A recent walk through a local farmers market lit a bulb in my head for something I’ve been wanting to make for a while but just never really get around to it.
There’s a stand that sells high end specialty dried pasta at the Troy Farmers Market on occasion. While many of the flavors of their pastas are water soluble and I feel would wash into the boil, there are a few rare pastas made with alternative grains that catch my eye. One week, they had Emmer Fettuccine, which the young lady explained to me as fettuccine made from the original grain used to make pasta. Some quick research on the internet led me to find that emmer is another cute name for farro, which I have some familiarity with. Anyway, I bought some with the intent of making pasta carbonara. [They only had cracked up stuff from the bottom of the bag, but why wouldn’t this make a good dish?]
For those of you who do not know, pasta carbonara is literally bacon, egg, and cheese pasta. In fact, these are the main four ingredients, and the fifth is black pepper. Lets get proportions out of the way first. For each serving, you’ll need 1/4 lb of dried (or fresh) pasta (really any kind or cut you want), 3-4 slices of bacon (or better yet, pancetta, or even better yet, guanciale, but use what you have), one large egg, 1/2 cup of pecorino romano cheese (or any sheeps milk cheese that you like), and 1/2 tsp of black pepper (If you don’t like that much pepper, back off on it, but I can assure you that it’s intentionally supposed to be too much.). Additionally, every kitchen should be equipped with a tub of kosher salt and bottle of nice olive oil.
Cut up the bacon into small pieces and brown these just until crispy…
finely grate the cheese…
Crack the eggs into a bowl…
Lightly scramble the eggs along with most of the cheese, a dash of salt, and the black pepper…
Remove the bacon pieces from the oil onto a plate with some paper towel and drain the oil into a container.
When you’re ready to assemble the dish, have a pot of copiously salted, boiling water ready and cook your pasta to just under aldente.
Place the same pan you used to cook the bacon back onto the burner now set to low-medium heat. Transfer (approimately) 1/2 tbsp of olive oil and 1/2 tbsp of bacon fat back to the pan. Add the cooked pasta to the pan and don’t worry if you get a little water in there (it’s going to help thicken the “sauce.”). Toss the pasta in the oils and add the egg/cheese/pepper mixture and bacon pieces. At this point, remove from the heat and continue tossing for 20-30 seconds; you don’t want to fully scramble the egg.
Taste it. Adjust the seasoning, then plate your pasta and garnish with the remainder of the cheese.
The farro fettuccine has a firm, brittle texture and very strong wheat flavor, almost like buckwheat; I actually think that it stands up well against the smoked bacon and the cheese. The pepper adds a flavorful bite to the dish, especially if you use fresh cracked stuff (which you always should). Fettuccine may not have been the best cut of pasta for this dish, but I really wanted to try the farro pasta against something bold. This came out very good.
The beauty of carbonara is that you can assemble this dish in the time it takes to cook most pasta. And with five ingredients, it couldn’t be simpler.
While making this dish, it was brought to my attention (by Cassie) that there are versions of this recipe circulating around the world that include cream. Investigation into this has led me to find that people as famous as Giada di Laurentis and Nigella Lawson are spreading this around. Look, I’m not the guy to tell you not to do something you want to do, but there’s no cream in traditional carbonara. I’m sure it’s very good with cream (how could it not be?), but I prefer to not let my carbonara mix with my alfredo.