Monday, October 5, 2009

[Project Lunch] Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Last week's "Project Lunch" kicked off and I am happy to report that I fed all three of us to contentment--and all under $10. Since I did not have much time to make something, I decided to pick up pancetta on the way home to make my favorite, quick dish: Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Spaghetti alla Carbonara is like breakfast in disguise: eggs, "ham", cheese all served with a carb. Who would not want to eat this for lunch? The only thing I regret about this dish is the lack of "veggie of the day." However, the boys certainly didn't mind ;)

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
adapted from "Pasta: 40 Wonderful Classic Pasta Recipes"

* 1 lb spaghetti
* 1 tbsp olive oil
* 8 oz pancetta, medium-thick slices
* 4 eggs
* 5 tbsp light cream
* 4 tbsp freshly, grated pecorino romano
* salt + pepper

01. Bring large, heavy-bottom pan of water to a boil.
02. Add pasta and return to a boil; cook for 8-10 minutes until al dente.
03. Chop the pancetta into squares.
04. Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottom skillet.
05. Add chopped pancetta; cook over medium heat, stirring frequently for about 8-10min. Do not let pancetta crisp.
06. Beat eggs with cream in a separate bowl.
07. Season egg mixture with s+p.
08. Drain the pasta; immediately return the pasta to the pan.
09. Tip the pancetta and oil from the skillet into the pan.
10. Add egg mixture to the pan, along with 2 tbsp of pecorino romano to the pan.
11. Mix well & serve immediately.
12. Finish off by sprinkling parmesan and pepper onto each serving.

Tips & Tricks:
* Salt the pasta water so that it "tastes like the sea." This is the only opportunity to flavor the pasta.
* Drop the pasta and the pancetta into their respective pan or skillet at the same time. Since they have the same cooking time, they will be done at the same time, allowing the pancetta to be mixed in while the pasta is still hot.
* Make sure that the heat is off when adding the egg mixture to the pasta. Otherwise, the eggs will start hardening together, resulting in some resemblance of soggy scramble eggs. The goal in Carbonara is a nice smooth & rich texture, but some coagulation in the eggs is acceptable (due to the heat from the spaghetti).
* When bringing this to work, only make the pasta and pancetta ahead of time and mix them well together. Incidentally, the pancetta and oil keeps the pasta from sticking, which works out well. Bring the egg mixture and the cheese in separate containers. Re-heat the pasta in the microwave by adding 1 tbsp water and keeping the bowl covered with plastic wrap, until steaming hot. Quickly, pour the egg mixture and stir well, until all of the pasta is coated. Serve immediately.

Price Check:
$ 1.00, Pasta (@ 1.00 for 1 lb)
$ 5.09, Pancetta (@ 9.99 for 1 lb)
$ 0.39, Light Cream (@ 2.50 for 16 oz)
$ 0.64, Eggs (@ 2.89 for 18 pcs)
$ 1.50, Pecorino Romano (@ 11.99 for 1 lb)

Total: $ 8.62

Verdict & Lesson's Learned:
:) Both boys said it was a keeper on the "Project Lunch" menu.

:| One boy mentioned that the portion size was ok; the other said he could eat an additional bowl. We each had 1.5 bowls or so, and I felt quite satiated after that. Since there are 2 votes for "just right" and one goal is to be conscientious about portion sizes, I'm sticking with 1 lb. of pasta.

:( Nutmeg came up as a missing spice in a dish. But as much as I value their feedback, I'm throwing this suggestion out. When I'm on a mission to make Carbonara, then the Carbonara-purist in me screams: "No nutmeg!" For me, Carbonara is synonymous to simplicity. The simplicity in making this marvelous rustic, yet decadent-tasting, filling meal with just five ingredients. I'm also very adamant about the pasta, since this is a spaghetti dish -- no other pasta will suffice for me, since the twirling and slurping of egg with cream is just a must! But really any pasta that picks up sauce well (e.g., penne, bucatini) will do. The one part that I would love to change is the pancetta. The original recipes call for guanciale. But where can I find this piece of delicious meat?! If you know, do tell! I promise to keep your secret...

On a disclaimer note, there are many tasty variations, and I am not against to tasting them. In fact, our local Italian place makes their Carbonara version with sauteed onions and bucatini, leaving the happy and delirious diner in a trance-like food coma. On another plus note, they have figured out how to sneak in "veggie of the day" (if you consider onion a veggie)...something for me to go ponder ;)

So, are you a Carbonara purist, too? Or do you have a delicious version that you stand by? I'd love to hear about it! In the meantime, I hope that you'll have fun trying this really quick recipe.

2 comments:

Richard Chen said...

I really appreciate the detail in the post! It adds credibility :).

rlo said...

Richard Chen, i'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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