Carbonara Evolution and Repetita Juvant

People can have fierce arguments over a carbonara – the only thing one can’t disagree about too much are the ingredients — but even there we find ourselves battling among various schools of thought.  Some prefer pancetta, others are adamant about guanciale (I prefer guanciale myself), some will mix parmesan and pecorino, others are purists in upholding the pecorino-only directive.  Some will add olive oil, others a clove of garlic (I stopped).    I have eaten carbonara in Orvieto served with truffles (Chef Lorenzo Polegri).  Seafood carbonara exists too.  What I can safely say without being countered by the carbonara cognoscenti is that the egg white is most definitely out.  Only the yolk is used.  In terms of history, the best article on the subject that I have found to date is by Carole Lalli and I emphatically urge you to read it too : http://www.departures.com/articles/carbonara-secrets-of-a-perfect-dish.

The reassuring thing about iconic pasta sauces is that they are not subject to major change, and the enjoyment in eating them stems from repeating the pleasure of a remembered taste and texture, of the tried and true — all very Nietschean and redolent of  Eternal Recurrence.  When some people wonder whether I get tired of eating pasta all the time (which I don’t by the way, even though I do eat it regularly), I turn the question around and ask them whether they ever tire of making love all the time?   I am not a change-for-the-sake-of-change person, for originality at all cost.  The fact that variety is the spice of life doesn’t require having to overhaul pasta recipes all the time.  What spurs me on, instead, is finding techniques and ways, a protocol say, for producing THE epic sauce in a way that is repeatable.

One year ago, I wrote what I had presumed to be the definitive, illustrated, step-by-easy-step carbonara recipe that would come to the aid of beginners wanting to tackle this most glorious of Roman pasta sauces. (http://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/06/12/carbonara-for-sunday-lunch/).

One year later, I have an update to make to the protocol for carbonara making which has less to do with the ingredients per se and more, instead, with a chemical reaction called thermal shock.  I spoke of this scientific slant on cooking in a recent post on making mayonnaise, and I am going to cut corners and …. er … ahem …. repeat it.  As the Latin motto goes “Repetita juvant” (repetition helps).

Quote: And though I am not a scientist by inclination, and though I am not particularly interested in the science of cookery as such, my stubborn quest for finding easy or simple ways of obtaining satisfactory results in the kitchen leads me to read articles, sometimes, that I would not normally want to bend over backwards to read.  One such article was by a Sicilian cook called Alessia Vicari on a blog called Puntarella Rossa (which I thoroughly recommend if you speak Italian) who has also appeared on the Gambero Rosso Television channel.  Alessia Vicari was writing about the pasta dish with a Carbonara sauce (http://www.puntarellarossa.it/2011/12/07/la-carbonara-con-uovo-congelato/) and mentioned how it was now the rage to add some ice-cold sparkling water to the egg yolks to make the sauce creamier etc. and is the outcome of thermal shock.   She then paid homage to one Dario Bressanini and the scientific ways of his blog … and a photo she espied of a frozen egg yolk being able to hold up a teaspoon.  This was her Eureka moment.  She decided to freeze the egg yolks before bringing them back to room temperature for her Carbonara sauce — and the result, she enthusiastically acclaimed, was impeccable.  And this all because the egg yolk’s volume increases I don’t know how many times simply by the act of being frozen.  Brilliant!

I ventured to try her suggestion in the tiniest of kitchens in London in January this year at the behest of my student son, who told me there would be eight of  us for supper and he would love a carbonara (and he knew that I brought the ingredients from Italy).  I had to go and buy a pasta pot large enough to accommodate 1kg of pasta and devise ingenious ways of proceeding in Lilliputian conditions — but lo and behold, it worked!  The sauce was creamy and it didn’t curdle and it wasn’t that hard to make (except for the size of the kitchen), it was decidedly fool proof!  I made it yesterday, again at the request of my son who is home from uni for a while, and he pronounced it … “one of the best, Ma” and gave me the thumbs up.

And speaking of thumbs, my evolutionary rule for measurements now is: 100g pasta per person, 30g of guanciale (pork jowl) and 30g or more of freshly grated Pecorino Romano (if you can find the Brunelli kind, all the better).

Here is a huge chunk of guanciale …

I cut some and trimmed it … then sliced it lengthways, and then again across.

The idea is not to cut the guanciale into cubes but into matchstick-like strips (julienne) …

I was making 500g of pasta … I put the water onto the boil.

Here is the slab of pecorino cheese.  I got my son to do the grating.  I hate grating cheese.

Here are five very summery good-looking egg yolks (which I get from Capodarco farm in Grottaferrata where chickens are allowed to run around http://slowpix.org/capodarco-agriculture/).

I placed the egg yolks in my somewhat scruffy-looking freezer for about 5 minutes, enough time for them to harden but not actually freeze altogether.

The guanciale strips started cooking on a low heat in an iron frying pan.  The low heat allows their fat to render and exude …

This is how the guanciale looks a few minutes later, all nice and crisp.  Leave the guanciale where it is but transfer most of the fat into a bowl:

Add about half the grated pecorino to the fat.

Shower with freshly grated pepper … as much or as little as you like (but lots is what it’s all about).  Time to check on the egg  yolks.

Here they are fresh out of the freezer, you can see the beads of cold on the side of the bowl.

Use a spatula to scrape off all the tough egg yolk.

Start mixing it all …

The consistency is very thick, as you can see for yourself, thanks to the freezer!

Just before the pasta cooking time is nearing completion, and the starch from the past has passed into the cooking water, take some of this cooking water and pour it into the egg and pecorino roux, a little at a time, using the wooden spoon to beat the mixture.

And here is the creamy result!  What a lovely texture and how smooth.

Drain the pasta and put it into the iron pan and toss it, so that it mixes with the guanciale and gets coated all over it whatever oil was left in the pan …

Drop the pasta into the bowl with the egg and cheese mix …

Mix it all up ….

Snow-flurry the pasta with yet more grated pecorino cheese and sprinkle yet more pepper and … enjoy.

Enjoy and … repeat!

Post Scriptum

I had to put up this photo to show you how incredibly creamy and rich the sauce is from the point of view of the bottom of the pasta bowl … not a hint of cream, or butter, or any other nonsense.

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About myhomefoodthatsamore

Community celebration via food, wine and all beautiful things.
This entry was posted in italian home food, Primi (first courses - usually a pasta or risotto), Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Carbonara Evolution and Repetita Juvant

  1. Great post. Really enjoyed reading it.

  2. If you can read Italian, this is my “scientific” recipe, actually quite close to yours http://bressanini-lescienze.blogautore.espresso.repubblica.it/2008/02/10/le-ricette-scientifiche-la-carbonara/ :)

    • Sì,sì sono italianissima da parte di madre! e grazie per aver commentato, un vero onore per me — e non mancherò di leggere la sua ricetta scientifica anche se io mi muovo in maniera assai più stocastica in cucina! Una cortesia: potrebbe leggere anche il mio post sulla maionese … (anche lì la cito) … perché se davvero funziona (ossia il fatto di gelare il tuorlo per un po’ nel freezer prima di sbatterlo con l’uovo) … allora mi riterrei una vera pseudo-scientifica-ribelle della cucina — quante volte ho sentito che l’uovo per la maionese deve essere a temperatura ambiente?!!! La maionese siffatta l’ho ripetuta ieri sera … e di nuovo è riuscita bene. Fingers crossed!

  3. Brent says:

    This was a fantastic post! I’ll be making this sometime this week. I love the idea of putting the egg yolks in the freezer first, brilliant. Thank you!!

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