When in Rome (or, how I fell in love with pasta carbonara)
Less than 24 hours after a whirlwind of dresses, toasts, and the Virginia countryside, there we were, strolling along a piazza, eating pizza bianca out of a brown paper sleeve and people-watching with the best of them. One dish that is ubiquitous in Rome, but for some reason seems to be missing from many Italian restaurants in America, is pasta carbonara. For you Americans: it’s basically bacon and eggs, in pasta form. What’s not to love? Anyway, when we got back to the city, we were hard-pressed to find it in (save a pretty decent version, for brunch at Rosemary’s in the west village; and I hear Lupa does a fine rendition)…so I decided to make it myself.
Apparently, there are two places in this entire city to buy guianciale (pronounced gwan-CHAL-ay), or pig’s cheeks, and one of them happens to be a 5-minute walk from my apartment (Faicco Pork Store at 206 Bleecker). It was a sign!
Right next door to Faicco’s is Murray’s Cheese Shop, where I picked up fresh spaghetti (In Rome they tend to make pasta carbonara with bucatini, sort of a fatter spaghetti, but it’s harder to find stateside), and some grated pecorino and romano (no self-respecting Roman uses cream in their pasta carbonara - it’s seen as like, cheating - although, the debate rages on). So here we go.
This is what guianciale looks like!
Remove the tough outer rind and Cut it into small pieces.
Fry until light golden brown, on medium-low heat.
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Apparently, true Romans don’t use cream in their sauce (though the debate rages on). Anyway, I forgot to buy it, so here I whisked together just 2 large eggs + 1/2 cup grated parmesan + 1/2 cup pecorino romano (all from Murray’s Cheese Shop).
Fresh spaghetti also from Murray’s. Boil (note that fresh pasta takes only a few minutes in the water). I like fresh better than dry for this recipe because the sauce clings to it better, and it tastes truer to what we had in Rome.
Once the spaghetti is cooked, reserve some of the pasta water. Remove pasta from pot and quickly mix into a large bowl with the egg mixture, working quickly to incorporate (so the eggs don’t scramble). Add the cooked guianciale. Thin out the sauce with some of the reserved pasta water, if needed.
Finish with lots of pepper (especially for you cacio e pepe freaks), some more cheese, and a dash of olive oil. How easy was that?
(We paired this with a simple appetizer: toasted bread, plus ricotta (Murray’s rocks!) drizzled with olive oil + salt and pepper.
On a final note, I have to share these beautiful pieces of pottery we bought from a Sunday market in Perugia, a small medieval college town in Umbria, the last stop on our [too-short] ‘moon. I love these!
Happy new year all! Stay warm.