What do a Zia, a Pope, and an Elf have to do with Today’s Pasta? (Part 2)

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Ché bella Zia!

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As was mentioned yesterday, today is the 90th anniversary of my Zia’s birth! Last Saturday, some 2 dozen Bartolini gathered at the home of one of her Grandsons for a surprise party in her honor. (Very heavy emphasis on the “surprise.”) The food was delish; the champagne chilled and plentiful (just how I like it); and the highlight of the evening was her Son’s slide show of family photographs. It was a wonderful night for this very special Lady and Matriarch of the Bartolini Clan. She deserves no less!

Now, back to our story …

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2 Pieces of the Puzzle

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Yesterday, I recounted my favorite story involving my Zia as a means of celebrating her birthday. What’s this? You missed it? Well, click HERE to view yesterday’s post. Once there, you’ll see how Zia and Pope John Paul II are connected. Don’t worry, we’ll wait for your return.

For the rest of you, I don’t expect you to sit idly by while the others catch up. Heavens no! Here’s a musical interlude to occupy your attention while we wait. (Thanks, Cris!)

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(Remember this aria, Zia?)

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Everybody here? Then let’s continue …

When we left our story, Zia and I had just experienced a close encounter of the Papal Kind and were in a taxi being ferried back to our hotel. When we arrived at the hotel, we skipped lunch, preferring to retire to our rooms. We had anticipated a memorable day and this was so much more than that, a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. A rest was definitely in order — if for no other reason than to allow Zia to re-hydrate. Later that afternoon, as was our custom, room service delivered our caffè to Zia’s room. Normally, this is when we would have planned our dinner and evening. That night, however, we decided to “stay close to home” and made an early reservation at a restaurant just down the street from where we were staying.

Not that much later, we were seated at the restaurant, our appetites still nowhere to be found. Now, one thing you should know about my Cara Zia is that she loves pasta every bit as much as I do. When we dined, we always enjoyed a primo piatto of pasta of some sort before ordering our secondi and contorni. So, absent an appetite, we did what came naturally: we ordered pasta.  Not so coincidentally, that pasta just happens to be today’s recipe, Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

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Spaghetti alla Carbonara

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Mom first prepared this dish for me when I was in my teens. She told me a legend that its name was derived from the coal miners that worked in the mines that surround Rome. As they ate their lunch, which often consisted of a plate of pasta, coal dust fell from their clothes and on to their plates. The dish’s ample use of black pepper is an homage, of sorts, to those miners and their lunches.

The version Mom served me usually contained bacon, although prosciutto was sometimes substituted, albeit rarely. Pancetta just wasn’t something that Mom and Zia used in their cooking. Remember, many of the Bartolini dishes began with a battuto of onion, garlic, parsley, and salt pork. There was no need for pancetta, too. As my experience as a cook grew, however, I began to use pancetta more frequently when I prepared this pasta.

Back in Rome, Zia and I noticed that this pasta was made with guanciale, something that was an unknown to me. Our waiter explained that guanciale comes from the pig’s jowls and, like pancetta, it’s cured but not smoked. Although now used throughout Italy, our waiter went on to explain that it is still most commonly used in Rome and its surrounding district of Lazio. Well, we needed no further urging. Zia and I ordered the Spaghetti alla Carbonara and so began my love affair with this cured meat. Unfortunately, it would take me 10 years to find a source for guanciale in my hometown but that’s a story for another day. Even so, in my mind, Spaghetti alla Carbonara will be forever linked to Zia and Pope John-Paul II.

OK. So far I’ve explained the connection between Zia and the Pope and how, on the day of their meeting, we dined on today’s pasta, Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Get ready, kids. Here comes Santa Claus!

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No, that reindog isn’t Max.

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In the years following that momentous day in St Peter’s Square, I’ve prepared Spaghetti alla Carbonara countless times. It is one of the few dishes I prepare using spaghetti because it’s just not my favorite form of pasta. You see, lacking the means to create this thin, round-shaped pasta, I had to rely on manufactured spaghetti. As you know, I prefer homemade pasta over pretty much all manufactured types. Still, when it came to this tasty dish, I gladly bought spaghetti and never thought twice about it. This all changed 3 years ago, almost to the day.

One afternoon, Martha Stewart was promoting a new attachment for a well-known stand mixer. This piece of equipment worked much like an extruder, forcing dough through interchangeable plates, creating macaroni, fusilli, rigatoni, bucatini, and, you guessed it, spaghetti. Later that day, I spoke with a good Friend (aka my Traveling Companion) and mentioned this pasta-making wonder of modern technology. A year later he would become a member in high standing of my blog’s tasting crew and, at this time, he had already been the beneficiary of many of my dishes and, well, experiments. He understood full-well the ramifications of this piece of equipment. Our conversation ended and that was the end of that, as far as I was concerned — or so I thought. About a week later, much to my surprise, UPS delivered the pasta maker. In its packaging was a card from Santa, wishing me a Merry Christmas. I called to thank my Friend but he denied having anything to do with it — a denial he maintains to this very day. Now, I’ve no reason to doubt my Friend or his word. If he maintains that Santa did, indeed, send me a gift, who am I to disagree? I would just like to point out, however, that he is the Elf holding the reindog in the picture above. Just sayin’…

There you have it. This is how my Zia, a Pope, and an Elf all helped to bring you today’s Spaghetti alla Carbonara. All that’s left to do, aside from presenting the recipe, is to say,

“Buon Compleanno, Cara Zia!”

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Spaghetti alla Carbonara Recipe 

Ingredients

  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 oz. guanciale, ¼ inch dice (pancetta, prosciutto, bacon, or ham may be substituted)
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese – separated
  • ½ to 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • reserved pasta water
  • Parmesan or Romano cheese for garnish/serving

Directions

  1. Warm a large pasta serving bowl.
  2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil. Add the spaghetti and stir.
  3. Check the spaghetti package’s cooking instructions. You’ll want it to be 2 minutes shy of al dente when the rest of the ingredients are ready.
  4. Add half of the cheese to the 3 eggs and beat well to be rid of any lumps.
  5. In a large, deep frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and brown, rendering all the fat. Do not over cook.
  6. Add the garlic and sauté for about a minute.
  7. While the garlic cooks, reserve a cup of pasta water, drain the pasta, and add the pasta to the frying pan.
  8. Continue cooking the pasta in the oil for 2 minutes, heating it thoroughly.
  9. Pour the frying pan’s contents into the warmed serving bowl. Add the egg and cheese mixture in a slow, steady stream, stirring constantly to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Once fully coated, add more cheese, the pepper, and as much pasta water as necessary to create a creamy sauce.
  10. Serve immediately with plenty of grated cheese and cracked black pepper available at the table.

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Notes

For so few ingredients, this is a relative tricky dish to prepare. If not done properly, the pasta will not be hot enough to cook the eggs, raising the possibility of salmonella. To eliminate that risk, I only use pasteurized eggs when making this dish. On the other end of the spectrum, it is very easy to “scramble” the eggs rather than create a sauce. You can limit this risk by mixing the pasta and egg mixture off the heat, in a warmed bowl, and/or by adding a little of the hot pasta water to the egg mixture before it’s added to the pasta. This will, in effect, temper the eggs a bit. No matter how you do it, remember to keep the pasta hot and to work fast.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

It was just about a year ago when I shared the Bartolini recipe for making sausage. Mild compared to most spicy sausages, ours depend upon garlic, white wine, and salt & pepper for flavoring. Consider them a platform on which to build your own sausage. Paprika, red pepper flakes and fennel seeds will change them up a bit, as will marjoram, mint, and oregano. Though these days we tend to form patties more often than sausages, the post is nonetheless chock full of sausage making information. Feel free to ask any questions that may arise. You can view the post by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you … 

Merluzz’ al Forno

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138 thoughts on “What do a Zia, a Pope, and an Elf have to do with Today’s Pasta? (Part 2)

  1. The reward for being unable to sleep? Finding your post in my email. What a lovely photo of your beautiful dear Zia. The celebration sounds perfect. Sipping chilled champagne in her honor- Cheers!
    And I enjoyed Part 2 of the saga, the secret Santa gift and the delicious recipe and accompanying photography. Never knew about the black pepper. John, I know your rendition of Spaghetti Carbonara is divine. Now if I could just make some fresh pasta……………

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    • Thank you, Ruth. I’m answering comments rather than sleeping. I hope you’ve gone to bed by now.
      It was a great party and Zia was very surprised. WIth your busy schedule, you needn’t worry about making pasta. Just find a good Italian market — I know Pittsburgh has a few — and buy their fresh pasta. It’s the next best thing to homemade and you’ll save yourself a lot of time. :)

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  2. Doesn’t Zia look wonderful for 90! I just love the image of the reindog. He looks so upset – just like some little kids when they have to sit on Santa’s knee. I have to say carbonara is my favouite pasta and I’ll have mine with pepper not coal dust, thanks. I see you didn’t add cream. I always add some cream but I’m afraid I might be bastardising an Italian classic – just don’t tell Zia what we Aussies do downunder xx

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    • Thanks, Charlie. Doesn’t Zia look wonderful?
      I’ve a number of pics of my friend playing Santa for a canine rescue charity but this one, with that poor reindog, was my favorite. Poor things looks mortified!
      Zia wouldn’t mind one bit if you added cream to your carbonara. That’s the thing about Italian cooking. It is nowhere near as precise as some other cuisines. Mom & Zia were Sisters and we lived in the same 2-flat. They made the same dishes but each was a tad different. If you like cream in your carbonara, add cream to your carbonara. Buon appetito!

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  3. I love your little teasers at the end of each post John, keeping us eagerly waiting on what’s to come.
    Sadly my pasta machine only makes “square” spaghetti – strangely not one I make very often.
    I loved reading about how the story all came together – such a lovely read. :-) Mandy xo

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    • Thank you, Mandy. One machine that I have, also, makes square noodles and I don’t care for them much, either. The machine Santa gave me makes perfect spaghetti. To be honest though, lately I’ve been using a knife and cutting most of my pasta by hand. I’m nowhere near as fast as Mom was but I am improving. Have a great week! :)

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  4. Auguroni!
    I love Carbonara, and usually make it with pancetta because guanciale is hard to find in these parts. I make it without garlic but with white wine — I’ll try your version next time. It looks great!

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    • Thank you, Stefan. Guanciale only became available to me about 6 or so months ago. I haven’t gone without since. :)
      I like your idea of adding a bit of wine to this pasta. i’ll be sure to give your recipe a try, too.

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      • Your post gave me a craving for carbonara, and luckily I had some pancetta in my refrigerator so I made it that very same night, with garlic this time. Came out great, also because of the great pecorino sardo I used. I know carbonara is from Lazio and should thus be eaten with pecorino romano, but the only romano we can get here is mainly very salty. The sardo has so much more taste!

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        • Well, I’m glad you made the dish and enjoyed it, Stefan! I made some for my own dinner Thursday night. After replying to so many comments and stating how good it was, I just had to have some for myself. I am so weak-willed when it comes to pasta! :)

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          • Same here, that’s one of the reasons why I cook so much Italian food. We simply love pasta and eat it at least 4 times a week (and then often risotto once a week as well).

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  5. Happy birthday to Zia!
    Great story and delicious pasta, as always – I love carbonara. I’ve heard of guanciale before but never tried it. Maybe I can find something similar here in the Boqueria Barcelona, otherwise, it’s a good excuse to wander round Italian delis in London.
    BTW I found some tennis racket pasta the other day – I’m not sure I would have noticed it if you hadn’t mentioned it previously :-)

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    • Thanks, MD. I’ll be speaking with Zia later today and I’m sure she’s going to enjoy reading all of these birthday wishes.
      Now that I’ve a good source for guanciale, I keep some on-hand. You just never know when the urge for carbonara will strike.
      As much as I love pasta, I really must ask: did the World really need tennis racket pasta? :)

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    • I so agree with you. I would love to be somewhere and watch one of these flash mobs perform. I can only imagine how surprising — and entertaining — it must be to witness. :)

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  6. B E L I E V E !
    “The magic of CHRISTmas lies within your HEART”…Polar Express movie…
    90 years old, we should all be so Blessed…

    hApPy BirThDaY!!! ZIA

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  7. This is actually one of the very few pastas I will make from scratch, thanks to my Kitchenaid pasta attachment. :) Looks wonderful and now I need to see if I can find some guanciale. Happy 90th to your Zia and may she live in good health to be a centenarian.

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    • That attachment is something isn’t it? Santa was very kind to me that year.
      Carbonara is one great pasta dish, to be sure, and I’m lucky to now have a steady supply of guanciale. Even so, the dish is still very good with pancetta.
      Zia is going to be thrilled reading all of these birthday messages. Thank you!

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  8. Beautiful Zia, she reminds me of my husband’s grandmother when we celebrated her 90th years ago. She too was the matriarch of the family. Love that you use fresh pasta in your Carbonara — heavenly. And I could use on of those elves visiting my house … will have to ask Santa to send one my way, since now I am certain they exist. ;)

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    • Thank you, Judy. Zia does look wonderful, doesn’t she? If you find an Elf, it won’t hurt to promise him a supply of pasta, should you be lucky enough to find the attachment under you tree. Worked for me! :)

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    • Carbonara is a great recipe, isn’t it? Now that I’ve a source for guanciale, I make it far more regularly than I ever did.
      Don’t worry about Max. He only looks at the blog’s pictures and never reads any of the captions. It would interfere with his nap time.

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  9. Awesome! While a few “others” were reading your previous post I was crying over the “spontaneous” aria! Wiping my tears, I got on with the rest of your wonderful tale. John, really a spectacular post! Loved that you pointed out that the perfect food to eat when one has no appetite is a delicious bowlful of pasta! :) And looking at that extruded spaghetti in your hand, it looks quite obvious, but to be sure I’m wanting to ask: what do you think of the attachment? I’ve wondered for a couple years about it. I know no one better to trust on the subject. Thanks so much for such an entertaining read John!! And buon compleanno, Zia Lea!

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    • Thank you so much, Spree, for you kind words and birthday wishes.
      Wasn’t that aria fantastic? How I would love to witness a flashmob like that! I chose that clip because Zia and I saw a performance of the arias from La Traviata while in Rome. It wasn’t the full production but very enjoyable, nevertheless.
      The attachment makes perfect spaghetti, no doubt about it. The other pastas are a bit thicker than store-bought. It really is a matter of personal taste as to whether you like them more. Although I prefer my pastas thinner, freshly made pasta is so much tastier than store-bought.
      I really need to try make some pasta dough using only durham flour & water to see if it changes the pasta’s thickness. Mom’s recipe of AP flour and eggs may not be the best dough to use here. Tell ya what. Let me make a batch of rigatoni using only durham flour and I’ll let you know. Believe me, it’s no imposition. Any day I can break out the pasta equipment is bound to be a good day! :)

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  10. What a fun post, John! I loved every bit of it from the gorgeous picture of Zia (she looks fantastic) to the history of carbonara (I had no idea the pepper was the carbon), to the amazing Flashmob Aria and the story of your Friend/Elf…quite a generous one I’d say! It made me smile and delighted me through and through. I’m so happy that you and Zia shared such a great trip, and that the family had such a fun time and lovely party to commemorate her 90th. My husband’s fave pasta is carbonara, so maybe I’ll make your recipe for him soon. So I guess I have to be the one to ask this: why does the cake say Lea instead of Zia?

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    • Thank you, Betsy, for leaving such a nice comment. Zia does look good, doesn’t she? She positively glowed at her party last weekend. It was a great way to celebrate her birthday and a complete surprise. She certainly didn’t expect to see me there. We had talked the day before and she had no idea.
      “Zia” is Aunt in Italian. Her name is Lea. You should have heard the Happy Birthday Song. When it got to “Happy birthday dear ….” there was a “Lea contingent”, a “Zia group”, and a “Grandma faction”. By shear number of voices, the Grandma faction won the day. :)

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      • Ah, I should have looked up Zia, but it’s such a beautiful word that I thought it was her name, and perhaps you’ve explained this somewhere before and I missed it. Thanks for letting me know. Lea is a lovely name and certainly suits such a lovely lady. :)

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  11. Yet another lovely story, John. I must say Carbonara is by far, my favourite pasta and even though I don’t eat much pasta anymore, I will persuade JT to order it so I can have a bite or ten! I have never made spaghetti because I don’t have that fantastic attachment; what a thoughtful friend you have. His generosity reminds me of the time when my brother (at the time 8 or 10 years old) gave me a cookbook of sweets, bars and cookies and in it he inscribed, “this is really for me, in the long run”! ;-)

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    • Thanks, Eva. Seems like carbonara is a favorite of quite a few people. It is one of mine, that’s for sure. And yes, my Friend is a good one. We’ve known each other for over 30 years now and toured the World together. He’s probably going to read this so I’ll shut up now before his head swells any larger. :)
      Your Brother and his gift gave me a good chuckle. Say what you will, he certainly was honest. :) I hope you still have that cookbook. It’s priceless.

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  12. Happy birthday to Zia! And thanks for explaining the origin of the name of spaghetti alla carbonara, a dish which I’ve always enjoyed making (I can buy pancetta but I’ve never seen guanciale). AND look at that spaghetti making machine – what a treasure! I love spaghetti but have never made it. Now I want a spaghetti attachment for my pasta maker!

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    • Thank you so much. I know she’s reading these comments and is thrilled at how kind everyone has been.
      I have to laugh at all of the pasta making equipment that I own. I’m just spoiled, I guess. If I can make a favorite pasta by hand, I will. It always tastes better!
      I bought some wood and made a new pasta/pastry board last week. Last night I oiled it for the last time and now I cannot wait to christen it with a batch of pasta. Somewhere Above Mom is smiling. :)

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  13. She is lovely and grand. I’m sure she was thrilled with the surprise party! The recipe is the icing on the cake to a fantastic story John. How fortunate you are to still have her! Best wishes on her Birthday!

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  14. John, let me catch my breath before I can say something… Sigh… Wow, what a lovely story. Happy birthday to Zia, what an amazing person she is. Even though I don’t know her (or you for that matter) personally, I feel some connection, indescribable and very touching…
    Santa was very thoughtful to give you this pasta maker attachment. I am glad you mentioned it, as I was looking into buying one myself but didn’t know if it’s any good. You solved that issue! Thanks. :)
    Can’t wait to see your next post Merluzz’ al Forno: I love that fish!

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    • Thank you so much, Marina. As you know, your name has significance in my family and Zia will surely smile when she reads your gracious comments.
      Santa was good to me that year. As for the attachment’s performance, the spaghetti is the best ever. The other noodles are a bit thicker than are store-bought. The bucatini, for example, is about twice as thick as normal. The rigatoni is too, for that matter. As I told another commenter, I need to try using a pasta dough made with just durham flour and water, as opposed to Mom’s recipe of eggs and AP flour. That may make a difference. Before you buy the attachment, let me try it and get back to you. It is not a problem to do so. I love making pasta!
      I’d not seen merluzzo since I was a young boy. When I told Zia about the new fishmongers I’d found, she asked if they had merluzzo. When I saw them, I just had to buy them. The next time I visit Zia, you can be sure that I’ll have some merluzzo packed in ice for her. :)

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      • That is so kind of you John! You do tel Zia that I am sending her a big warm hug! :)
        I love making pasta too! I think it’s in our genes… :)
        As of fish, I find some really good and fresh fish, including merluzzo, at Asian markets. I guess this fish has it’s season too as it’s not available year round. I may be wrong though…

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        • You’re so welcome, Marina, and Zia will love geting the “hug”. Thanks on her behalf.
          I will ask the fishmonger if merluzzo is available year-round. I only “discovered” that he had merluzzo a few months ago. Now that the shock has worn off — and I’ve prepared it a few times — I can ask him some questions. I’m working my way around his fish counter and it’s been one tasty “trip” thus far. :)

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  15. Flash mobs, reindogs, Zia´s birthday party (my that sounds like fun, do send her a big hug from us!) and then a fabulous (and very authentic) carbonara. It really shouldn´t have cream to be a carbonara, but I agree – if you want to add it, then go with the flow! I´m sad now though that the story has come to an end – you have a great talent for keeping us gripped! Un bacio per la Zia…

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    • Thank you, Tanya. I know Zia will be looking for the comment from “the Italian girl from England that lives in Spain.” It would be so much easier if she just called you “Tanya”. :)
      I love telling this story and the posts were a joy to write. I’m just glad I was able to save it for her 90th birthday. I was just itching to tell you all that story! :)

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  16. Such a delicious story! I had guancialle on my first visit to Siena and indeed, it’s a special thing!

    I’ve always wondered about the extrusion type pasta machine, so nice that you had a special Santa deliver it for you, proves that you are always a very nice boy! ;-)

    Hope Zia enjoyed her day!

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    • Thanks you, Sally. Having had guanciale, you can well imagine my delight when I finally found some here in Chicago. I’ve not gone without since and have 2 pieces in my refrigerator right now.
      Just to be clear, this pasta maker is an attachment and not an extruder machine. (I had one of those and did not like it at all.) They work very similarly, though. I think the real difference is that the attachment is manufactured by a more reputable company.
      Yes, ZIa has had a wonderful birthday, Aside from Saturday’s party, friends took her to lunch yesterday & today, and tomorrow they’re going out to dinner. What a birthday!

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  17. Well you’ve just solved the daily mystery of what I’m going to make for dinner tonight – thank you! I’ve got a little bit of leftover ham so that should do fine although I really like bacon in there.
    Zia is an absolutely stunning woman. May she have many more wonderful birthdays.
    Oh – and if that Santa needs my address, I’ll be happy to provide it.

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    • Thank you, Michelle. I have that book! Another blogging buddy used a recipe from it to make duck prosciutto last Winter. I was going to make some but our weather got so warm last Spring that I had no place to cure the breasts. Obviously, I’d not read the entire book and didn’t know about the guanciale recipe. The real goal now will be to find the hog jowls. They’re just not something one finds around here. I’ve a neighborhood butcher — the last of a vanishing breed — and will ask if he can order them. Thank you so much for the info and idea!

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  18. Oh Zia, you are one beautiful lady. If I look that good when I’m 90, I’ll be thrilled! Heck, I’ll be thrilled if I look that good at 50! It must be all the fabulous food and family ;)

    What a story! I see why it’s your favorite Zia story, John; it is truly good for the soul. This is gonna stick with me for a long time. It makes me smile. And at a time of year when I search for smiles. Thank you SO much for sharing all of this. It just makes me feel good.

    That video too! How much do I want that to happen during my next visit to Woodfield ;)

    Is that a Kitchen Aid Professional 5 plus mixer? I have the same one and need to find that attachment Santa brought you, stat! In the meantime, I’ll use a packaged spaghetti (gasp!) for the Carbonara. I hope mine looks as good as yours does. Wow.

    Thanks for sharing all of this John :) Hugs!

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    • Aw, Sarah. Thank you so much. I hope you needn’t search too long or hard for smiles. Come back here and I’ll do my best to bring some to you! :) :) :)
      How I would love to see a flashmob like that at Woodfield or Water Tower or anywhere. With my luck, I’d see a group of Glee Wannabes singing a Bieber song — not that there’s anything wrong with that. ;)
      Yes, that’s my KitchenAid. As you can see, Max loves to see it out and ready for use. He’s aways at the ready for a scrap of fallen pasta.
      Thanks again, Sarah.

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      • ;) I hear ya on the flashmob! LOL!!

        Hubby found the pasta attachment for us in Madison today. I didn’t realize they fit all the KA mixers, but nevertheless, YAY!

        Max….he’s such a good boy, and pasta connoisseur :) Gotta love the guy!

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  19. Happy birthday Zia! Gorgeous lady!
    I love the entire post. Of course now I am very hungry for Spaghetti alla Carbonara, sausage, and a slice of birthday cake. And that upcoming Merluzz al Forno is looking pretty good too! Maybe Santa Claus will surprise me with all these delicious dishes!!!

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  20. Another great post! Your friend is truly a good one — what a thoughtful gift! (Yeah, yeah, it was from Santa.) I know all about guanciale but very rarely use it — it’s available if I drive a distance to buy it which just isn’t that convenient, so I always end up using pancetta. Otherwise my Spaghetti alla Carbonara is pretty similar to yours. And we used to have an extrusion pasta machine, but never really liked the texture of the finished pasta (plus it was such a pain to clean). So I always buy dried spaghetti. Should I be asking my own Santa for that mixer attachment? ;-) Another really fun post — thanks so much.

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    • Thanks, John, and, yes, he is a good friend.
      Isn’t carbonara a great dish? Having a convenient source of guanciale is such a treat but pancetta is a great substitute, too.
      I too had one of those extrusion pasta machines and got rid of it for the same reason you stated. i didn’t like the texture either. This attachment makes perfect spaghetti. The bucatini, rigatoni, and macaronis are thicker than what one might buy. Some may not like them that way. It could be because I use a dough made with eggs and AP flour. Perhaps dough made with durham flour and water might result in a thinner pasta. Even so, I walked into a “pasta shop” in Little Italy a few weeks ago and their rigatoni looked exactly like the rigatoni that my attachment makes. And no matter what, homemade tastes so much better than store bought. I’m going to try changing dough recipes and will let you know if it makes a difference in the pasta. Stay tuned… :)

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  21. I believe I forgot to wish your dear Zia a very, very happy birthday yesterday: I happen to have a 97-year old gentleman living opposite and a 93-year old catty-corner and, yes, Zia looks wonderful . . . I believe not only genes but knowing how to enjoy life play a huge part . . . But, as an addendum – since I have been an absolute opera freak since age six [not telling fibs!!] I SO enjoyed the flashmob performance . . . thanks again and keep on celebrating right thru’ Yule!

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    • Thank you so much. Zia will be thrilled to read all of these birthday greetings. I spoke with her this evening and the partying continues. Her friends have been taking her to lunches and there’s dinner later tonight. Come Sunday, after Mass — she’s in the choir, you know! — I think she’ll be ready to hang up her party shoes and have a good rest. It’s been quite a week!
      I, too, loved that flashmob performance. My Dad was a huge opera fan. He told tales of being a young boy and sneaking into the village theatre to watch opera performed. It was his town’s only entertainment. It’s a regret that I didn’t “discover” opera until after he was gone. I could have learned so much from him.

      Like

      • Yesterday is a ‘cancelled cheque’: enjoy it now ;) ! Your Dad was lucky, so was I: it may be escapism in a way, but what a composite joy!!

        Like

  22. Wishing your Zia many happy returns for her day :) Spaghetti alla Carbonara is one of those dishes that calls to me when seek equilibrium. One bowl and all becomes well in the world. I was happy glimpse Max in the background of the stand mixer image, and to note that Santa has access to sophisticated kitchen appliances, for when the time comes for me to acquire one and all the goodies ot attach to it. So much to ingest and love in this post :)

    Like

    • Thank you, EllaDee. As I’ve mentioned, Zia is really going to love reading all of these birthday wishes. You all have been very kind.
      Every time that mixer is out and every time I grab my pasta making equipment, Max comes around. He may not be in all of the photos but, trust me, he is always there. He is an opportunist like no other. Should a piece of pasta fall, he’ll catch it in mid-air. Should I turn my back on the pasta board, he’ll vacuum up as much as he can in that limited amount of time. He is something else!
      I am glad that you enjoyed this post. It was a joy to write.

      Like

  23. How wonderful!! A birthday and Santa’s elf.. and a wonderful memorable dish to serve it all up!! I think this food ( and your love ) are big reasons for Zia’s incredible health and beauty for her age.. it’s really very impressive. I’ve read about guanciale somewhere in blogging land and now must look for it.. it seems so much richer than bacon ever could be. I’ve really loved these two posts, the linking of stories.. and how you kept us waiting from one post to the next! How kind is a friend who hears a wish and makes it come true.. you are so blessed to have such wonderful family and friends!

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    • Thanks, Barb. This post has a little something for everyone. I’m a crowd pleaser, at heart. :)
      Zia was radiant the night of her party. Well, once she got over the shock of seeing us all. She really wasn’t expecting a party that night. It pleased her no end.
      What I like most about pancetta and guanciale is that neither is smoked, unlike our bacon. You taste the cured pork, as a result, and not the smoke. Granted, there are times I want the smoke flavoring but not always, like in a carbonara.
      And, yes, Barb, I do consider myself blessed and am very thankful. Heck ! I even met the Pope! :)

      Like

  24. What a fantastically rich post, John! From beginning to end you were so clever–and informative! Zia is just beautiful…she’s a living recommendation for “upping” my pasta intake! I have only had pasta carbonara with bacon, but I think I need to broaden my horizons. The story of the pasta with coal dust is just fascinating. And I’ve wondered about that particular pasta attachment. Santa brought me the mixer one year, maybe he can be persuaded to get the attachment! :-)

    Like

    • Thank you, Debra! You really should try your carbonara recipe but with pancetta instead. It will replace the smoky flavoring with that of cured pork. Of course, if you can find guanciale, by all means use it, but it’s not that easy to find.
      Just in case you haven’t read my earlier comments, that pasta attachment makes perfect spaghetti, no doubt. The other pastas — i.e., rigatoni, macaronis, and bucatini — are thicker than what you might buy in a box. Because they’re homemade, they’ll taste much better but there is a difference. I’m going to try a different dough recipe and see how that affects the pasta. I’ll let you all know how it goes, so, hold off on buying the attachment. Don’t worry. I’ll give Santa plenty of time to get one for you. :)

      Like

  25. Happy Birthday Zia! I think she is so vibrant and young as you keep her very busy cooking for you. I think you have the best secret Santa in the world to bring you a pasta maker. Look how bright yellow and gorgeous your pasta dough looks. I guess you will have to bring Zia back to Italy so you can buy more guanciale… Sounds perfectly logical to me. Take care, BAM

    Like

    • Thanks BAM for Zia’s birthday wishes and comment. I’d love to return to Italy. Having been there a few times, I only met the Pope when Zia was with me. She must be some incredible good luck charm. Who knows who we’ll meet this next time?
      And, yes, Santa really came through that year. Have a great week! :)

      Like

  26. Well! What can I say. You are a much loved man my darling Chicago John. I love this pasta, and have flailed about trying to make it well for years, now I know. Do wish Zia happy birthday from me. So her birthday is actually the 28th? I will write that into my birthday book, it is time I made some new cards! Have a lovely day, profuse apologies for being so late, I will always remember your description of the old popes eyes in the italian light. Wonderful pair of posts. Have a fantastic weekend.. and thank you c

    Like

    • Thanks, Celi, that’s very kind of you to say.
      Trying to get the raw eggs to both cook and coat the pasta can be tricky. It’s one of those times when an extra set of hands sure would ccme in handy. Mixing the cheese into the eggs and really blending them, is the key, I think.
      I have never, before or since, seen eyes as blue as the Pope’s that day. Zia will tell you the very same thing. They were gasp-worthy. I’m sure it was the sudden burst of sunlight & his pallor that contributed to the effect. They were, nevertheless, unlike all others.
      By the way, Zia’s birthday is the 29th. We need to get you on that plane and home-bound, Celi! You’ve got too many things to keep track of right now. Board that jet, get a glass of wine, and relax — probably for the first time in weeks, I’d imagine.
      You, too, have a great weekend. I hope it will be as warm as they’re predicting, YAY!!!

      Like

  27. Pingback: Birthdays & Kitchen Bombs | Photographs and recipes

  28. Your Zia (Lea) is beautiful and so elegant! Was she surprised or she had guessed something was going on behind her back? How wonderful you could all get together for this very special Lady and Matriarch of the Bartolini Clan. Lovely that you have such a special relationship with her. Bet you are her favorite nephew.

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    • Thank you, Norma. Zia is going to love reading all of these comments.
      The party was a complete surprise for her. Holding it before her actual birthday was the key. She had no idea and was really quite stunned, initially. A few of us travelled to be there and she just couldn’t get over it. :)
      Being that my family reads these comments, I really can’t say I’m her favorite.
      (Pssst … but I am!) :)

      Like

  29. What a special post. I have always envied people with large loving families being an only. I adore my family but we are small in numbers if large in love. Ah, and the pasta – how beautifully simple and yummy. Italy is high on my list of places I would love to experience. Hopefully this weeks lottery numbers are winners and I’ll host a dinner in a lovely winery there for all my lovely friends. :)

    Like

    • Thank you, Susie. Funny thing. As a boy, I can remember wishing we had our own home, one with less than half as many people. Now, however, I realize just how special that two-flat was and how really fortunate we all were.
      I so hope you make it to Italy. You will absolutely love it! I would go back in a heartbeat if I won any sort of lottery. No doubt about it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see air travel return to the way it was just 10 years ago? Today’s high-cost, no frills approach to air travel is sucking all the joy out of taking a trip.
      By the way, I won $4.00 in last Wednesday’s drawing. That will pay the subway fare to the airport. I’m getting closer!

      Like

  30. What an amazing post! So glad I popped over here to catch up! I remember eating pasta with guanciale in Italy, too. It took me almost a year to find a butcher here in Brooklyn that sold it, but damn it’s good!

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  31. Another great post my friend! I have to tell you that Spaghetti alla Carbonara is my all time favorite pasta! When I eat Italian out and it’s on the menu, you can always guarantee that I’ll be ordering it. Thank you for sharing your recipe!!!!! I hope Santa likes me this year as much as he likes you. :)

    Like

    • Thank you! I must admit that I’d no idea just how popular Carbonara was with everyone. It’s been a pleasant surprise to read how much you all enjoy this dish. Like you, I order this pasta all of the time. I can’t pass it up, either. :)

      Like

  32. Happy, happy birthday to your lovely Zia from this Canadian follower ‘next door’ in Ontario! It has been such a pleasure to get to know her through your posts, and I wish her many more years of happiness and good Italian food! Your Spaghetti alla Carbonara sounds so good; I haven’t had this particular pasta dish yet, but you recipe will help me remedy that!

    Like

    • Thanks, Mar. Zia will be so happy when she reads all of these birthday wishes. She may not recognize you by name but I think she will get the ‘next door’ reference. Remember: we’ll be swimming over to meet you next Summer, if we get a good wind out of the West. :)
      This is a great dish of pasta, Mar. Just remember to beat the eggs and cheese together to prevent clumping and to work fast. You’ll see why so many of our fellow bloggers love this dish.

      Like

    • Thank you, Claire. Zia limits herself to a small glass of wine per day. Only on very special occasions will she have something “cold and fizzy,” like her 90th birthday. Does this mean that she had a little something at supper that night we met the Pope? I’ll never tell. ;)

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  33. Beautiful photo of your Zia. I am glad you brought everything together with a wonderful meal. I think we should never stop believing in Santa Clause or we will miss our blessings. You have been very lucky by having such close connections to one of his Elves. (smile)

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

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    • Thank you so much, Francine. As luck would have it, that Elf is busy at work again today & tomorrow, volunteering at a canine rescue, having his picture taken with more dogs. Amazing with all of the work he does, especially at this time of year, that he remembered my pasta maker. ;)

      Like

    • Thank you, Celia, and thanks for sending Zia birthday wishes. I hope you had the chance to read this post’s first part detailing when we met the Pope. I think you’ll enjoy it. :)

      Like

    • Thanks, Greg, and I apologize for missing your comment. I’m sure Zia didn’t though. She’s thrilled to see so many birthday wishes. You all made her birthday even more special.

      Like

  34. Bella Zia! So very youthful looking! I can see the sparkle in her eyes!! Watching my figure aside, I’ve always thought carbonara was the ultimate in comfort food. As a teenager, this was the dish I was drawn too while my girlfriends hit the ice cream, I whipped up a HUGE bowl of carbonara! My mom too didn’t have pancetta always on hand and used bacon. I could eat this for breakfast…and I have.. it does have eggs and bacon!!!

    Like

    • Oh, Linda. I love the way you think. Carbonara: the perfect breakfast food! You wouldn’t get a complaint from either Zia or me and, frankly, I’m surprised we didn’t think of it. When I visit her, we have pasta just about every day — unless risotto is being served.
      It was a wonderful party for her last weekend. She positively glowed all night, as that picture shows. Thanks for leaving such nice comments and compliments. She’ll be pleased to read them.

      Like

  35. I just watched the whole flash mob video…wonderful! Those things always make me smile. Such a great way to spread joy. Pasta looks wonderful too, btw. I’m thinking it would be a good New Year’s Eve dish.

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    • What I wouldn’t give to witness a flashmob like that! A real thing of beauty to witness.
      As for the pasta on New Year’s, anytime is a good time for carbonara!!!! :)
      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment.

      Like

  36. Happy birthday Zia!!!! (Abliet a few days late.) Please send our wishes for a fantastic year!

    Hmmm…I think I’m going to have to give this pasta a try. I’ll try the manufactured spaghetti first and if I can pull it off, this may be a contender for our Christmas Eve meal. We make a new Italian dish every year and I just so happened to get a pasta attachment for my birthday this year – with a spaghetti piece! I’m thinking this will be a winner if I can pull off the egg part. Besides I mean how much more appropriate could this be for Christmas Eve being as how it’s brought to me by two fantastic Italian cooks, a pope and an elf! :)

    Like

    • I’ve no doubt that you’ll be able to make this pasta, Kristy. You guys are great cooks, this will be easy for you. Just be sure to blend the cheese and eggs together really well — to prevent clumps — and work fast. You’re a Mom of 2 kids. “Fast” is your middle name. :)
      I’ll be sure Zia reads this comment. She’ll enjoy the birthday wishes and the “fantastic cooks” comment. Thank you for both. :)

      Like

      • Well, we did it! We pulled it off! We gave the recipe a test run tonight with store bought pasta, and it was a serious hit! Mr. N gave it 3-1/2 spoons (a high rating for pasta for him) and Miss A said it was ninety hundred and one spoons. :) We all agreed it should be our Christmas Eve dinner. Now I just hope my homemade spaghetti turns out decent. Thank you and Zia for the recipe. I’m looking forward to our holiday meal. :)

        Like

        • Well, this is some really great news, Kristy, especially the part about your Sous Chefs liking it. Ya just can’t get much better than 901 spoons. :) And I really am honored to read that you’d even consider, much less make, this carbonara on Christmas Eve.
          Thank you for taking the time to ‘report back’ and I’ll be sure to pass along your thanks to Zia. She’ll be thrilled.

          Like

  37. In Spanish there is a saying, “segundas partes nunca fueron buenas” (Sequels are never any good) but it doesn’t apply here at all. This post is the perfect finale.
    I didn’t know the story behind carbonara, now I get it! We love this dish and eat it quite often at home, well at least my fast-track version of it ;)
    Thanks for sharing!

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Giovanna. I especially appreciate that you stopped by and commented. I know how busy you have been. I hope you never feel like you must visit here. I understand when you cannot. :)
      One of this country’s most renowned Italian chefs always talks of how Italian cuisine is the cuisine of Grandmothers. Your Grandmother and my Grandmother will cook carbonara differently but still call it carbonara. As you know, other cuisines will dictate that this ingredient must be used at this time and cut this way before the next ingredient is used, etc, etc, etc. In the Italian kitchen, cook the dish that pleases yourself and your family. The Pasta Police will look the other way. :)

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  38. John – Such a lovely story (which I read while I listened to Verdi).

    I’m thrilled to see your Carbonara recipe. I can’t wait to make it. I love Carbonara but find it is one of those dishes that has to be made perfectly to be at its best (there is nothing worse than a Carbonara made with a heavy, cheesy béchamel). I know from your other recipes that this one will meet my lofty standards.

    Also, I first ran into guanciale when cooking at Vie. It isn’t pretty to look at, but it is delicious! This is the first time I’ve seen it in a recipe since then.

    P.S. Happy birthday to Zia!

    Like

    • Thank you so much for the compliments and birthday wishes for my Zia. Everyone has been so nice.
      For me, the key to a good carbonara is to make sure the eggs and cheese are very well mixed. If they appear lumpy, I’ll add a bit of the hot pasta water just before adding the egg mixture to the pasta. The hot water will smooth the mixture’s consistency and it will coat the pasta so much easier.
      Having a steady supply of guanciale is a wonderful thing! I just made carbonara again last night. I’m sure the novelty will wear off soon enough but, until then, I’m really enjoying this! :)

      Like

  39. Pingback: Monkey Business « Eat, Play, Love

  40. John – I LOVED this post. It was just like sitting down and having a wonderful chat with you. Accompanied by an excellent bottle of red wine, of course! Your photos are just beautiful !
    I consider myself very lucky because, when we lived in Malta, we were close enough to Rome and Venice etc. to be able to visit several times.
    I really enjoyed your stories and I love the recipe for Spaghetti alla Carbonara. I make it occasionnaly – and love it – but I’ve had a problem with the eggs ended up a bit like scramble eggs. Thank you so much for your tip on how to avoid that!!

    Like

    • So glad you enjoyed the post, Cecile. It is definitely one of my all-time favorite experience with Zia and one we talk about all of the time. It was such a treat being there when the Pope held her hand. Neither of us will ever forget it.
      I never made it to Malta and hope to do so one day. I have been to Italy, though, several times and hope to get back there sooner rather than later.
      For such a simple dish, Carbonara sure can be tricky. Tempering the eggs with a bit of pasta water really does help to cut the likelihood of scrambled eggs. I hope you it works for you, too.

      Like

  41. Happy Belated Birthday to your wonderful Zia !! What wonderful memories you two have made together. I make Spaghetti Carbonara every once in a while. I don’t know why I don’t make it more often – cause I LOVE it!! From now on, I’m going to use your authentic recipe. And thanks so much for the tips on how to avoid ending up with slightly scrambled eggs!!

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Cecile, Yes, we have shared some wonderful times and meeting the Pope is definitely a high point. Isn’t a carbonara a great meal? I think you’ll find that tempering the eggs with a bit of the hot pasta water will not only prevent the dreaded scrambled eggs but will result is a nice little sauce when combined with the pasta. It really works!

      Like

  42. Pingback: Holiday Round-up « Eat, Play, Love

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