There used to be this quaint and delicious Italian place in Miami on the corner of US1 and 124th street called Fancy’s. To my deep dismay, it has been replaced by a sub-par Cuban restaurant called “Malanga Cafe” that claims to have the world’s best pan con lechon, which probably means they are light years away from having the world’s best pan con lechon. When my sister and I were growing up, my parents used to take us to Fancy’s frequently, and I always ordered the same thing: fried mozzarella with marinara and spaghetti alla carbonara.
That specific pasta dish is forever lodged in my memory. It was, hands down, the best carbonara I had ever experienced in my life. Each strand of spaghetti had loads of creamy sauce that adhered to it so passionately that it was almost like each string was doubled in size. It had onions, and bacon, and was just a dream come true. When Fancy’s went down the tubes, my carbonara slid down along with it.
In an attempt to relive this succulent pasta dish, I had Italians make it for me, I ate it in the motherland itself, and even ordered it at some of the best Italian restaurants in the US. All attempts were futile and nothing lived up to Fancy’s. All not creamy enough, too curdled, too blah, and the worst part of all: always too eggy. I was crushed Until one of our chef instructors in cooking school, Chris Douglass, ever so generously shared his recipe with us. The day we made this was busy. We made ravioli, risotto, and arancini to go along with our Italian feast, and when we were done, we tried each of them. I wasn’t expecting much out of the Carbonara since I had been used to sheer disappointment, but this was different.
It was creamy and cheesy without being eggy at all. Even though it had a substantial portion of eggs. The clincher with carbonara is that the hot pasta is mixed into raw eggs, which cooks them just slightly. The desired result is something silky, custardy, thick, and irresistible. Just like this.
Carbonara and I, reunited once again. Except now I can rely on myself to make it whenever I want.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Adapted from Chris Douglass
Serves 6 substantially
Note: Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready when the sauce is finished; it is very important that the pasta is hot when adding the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs in the sauce.
1 pound dry spaghetti
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta or bacon, cubed or sliced into small strips
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper
1 handful fresh flat-left parsely, chopped
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm, or al dente. Drain the pasta well, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce if you wish, to thin the sauce out a little.
While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium flame. Add the pancetta and saute for about 3 minutes, until the bacon is crisp and the fat is rendered. Toss the garlic into the fat and saute for less than 1 minute to soften.
Add the hot, drained spaghetto to the pan, and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands in the bacon fat. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent any lumps. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta, whisking quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble. Make sure you do this off the heat to ensure that no scrambling will occur – we definitely don’t want scrambled egg pasta.
Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches desired consistency. Season the carbonara with several turns of freshly ground black pepper and taste for salt. Mound the spaghetti carbonara into warm serving bowls and garnish with chopped parsley. Pass more cheese around the table and shower on top of your dish.