom of the pan. When the egg starts to look mixed in, add:
1/3-1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
Continue to mix the ingredients together until the egg starts to look like a sauce. You can turn the skillet on at a low temperature again if the egg is still too raw for your taste, but if done correctly it will be the perfect consistency at this point.
I served this with grilled red peppers and a salad with olive oil and salt.
Enjoy this simple dish with your favorite cheap Italian wine, white or red.