Sunday, 6 December 2009
Traditions are funny things. And nothing makes me laugh more than traditions in food. It's one thing to have a traditional Xmas lunch, or Granny's pie for your birthday, but there are those within the food community that make much of 'traditional" food.
Another term they use is "authentic"
And the one dish that gets the "authentic"-sists going like no other is Carbonara.
Sites like Chowhound and e-gullet abound with vitriolic posts devoted to the inclusion (or not) of peas, cream, onions, bacon, speck, pancetta, parmesan and any variation of that combination of ingredients.
The origins of the might Carb are lost in antiquity, but the name is derived from the Italian word for charcoal. Some believe that the dish was first made as a hearty meal for Italian charcoal workers, or that the inclusion of a liberal sprinkling of black pepper before serving looks like coal dust, thus the name. This theory gave rise to the term "coal miner's spaghetti," which is used to refer to spaghetti alla carbonara in parts of the United States. Others say that it was originally made over charcoal grills, or that it was made with squid ink, giving it the color of carbon. It has even been suggested that it was created by, or as a tribute to, the Carbonari ("charcoalmen"), a secret society prominent in the unification of Italy. The dish is not present in Ada Boni's 1927 classic "La Cucina Romana", and is unrecorded before the Second World War. It was first recorded after the war as a Roman dish, when many Italians were eating eggs and bacon supplied by troops from the United States.
For me, the dish is simply about the eggs and the bacon. I will admit to some cream, some time. But recently I was given a dozen freshly laid free range eggs from my ex SIL's happy and pampered hens. I thought about a quiche (given that I am dying to try a new recipe for sour cream short crust pastry), but the siren song of barely emulsified egg was too hard to resist.
That and I freakin' HATE blind baking quiche cases.
So, sweat some white onion in butter, add the bacon/lardons/speck/prosciutto **insert pig meat of choice** and fry gently until crisp. Set aside.
Boil some pasta (I "traditionally" use spaghetti/bucattini). when done, drain, reserving 1/2 a ladle of pasta water.
Bung back in the pot and add 4 eggs and the proscuitto/pancetta or guancia, (if you are lucky enough to be able to get some) and the pasta water.
Let the steam of the pasta gently set the eggs. Don't return to heat, or you'll get scrambled eggs.
Serve with one extra perfect egg yolk, some sea salt, a goodly grind of fresh black pepper and parmigina reggiano.
Heaven in its simplicity.