Saturday, August 6, 2011

a tale of two carbonaras

I think if my first year of blogging taught me anything, it is that I really, really, REALLY like carbonara. I wrote about no less than FOUR different versions of the dish last year. Clearly we are talking about some serious carbonara love here.

There was my father's go-to recipe passed down from my Nona, a fancy version inspired by Joel Robouchon, one with basil and sweet corn and one with Japanese flair. These were all delicious in their own way, which only served to strengthen my appetite for carbonaras of all shapes and sizes, so to speak. As we had made my family's version, Nathan insisted we make his mom's recipe, which I believe she had gotten from a professor while she was in graduate school in Berkeley. I was, of course, more than happy to give it a try, provided I got a second chance to make mine.

Here we have the two dishes side by side. Nathan's is on the left, and if you look closely you can see it is just chock full of bacon, using about twice as much as I usually do. Mine is on the right, and the addition of non-traditional cream renders it noticeably creamier. Nathan's has onions, and mine has garlic, but they are still pretty similar to one another. I'd be happy to eat either version any day of the week, but I have to admit that I'm still slightly partial to the one I grew up with, and I'm sure Nathan feels the same.

I also have the recipes as written by my dad, Carl, and Nathan's mom, Tenli. I thought it would be fun to do a side by side of the recipes in their own words.

Tenli's Carbonara

For a pound of spaghetti or other pasta, approx 12 oz bacon or pancetta, diced fairly small.
1 medium onion, diced
1 large egg
freshly grated parmesan cheese
freshly grated pepper

Cook bacon in the bottom of a large saucepan until it starts to become crispy.
Add the onions and brown them in the bacon fat (mmm) until they are dark and caramelized. Keep an eye on things so the bacon and onions don't burn, as the grease will be very hot.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta (al dente, of course) and beat the egg lightly. When the pasta is ready, drain, and add to the saucepan with the bacon mixture, pour the egg in, and toss the whole thing well. Grate pepper over it to taste, and serve w/parmesan.

The Cascone's Carbonara

(1 or 2 servings)
– cut up bacon (¼ LB) – saute with (lots of garlic
– in bowl beat 1 egg with ~ 4 tbs milk/cream
– over cooked spaghetti – combine bacon (& some bacon oil) with egg and grated cheese and minced parsley
– [reserve some spaghetti water is too dry]

As you can see, the apple doesn't fall from the tree. I get my improvisational cooking style from my father, who probably got his from my Nona, the amazing cook behind this "recipe." With improvisation also comes the inability to describe my cooking process in any great detail. I think this recipe is written for a half pound of pasta? But I just asked my dad and he says that a half pound of bacon would be a lot for a pound of pasta, so who really knows. I think the main difference between the two recipes is really that my dad uses way way less bacon. Obviously, I freaking love bacon, but I think a little goes a long way.

Luckily, with a dish like this it is easy to get great results, even if you have to wing it a little bit. I think I've given you a number of excellent ways to make carbonara that you can really play around with. There's any number of ways to make this dish your own, and I hope you won't feel constrained by traditionalist recipes. I'd love to get my hands on some real guanciale and recreate the original Roman dish, but I'll never turn down a chance to try a new and creative variation, and I hope you won't either.

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