I've thought about making spaghetti carbonara several times, ever since I was introduced to it in a Ruth Reichl book, but I never did until faced with a nearly empty refrigerator (that fortunately did happen to have very good quality bacon). The rustic simplicity of the dish was always intriguing, but the shear absence of vegetables and color in a main course turned me off. I have to say that when I did finally make I was not disappointed - by tossing in fresh aromatic herbs a pleasant brightness was achieved that balanced the bacon, egg, and garlic.
The coolest thing about spaghetti carbonara is the fact that you cook the egg by tossing them with the freshly cooked pasta. Egg proteins are very sensitive and even just that small amount of heat is enough to denature and partially coagulate them - in other words, the raw egg starts to thicken as the proteins unwind and join back up. This creates a lovely silkiness akin to a fancy sauce only using egg. This is a great recipe to have in your arsenal for when you don't have time and aim to please. Below recipe serves 2-3 and is adapted from Ruth Reichl's recipe.
- 1 pound of spaghetti or angel hair pasta, preferably fresh
- 1/4 pound thickly sliced good quality bacon, about 3 thick strips (I got mine from The Local Butcher Shop in North Berkeley and it made a huge difference)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
- 2 large eggs
- 1/8 teaspoon (or a few grindings of) black pepper
- 1-2 handfuls of plucked fresh herbs such as oregano, thyme, and marjoram
- Grated parmesan cheese, to top pasta
Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. If making fresh pasta, complete the below steps before cooking the pasta and if using dried pasta, complete the below steps while the pasta is cooking.
Cut the bacon into thick pieces, about 1/2-inch wide. Cook on medium-high in a skilled until fat begins to render, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 5 minutes, until edges of bacon become crisp.
Break the eggs into the bowl you are going to serve the pasta in. Add black pepper and beat with a fork.
Once pasta is cooked (1-2 minutes for fresh, 8-10 minutes for dried), drain and mix with the eggs. Add the bacon and garlic mixture with about one-half of its fat (or more if preferred) along with the fresh herbs and toss into pasta. Serve with grated parmesan and more black pepper if desired.