You know when people talk about food moments? It’s one of my favorite ways to connect with people over food. We all have them. A food that triggers a memory of a moment in your life, whether its painful, joyous, confused, or pensive. I often hear about food being a sort of universal language, a universal ice-breaker, because hey, we all eat. Any of use could think of at least a dozen moments in our lives that we consciously or subconsciously link to a moment in time, or a time in our lives. The smell of bread rising in your grandma’s kitchen. The specific brand of pizza puffs that you’d heat up after long nights out in college. The pastry you got from that little shop across from your hotel on your honeymoon. It’s part of what’s so wonderful and universal about food, how it can transport us.
I bet you’re expecting me to tell you how making Spaghetti Carbonara transports me back to my days in Rome as a student, when I had my first taste of the stuff at a small outdoor cafe, a small carafe of house wine handy, practicing my elementary Italian with fellow students.
Ha. No. I’ve never been to Rome. (Never been to Italy, never been to France. Hint, Hint, dear husband. Hint. Hint.) But I remember my first taste of Carbonara. It was just from a restaurant. Not even a particularly fantastic restaurant. I was in junior high. I wasn’t feeling well, so I stayed home while my parents went out to dinner. They brought me home an order of spaghetti carbonara, and when I tasted it, it tasted like angels singing. Is that weird? I mean, it wasn’t really anything special, just takeout from our local (albeit lovely) Italian restaurant. But it was just what I needed at the time, you know? I’ve loved carbonara ever since.
Imagine the revelatory glee, then, when I made it myself for the first time. First I was like, “Wait, that’s it? That was so easy!” Then I was like, “Oh my god, mphhmmmphm…” (That was mean, shoveling pasta into my mouth without pausing for words or breath.) For something so simple, it packs so much flavor. Obviously, bacon. We don’t have to describe the wondrousness of bacon, do we? There’s also a hint of garlic, just enough without being overpowering, and a touch of white wine which brightens it up. The sauce itself is silky, custardy, rich. A poached egg in pasta sauce form. I’ll let that sink in for a minute. Topped off with the earthy, salty, gorgeous hit of parm and romano, this is heaven in a bowl, folks.
Admittedly, part of the joy of spaghetti carbonara for me is the feelings it evokes in me: comfort, a hint of pre-teen angst (how did that slip into this food memory?!), a deep feeling of satisfaction in being cared for. That won’t be the same for you. But even without it, this is one you’ll remember, folks.
adapted, only barely, from the incomparable Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
- 3/4 lb pancetta or good bacon, cut into sticks 1/4" thick
- 4 large garlic cloves
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup freshly grated romano cheese
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
- black pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1 lb pasta
Begin cooking the spaghetti in a large pot of salted water, according to the directions on the package, until al dente.
Smash the garlic with the back of your knife, and remove the skin. Put the garlic and olive oil in a large sauté pan and heat over medium-high heat. Sauté until the garlic is a deep golden color, then pick it out and discard it.
Add the pancetta or bacon to the pan, and cook it until it begins to crisp up at the edges. Then add the white wine and let it simmer for a minute or two. Take it off the heat and set aside.
Break 2 eggs into the bowl you'll serve the pasta in, beating them lightly with a fork or whisk. Add the grated cheese, black pepper to taste, and the chopped parsley. Mix well until incorporated.
When the spaghetti is al dente, drain it, then immediate pour it into the bowl with the egg mixture, tossing rapidly to coat all of the pasta well. Briefly reheat the bacon (if it's cooled considerably) and then pour the entire contents of the pan onto the pasta. Toss the pasta thoroughly again and serve immediately.