In the showdown between rice and pasta dishes, I almost always favor making something with rice. Lemon tree chicken is best over a bed of white rice. Country captain joins my rava navami chicken for curry dishes that can’t go without rice. I inch towards Chinese take-out instead of Italian. I like cleaner food, something that red spaghetti, white clothes, and small silverware does not set out to be.
So. I’m biased.
Pasta becomes a guilty pleasure for me, and pasta carbonara is the most hedonistic of all pasta pleasures. With the conquering of pasta carbonara came my evaluation of my rice preference. Ben and I utilized Esquire magazine’s Eat Like A Man recipe from Frank Crispo to make the richest, densest, and rice-usurping pasta dish of all.
The left depicts what heavenly editing and languid Sunday afternoon spaghetti carbonara looks like. The right is a result of all-nighters, deadlines, and chemistry exams. Just as good, if not better in my eat-like-a-college-student book.
Frank Crispo has won awards for the spaghetti carbonara, including one specific “Best Spaghetti Carbonara” from New York Magazine in 2004. What I’d like to know is how one dish in particular became a category of itself. Mysterious, but after actually trying it, I understand everything. Spaghetti carbonara is that rich pasta that Easy Mac and school lunch spaghetti made me forget about. Perhaps that’s the real reason why I’ve avoided pasta dishes, and perhaps spaghetti carbonara is a reminder of how great pasta can be.
You’re bringing breakfast to dinner by introducing smoked hams and egg yolks to a pasta. It’s meal-descendingly good, and not too difficult to create.
Both the flavor and fat (and where Esquire’s manly seal-of-approval factors in) is the addition of prosciutto and pancetta. Charcuterie in Charleston‘s restaurants has its own champions. Guys like Cypress‘ Craig Deihl preserve their own pork products, and this recipe was our chance to replicate what’s been a city-wide pork-naissance. Granted, we didn’t raise our own pigs, but carbonara was my lesson in differentiating between two very similar words.
Prosciutto, the leaner and tougher of the two, is a salt-cured ham that comes from the hind-leg or the behind of the pig. The kind we bought from the East Bay Harris Teeter was tough to cut and a red that’s a shade between bricks and an infuriated Vernon Dursley. Pancetta, the other requisite, comes from the side of the pig near the belly, making it a fatter and fuller cut. Just about any meat appetizer in an Italian restaurant features these two, so after this lesson, it’s easier for me to be picky about pork. Not that I wasn’t already.
These two meats sizzle together on the stove-top, relying on the fat from the pancetta as moisture and flavor. We added some vegetable stock to reduce down. In five minutes, the entire apartment smelled like Don Vito took over Denny’s meat counter.
While Ben butchered, I got on making the right pasta. After nine minutes, our spaghetti noodles were ready to stick to the wall and soak up the carbonara (translates to carbon) side.
The spaghetti leap frogs from one pan to another. Once it’s joined forces with the pork, in goes two tablespoons of olive oil and one tablespoon of butter. Olive oil seems like a catch-all way to maximize pasta. From keeping it from sticking to making a balanced sauce with parsley here, the olive oil brings out the best. Add in parmigiano reggiano and pecorino reggiano for a citrus-like zest to counter balance the sweet and earthy fats of the olive oil and meats.
When all was finished, I topped the pasta with a poached egg, something I’ve definitely had prior experience with. The important part of the poached egg is adding vinegar to the water and constantly circulating the water. I cracked the eggs into two coffee mugs; sprinkled them with salt, pepper, and red wine vinegar; and then dumped them into the whirlpool on the stovetop. They coagulate on the bottom, and after four minutes and twenty seconds, take them out of the water and into an ice bath. When serving, plop the egg down so that the yolk breaks. Sprinkle some black pepper on and eat immediately. Worthy note: this recipe could easily serve four. Thousand. Two bites could serve as a meal, but a very filling one.
Al dente to decadentia.