Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Authentic Carbonara - Cooking the Classic Italian Pasta Dish

Carbonara is such a bastardised dish in Singapore. Almost everywhere you go, you get the wrong interpretation of the classic Roman dish.

Cream, bacon and watery renditions are the ones that will likely show up on your social media feeds. And worse, some joints even dare to paddle authentic Carbonara dishes when ingredients like wine and chicken stock are added into the mix.

In a way, it is a shame that very few Singaporeans can get to eat a proper plate of this Italian classic. For when it is done right, it is amazingly tasty and comforting and full of umami goodness.

Let us dispense with the common misconceptions. No cream or bacon, only cheese, pepper, pancetta and egg yolks are required as the minimum requirements. For the really authentic version, guanciale is used. It is actually cured pork cheeks as that cut has a special dual layer of fat that is crucial in giving this pasta dish that fantastic aroma and flavour.

As for the cheese, the right one to use is pecorino. Which is sheep's cheese that has a strong, almost minty quality about it. But most places will just use a good Parmesan like parmigiano-reggiano as a preferred alternative.

Instead of hunting down the holy grail of this creamy Italian classic, I would recommend you try this at home. It is actually not that hard, and if you can get your hands on some fresh pancetta (available at a number of good butcheries) and a good Italian Parmesan, you will be able to get some semblance of what this golden looking dish will taste like.

Ingredients for a single portion:

150gm of spaghetti no. 5
50gm of pancetta (guancianle preferred)
30gm of Parmesan (Pecorino or parmigiano-reggiano) or more if you love cheese
2 egg yolks
Extra virgin olive oil


1. Boil the pasta in water until it is 80 percent done. The pasta will continue to cook when it is resting and always cook the pasta just before you cook the sauce.

2. Mix the yolks, pepper and Parmesan together and add a spoonful of boiling water into the mix to help set the mixture.

3. In a hot pan, add a drizzle of olive oil and the pancetta and toss for a few minutes. The fat from the protein will be released and you should smell a lovely cured and meaty aroma.

4. Add in a ladle of the pasta water and stir for a few seconds to infuse the mixture.

5. Toss in the pasta and mix well with the pancetta sauce and toss lightly until the pasta has absorbed most of the pancetta water. It is right when there is a little starchy sauce around the sides of the spaghetti.

6. Turn off the heat and add in a generous amount of black pepper, the yolk mixture and toss vigorously to get the creamy emulsion that will result from the cheese, yolk and pasta.

7. Serve on a plate, finish off with an extra shaving of Parmesan and enjoy!

And there you have it. A very simple and quick way to replicate a classic Carbonara sans the cream. It should look golden and saucy, not watery and it should not be too dry and clumpy either. You should twirl the pasta easily with a fork and eaten with just a fork too.

Now, enjoy the classic Carbonara and bid farewell to the mediocre creamy and ponding versions elsewhere. The trick here is to use the correct pork and cheese and have a good toss at the end to achieve a luxurious creamy finish.


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