Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Traditional Italian Pasta Carbonara Recipe

I used to have a roommate named Rosaria who is from Naples. She really enjoys cooking and she was nice enough to show me how to make a few traditional Italian recipes. Pasta Carbonara was one of them.

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:

1/2 onion

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:

2-3 eggs

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.


Babyfro said...

We love Carbonara in my house. Quick, easy and tasty.

Diane-thewholegang said...

Yum, Yum Yum! Oh how I miss cheese.

Linda said...

I don't think I've made Carbonara before. It sounds like something we would love, so I'll give it a try soon. Thanks!

Brian said...

I've had a version of this at work a couple times but I've never made gluten free at home. I'll have to try it soon. It looks delicious. Thanks

Gluten Prude said...

Spaghetti Carbonara is my favorite! I love how you incorporate the egg and cheese into the spaghetti. I'll have to try your method next time. Thanks for the recipe!

Gina said...

Pasta Carbonara is my favorite, too! It's so filling. You will have to get back to me on how it turns out!

Gluten Prude said...

I couldn't resist, so I made Pasta Carbonara according to your recipe tonight. It was great! I might not caramelize the onions so much next time, as it made the dish fairly sweet. I loved the cheesy egg sauce, and I was able to control the thickening of the egg rather well! Thanks again for the Pasta Carbonara recipe!

Anonymous said...

I love traditional recipes that have been handed down! This looks like a great Pasta Carbonara. I love the use of pancetta, spaghetti, and parmigiano reggiano, which are all very traditional ingredients for Carbonara. I also appreciate the fact that you don't use cream!

Simply...Gluten-free said...

I haven't had Pasta Carbonara since I gave up gluten - but now with the gf products so much better I am going to have to make some. Thanks for this post.

Anonymous said...

Cheap, easy, and delicious! I love Pasta Carbonara. Thanks for the recipe!

Unknown said...

I just made this incredible dish. I love it!

Gina said...

That's great! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Pasta Carbonara is a nice, easy dish!

Rachel Page said...

I love carbonara with a splash of white wine. It would taste even better.

Gina Kelley said...

Rachel - Yes, it's always easy to deglaze the pan with some white wine! It adds a little aciditiy to what you're cooking and pulls up any delicious browning from the pan.