lunedì 12 marzo 2012

[recipe] the most american pasta you'll find in Italy

Fact: everything is better with bacon and you can't go wrong if you add a few eggs, ever thought about making a pasta with those things? well, good news is there is already one and it's delicious, and today I'm going to show you how to do it. Before that, as always, a little bit of history or at least a believable backstory for this particular recipe that may actually be just a legend, but ehy, This is the West, sir, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend (cit.).

During World War II, after Italy changed side or surrendered depending on how you tell the story, the american army started getting it back from the Nazis starting from the South and going North, region after region and city after city (with the help of the italian resistance, but that's another story). By the time they got to Rome they decided, one particular night, to have a little italian dinner party with all the big names in the army and someone thought "ehy, we are in Italy! they may not be very good soldiers but they can cook, right? let's find an italian cook and have him make us something italian!". Great idea, but they didn't take in account another quality we italians have: we are very good at coming up with good ideas at the last minute. So this random guy (not even sure he was a real cook, I like to think he just convinced the american he was one) gets the job and immediately has to solve a problem: being it wartime resources were scarce to say the least and sure there wasn't fresh local food available on short notice, so he looked instead into what sort of food the americans had with them and found basically two things, bacon and eggs. He may not have cooked a real traditional italian dish that night like the americans wanted, but that's how one of the most popular and beloved italian ways to cook pasta today was born: the Carbonara.


Like I said you won't need a lot more than pasta, bacon and eggs, just some parmesan and black pepper, but since we are in America some of those ingredients may need some preparation. Let's start with the parmesan:

I promised myself not to be a snob about food here in the US but a little piece of my soul died when I bought this

In italy you would be able to buy a piece of actual parmesan and grate it yourself with a specific tool (or a saw-like knife), here the best thing you can do is buy some shredded parmesan and then chop it more finely with a knife. It's kind of  a dull work to do, but it really needs to be done or the cheese won't melt properly and you'll end up with chunks of it instead of the creamy sauce you want. I'm not sure the pictures shows what I'm talking about, so if you want better recipes in the future you may consider buying me a good smartphone.Some people use "pecorino" cheese or a blend of it and parmesan, remember that this other cheese is super salty so add less salt to the boiling water if you're deciding to use it

Bacon I'm going to miss you so much I may just move to America for good after the PhD is over

Choose the thickest and less fatty bacon you can find, and consider cutting out some of the fat if you're not able to do so. If you find a big piece of bacon instead of the usual stripes it's your lucky day: chop it in little cubes and your carbonara will look even more italian.

What do you do with the whites? well if you're not into betting with your friends that you can chug weird stuff try this recipe for french meringues 

You know how to separate the yolk from the white of an egg, right? if not youtube will come to your help, as always. Now mix the yolks with a whip if you have it since with a fork it would be harder to get an homogeneous result, and that's critically important. How many yolks should you use? I usually go with two for each person, and adjust cheese and bacon accordingly.

don't mix too strongly but try to get an uniform liquid

Add the parmesan and the black pepper, remember to be generous with them, and you can move on to the next step.


Ok put the pot with the water over the fire (you can add the salt now but usually that's something you do when it starts boiling, it saves time) and start cooking the bacon

Are the pigs here in the US that big? I still don't understand why bacon is so different here than it is in Italy. You know, we have pigs too and technically our "pancetta" is bacon, but there is so much less fat I still can't believe it comes from the same animal and is the same cut of meat

I recommend a mid-low fire under the bacon so that it can cook evenly and brown up without burning. When it's ready you can, if you don't want to have an heart attack, drain some of the fat. Before I move on to the final stage I need to explain you some of the science behind this recipe (if you speak italian go to this blog, he would do a better job and that's where I refined my recipe anyway). I'll make it simple, you have three ingredients: the pasta, that cooks at 100 celsius, the bacon, that cooks at an even higher temperature, and the yolks that cook between 60 and 70 celsius but start to solidify after that temperature (and we want a creamy sauce!). How do we solve this conundrum? (also, is conundrum the appropriate word here?)

Before you throw the pasta in the bowl give a last little mix at the yolks

Simple, when the pasta is ready drain it and place it in the same bowl where the yolks are, add some cooking water that you saved (I should I've said that before? well you should have read the recipe before trying it) and mix it all: the heath of the pasta will cook the yolks without solidifying them and you'll have a deliciously creamy egg sauce. Don't mix the bacon now, since an oily pasta would not attach to the egg very well.

If your bowl is big enough, mine wasn't, you can add the bacon now and mix all the ingredients together for the final step of this recipe. I had to put the pasta back in the pot but at this point was "cold" enough so it didn't ruined the eggs. Now, after a final mix you should get this

Which is simply paradise for your taste buds, and doesn't hurt the eyes too! look at it up close

As a friend of mine called it, here's the breakfast pasta!

It's more common to use long pasta, like spaghetti or fettuccine, but since I don't trust the american long pasta enough (it tends to be sticky and cook unevenly) I decided for this particular shape, "rotini", that's close enough to "fusilli". You can try long pasta, especially if you know a brand that makes a good one, but if you're opting for a short kind use this or a similar one.


There's one other thing that's italian but also american (and certainly inspired by americans), and what's more appropriate than that if you're enoying a truly italo-american pasta? yes, I'm talking about those films

I started the post with a quote from a western and I'm ending it with this movie advice, I just realized I should have used spaghetti after all 

Which, and I think everyone agrees with me, are awesome enough to go with a terrific dinner like the one you just cooked. 

you liked this recipe? you'll find  more here