Sometimes it’s easier to have just a few choices rather than too many. This notion is so simple, and perhaps a bit bourgeois. But the intersection of freedom and rules can be tricky, especially in the kitchen, where you eat your bad judgment, literally. Along these lines, take spaghetti alla carbonara, a simple mixture of bacon, egg, spaghetti, and cheese that is so often over thought and overwrought.
I’m going to be specific here, but give you some wiggle room within the constraints. (This, even though a chef in Rome recently told me that the only correct way to prepare the dish is per the recipe provided below.) Your first choice is between pancetta (pork belly) and guanciale (pork jowl). Guanciale has a more intense flavor, but is fattier. Next, choose between whole eggs or just the yolks. Last, for cheese, will you go with the sharper Pecorino Romano (correct) or Parmigiano-Reggiano (acceptable)? Within these boundaries, just play around with the ingredients and quantities you like. The only sin you can commit is to add cream (as most all Italian-American restaurants do). So experiment away. Go crazy. And if you wish to stray altogether feel free. Just don’t call it carbonara.
Ed Garrubbo, Editor
Cut the pancetta into 1/2 inch strips or cubes.
In a bowl, combine the beaten eggs, yolks, and grated Ppecorino. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the guanciale until golden - careful not to overcook it. Remove the skillet from heat.*
Cook the pasta until al dente (about 2 minutes less than the package directions), drain and add it to the guanciale. When thoroughly combined, quickly add the egg and cheese mixture. Serve immediately, with a few grinds of black pepper and some grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
In Rome, guanciale is often favored, but I prefer the meatier pancetta. Carbonara can be tricky. The result should be creamy. If the skillet is too hot when you add the eggs, they may scramble. Try it until you get in right.