is it true there is only one carbonara recipe? We asked a Roman grandmother!
To celebrate Carbonara Day back in April, we decided to ask a Roman grandmother what is the real recipe of one of the most popular pasta in the world. It was fascinating to observe her way of cooking. The beauty of grandma is that she puts love in everything she does and watching the preparation of the carbonara dish was like reading a romantic poem. Grandma Romana explained to us how we must never despise any food and that we must eat everything because we need a varied diet. She also told us that the caloric dishes were never the “order of the day” in her home and that this made them special, like the carbonara.
Let’s start with the basics, which pasta do you choose?
“First of all, you should choose a dry pasta because it keeps the heat and continues the cooking process after. If you like long pasta, I’d say that spaghetti is the ideal pasta. It ties very well with the sauce base of egg and pecorino, but I do not want to think there is a fixed rule because in the end, you’ll have to eat the pasta you like and many people like rigatoni or macaroni and that’s okay. The important thing is the quality of the product, like all things when it comes to Italian cuisine.”
“Are you sure you are Italian? I wonder because you’re asking me how to cook pasta! Pasta should always be al dente, which is not only for carbonara but any other recipe. I drain a minute or two earlier than indicated on the package, then finish cooking in the pan with the sauce.”
We thought we had asked for something normal, but no, but let’s try to make up for it with the other questions! 😀
More yolks, egg whites, or in equal numbers?
“The recipe that I use takes four egg yolks and two egg whites for 400 grams of pasta, serving a 4-people portion. The eggs must be fresh and luckily I have some friends who can supply them. They are organic and I will never cease to say that the quality of the ingredients is very important. Also because eating low-quality raw eggs is very dangerous.”
Grandma separated the egg white from the yolk, put it in the fridge, and told us that she will then use it for a cake because “you do not throw anything away.”
Guanciale or bacon?
Tradition has it that you use Amatrice’s pillow (the pillow is made from the portion of fatty cuts that goes from the head to the shoulder), but if I have to be honest, I sometimes use bacon because my nephew likes it more. And you know, the grandmothers would do anything to please the grandchildren.
Here she explained how important it is to put your fingers in a certain way so as not to cut yourself while slicing the pillow. “Put your fingers like that and use the knuckles as a guide to place the blade.
We have seen some people use garlic for sautéing, what do you use?
In the carbonara, the sautéed is not done with oil, garlic or onion. The liquid is obtained by “sweating” the bacon in the pan over low heat, being careful not to smoke or you may burn it and lose the scent.
Pecorino romano for the original recipe, but I must say that I do not find it so serious to use parmesan, let’s say it depends on the tastes.
Is it true that you use a little ‘cream?
Absolutely not! In addition to taste, it is also wrong at the food level. The carbonara already has a lot of fat, add the cream to a dish that is already made of pork fat, raw egg, and aged cheese is just wrong and unhealthy.
Is it true that the last step is the most important? Too many times we made it into an omelette or otherwise a very dry dish – what should we do?
First of all, it is very important to drain the pasta very quickly and then mix it with the egg and the cheese. This step should be done over a low heat and the heat must come only from the pasta that was just cooked, otherwise, the egg is cooked and loses that typical creamy consistency. During this step, I add a half ladle of cooking water, which will release a bit of starch that helps to create the creamy effect and to thicken the egg slightly.
We went abroad and did a test: in a restaurant we asked for a carbonara, that’s what they brought us.
I can say that they are beautiful. I do not know if it’s more about the photographer or the cook, but none of these dishes looks like a carbonara. I see cream and ham, an ox-eye cooked on pasta, but not even the shadow of carbonara. So maybe they could change the name to “pasta on a plate.”
Signora Romana impressed us with her kindness and diplomacy. She told us everything with a smile and it was a pleasure to hear from her experience.
Needless to say, the carbonara was the best we had ever tasted! And you must be feeling hungry after this!
Photo credits: Paola Kervin.