Pasta Carbonara

Rick Cooks HomePasta Carbonara

When we lived in Sicily, on the slope of Mt. Etna, we used to walk up the hill to a restaurant called Monti Rossi. Our favorite wintertime dish was Pasta Carbonara. The cook let me videotape him preparing the dish, which he finished in a huge cast-iron skillet. The sauce has pancetta (Italian bacon), eggs, cream, Parmesan cheese, and lots of cracked black pepper, so it's a hearty dish. I added leeks to enhance the flavor and color, but it's optional.

Cook the pasta until almost al dente, because it will be finished in the frying pan. In Sicily, the pasta was usually linguini, but you can also use spaghetti, penne, or gemelli. Since the pasta is sautéed, it doesn't work quite as well with spaghettini (angel hair) or tagliatelli. Sicilians never rinse their cooked pasta, and like to toss it in a hot skillet before serving.

Beware of ordering this dish in the U.S., even if you happen to see it on the menu, because unless the cook has Sicilian or Sardinian roots, you're likely to get pasta with a goopy white cheesy cream sauce. Most of the Carbonaras we've tried here aren't even close to the genuine recipe. We're told that Prego restaurant in San Diego's Mission Valley serves the Real Thing.

This recipe serves 4 but I always double it. However, you'll need a very large skillet to make more than this at one time.

If you're looking for a low-carb version of this dish, try making it with spaghetti squash.

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Pasta Carbonara ai Porri

Pasta Carbonara with Leeks
*Serves 4*

1 lb (500g) dried pasta or ¾ lb (375g) fresh pasta
10 oz (300 g) leeks
¼ lb (120 g) pancetta or bacon
¼ c (2 oz/60 g) unsalted butter
4 eggs
1 c (4 oz/120 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ c (2 fl oz/60 ml) light (single) cream
freshly ground pepper

Trim the leeks, discarding the root ends and the tough green tops. Slit the leeks lengthwise three-fourths of the way down to the root ends. Wash under cold running water to remove all dirt. Cut the white portions and the tender green tops crosswise into very thin slices.
Chop the pancetta into ¼ inch pieces.
In a large, wide frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the pancetta and fry just until almost crisp. Add the leeks and sauté, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and keep warm. In a bowl, beat together the eggs, ¼ cup (1 oz/30 g) of the Parmesan cheese, the cream and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Cook your choice of pasta until almost al dente. Drain the pasta, add it to the frying pan holding the leeks and pancetta, and raise the heat to high. Pour in the egg mixture and stir vigorously until the eggs are firm but not dry, 1-2 minutes.
Transfer to a warmed serving dish and serve immediately. Pass the remaining ¾ cup (3 oz/90 g) Parmesan cheese and pepper grinder at the table.