A classic Italian carbonara has these things in it, only these. American women add mushrooms, onions, cream, the ubiquitous English pea. The bold use butter. The insipid use milk. I overlook them all. Who needs vegetables? The simple communion of pork fat and egg yolks is perfect; more intimate and seductive and delightfully nasty than much of the sex one is likely to have in one’s life.
I hazard to guess, reader, that if your mother made you carbonara when you were young, she made it with butter and cream. And if that was the case, you will probably accept your spaghetti no other way, even if it was not, strictly speaking, a carbonara. We possess all the clarity of sentiment when it comes to the food of our youth. So have your cream! I’m no prig.
But I do think it is better without that stuff. It tastes cleaner, somehow, and more intense and more honest, and I encourage you to give this simpler recipe a try. It has none of the sauciness of mom’s spaghetti but, naked without gravy, it honors itself. A self-respecting pasta dish, if you will. A dinner with qualities that each day grow more rare and less loved: character, restraint, real style.
Now, if only the cook could achieve the same. Some day, reader.
Spaghetti a la Carbonara
Ingredients (for one):
– 1/4 lb fresh spaghetti
– 2 large egg yolks
– 2-3 slices crispy prosciutto, crumbled, or rendered pancetta
– 3 loose Tbsp grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
– Splash of olive oil
– Lots of fresh ground pepper
– Kosher salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay 2-3 slices prosciutto per serving on a baking sheet. Bake for five to seven minutes, until shrunken and crispy. (If using pancetta, chop and render out the fat in a skillet until crispy. Pancetta’s fattier, prosciutto’s funkier. I dig both).
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. In a medium bowl, add two large egg yolks, 2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese, a splash of good olive oil and the crumbled crispy prosciutto. Place fresh spaghetti in boiling water and stir to make sure the noodles don’t stick. Cook for around 3 minutes, until al dente. Place noodles and 2 Tbsp cooking liquid in the bowl, stir. Add a lot of freshly ground black pepper, toss.
Now, taste. If it needs salt, add some salt, More pepper? Add more pepper. More juice? Another splash of pasta cooking liquid. Then pile the spaghetti on a plate, sprinkle with remaining parmesan cheese, another twist of the pepper grinder, and eat! Eat like no one’s watching.