How to cook the perfect carbonara

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Discover how to make a classic pasta carbonara

Rome’s best-known pasta may be a regular on menus in Italian restaurants worldwide but it’s still a fiercely loved part of local Roman cuisine, a dish that pioneering chef Cristina Bowerman has modified in a way that is both progressive and deeply grounded in regional cooking.

Chef // Cristina Bowerman

Location // Romeo, Rome

“Romans are so rooted in their food tradition,” says Cristina Bowerman. “It’s difficult to change recipes without causing consternation. Italians nationwide love this dish. It’s very rich – a one-course meal – so a real family favourite. And people expect to find it exactly as their mother cooks it. Straying from the norm’ is pretty risky.”

Early mentions of carbonara often refer to the dish as either sustenance for the carbone (coal workers/miners), or as a recipe that used eggs and pancetta, staples that coal vendors also delivered house-to-house. It’s almost always associated with Rome and always features eggs, pecorino Romano, Parmesan and pork.

“I’m very careful about the ingredients,” says Cristina. “While I want it to be progressive it still has to be Roman, so the meat I use, cured pork cheek, is traditional because – oh, wow – if you don’t use this, the world ends! But I choose a well-aged meat with a good percentage of fat, then render it out on a low flame leaving it a little crunchy. For the cheese, I use both the traditional Parmesan, medium aged, along with a well-aged Roman Conciato from an amazing local producer called Manuel Lombardi.”

A foreign languages and law grad’ who honed her kitchen skills in San Francisco and Austin, Texas, Cristina is urbane, international but firmly wedded to Rome’s food culture. Her Michelin-starred restaurant, Glass Hostaria is a beacon of taste in the increasingly touristy Trastevere. Her newer venture, Romeo, comes with a bakery, deli and an offshoot fleet of food trucks known as Ape Romeo.

“Unlike the traditional recipe, Parmesan is not the main act in my dish. I only use the cheese to cut the very strong Conciato. Conceptually, for me, in many ways this carbonara is more Roman than the original.”

Carbonara 2 - Credit Susan Wright

Picture credit: Susan Wright


Serves 2

Preparation time and cooking time: 45min

¼ tsp Sichuan peppercorns
¼ tsp Sarawak peppercorns
250g (9oz) spaghettoni Cavalieri
75g (2½oz) guanciale (cured pork cheeks) cut in cubes (use pancetta as substitute)
4 very fresh egg yolks
75g (2½oz) pecorino, finely grated, mixed with Parmesan cheese
salt to taste

1 Mix the different peppercorns and crush them in a mortar as finely as desired.

2 Fill a large stockpot with water and bring to a boil, then add a very generous pinch of salt. Cook the spaghettoni for 15 minutes. Halfway through the cooking process, skim off 2–3 tbsp of the cooking water and set aside in a bowl.

3 Heat a pan and place the guanciale over medium heat (no additional fat needed) until most of the fat has rendered and the cubes have gained some colour and turned crisp. Pour the excess fat from the pan into another bowl to let it cool off a bit until further use.

4 In a bowl beat together the egg yolks and about two thirds of the grated cheese, then add the reserved cooking water and 1–2 tbsp of the reserved fat.

5 Drain the spaghettoni, then toss in a large bowl together with the egg-cheese mixture and two-thirds of the guanciale. Stir together until the pasta is evenly coated with a smooth and silky film and the cheese has completely melted.

6 Divide onto two plates, then top with the guanciale cubes, the remaining grated  pecorino and most importantly: a generous pinch of the ground peppercorn mix.

Finish cooking the pasta off the heat, in a bowl of egg yolk, the cheese and one tablespoon of fat rendered from the meat. Mix fast to avoid the egg protein coagulating. Then add the meat. Serve with one more little sprinkle of Parmesan and, finally, grate half a tablespoon of the spicy Conciato and plenty of freshly ground pepper, its black flecks, some believe, lending the dish its ‘carbon’ related name.

FromTheSource_italy_cvr RGB150dpi

Recipe taken from Lonely Planet’s From the Source – Italy (£19.99; out now)

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