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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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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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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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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
- 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
- Warm a large pasta serving bowl.
- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil. Add the spaghetti and stir.
- 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.
- Add half of the cheese to the 3 eggs and beat well to be rid of any lumps.
- 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.
- Add the garlic and sauté for about a minute.
- While the garlic cooks, reserve a cup of pasta water, drain the pasta, and add the pasta to the frying pan.
- Continue cooking the pasta in the oil for 2 minutes, heating it thoroughly.
- 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.
- Serve immediately with plenty of grated cheese and cracked black pepper available at the table.
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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 …
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