Roman food is different to all other dishes in Italy; it’s robust and satisfying, the flavours linger on in the memory. A weekend trip to Rome with my sisters a few years ago and we spent almost four hours over a lunch at Carbonara in the Campo dei Fiori piazza (the medieval quarter of Rome). One classic dish after another came to our table and was devoured by the three of us. Milk fed roast baby lamb and suckling pig were so tender that the mild meat and thick layers of white fat melted in the mouth while the roasted skin was browned to a crisp deliciousness. The fried artichokes, Carciofi alla guidia, were caramalised and crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. I love eating food like this. I could never prepare these recipes at home so it’s an enormous treat to be able to eat and savour them on the very few occasions I go to Rome.
As you would expect from a restaurant called Carbonara, its spaghetti alla carbonara was a delight. It was the first time I’d eaten a true carbonara made from fresh egg yolks, guanciale (cured pork cheeks) and Parmigiano reggiano. The bright yellow sauce clung thickly to the very al dente spaghetti and smeared even more thickly around our mouths. The sauce was so rich you would have thought that cream had been added. But no, it was just the fresh egg yolks cooked gently in the just the hot spaghetti. Brilliant.
Guanciale is impossible to find here, but pancetta or streaky bacon work well as a substitute.
Spaghetti alla carbonara
6 rashers of pancetta or unsmoked streaky bacon sliced into match stick pieces (if you can find guanciale, use it!)
2 or 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 egg yolks (Burford Brown)
1 whole egg (Burford Brown)
Freshly grated black pepper
50g freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
350g spaghetti (Giuseppe Cocco pasta is very good)
3-4 tablespoons of pasta water
Place a large pan that can hold a good 3 litres of water onto a high heat. When the water starts to boil add a teaspoon of salt and all the spaghetti.
Next, put a dry medium size frying pan on a low heat to warm up as you get the ingredients ready. Add the pancetta or streaky bacon to the pan and fry for about 5 minutes on a medium heat. Add the olive oil and the chopped garlic. Fry for 20 seconds and turn off the heat so the garlic doesn’t burn.
In a bowl, add the 3 egg yolks and 1 whole egg, black pepper, Parmigiano Reggiano and mix well.
When the spaghetti is al dente (soft on the outside but slightly hard in the middle), turn the heat back on to low under the pan with the bacon so it gets back up to temperature and add all the spaghetti (retain the pasta water for the egg mix). Stir the bacon and garlic into the pasta. Turn the heat off.
Add 3 tablespoons of pasta water to the egg mixture in the bowl and stir. Then add the egg mixture to the spaghetti and stir to coat all the pasta with the sauce. The heat from the spaghetti and pan will gently cook the eggs. And, serve.
Preparation time 5 minutes, cooking 10 minutes, serves 4