Carbonara, not to be confused with the Carbonari, the 19th-century Italian secret society, is derived from the word carbonaro, which means “charcoal burner.”
"Shazam!" I thought to myself. I was in a trendy little restaurant in Washington, D.C., and had ordered my favorite meal of all time: carbonara. This dish is not to be confused with the Carbonari, which was some sort of Italian secret society in the early 19th century, although the names are phonetically similar and have similar meanings. Carbonara is derived from the Italian word carbonaro, which means "charcoal burner."
Carbonara has been a staple at my house for many years now, the go-to meal when nothing else will do. It's simple to make, always delicious, and often a requested meal for a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary.
Therein lies my dilemma. One of the more memorable anniversaries I ever experienced followed a meal of carbonara in which I experimented and changed a few ingredients. My wife accused me of ruining our entire anniversary and was not happy. She didn't speak to me for a week.
The recipe was passed to me orally from friends who were very kind to me in my early days, but you can find many recipes online and in any Italian cookbook. The beauty of carbonara is that it is so simple to make and very difficult to make mistakes that matter. Just look at the basic ingredients: pasta, bacon, eggs and some cheese. How can you put those together in any combination and go wrong? We add a little chopped onion and good black pepper.
Our recipe calls for the pasta to be spaghetti, and we have even used the very thin spaghetti and liked the taste and texture. Use the appropriate amount of pasta for the number of guests. Other recipes suggest the use of fettuccine, rigatoni, linguine or bucatini.
The basic guideline on the number of eggs to use is one more than the number of people being served. And for the bacon, well, one can never have too much bacon. We usually use a 16-ounce package for dinner parties of four or more and 12 ounces for fewer guests.
The dish has many variations. Adding a green vegetable such as peas or broccoli lends to the presentation and the taste (not according to my wife, of course). You can use mushrooms or other vegetables and substitute ham for bacon. I've never tried it with turkey bacon, but it might work. Egg whites can be used instead of the whole egg, or just the yolks, and some cooks add cream to the sauce.
Spaghetti for four people
16 ounces bacon, cooked and chopped
1 tablespoon bacon grease
1/2 small onion chopped
1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine eggs, chopped bacon and onion, Parmesan cheese and bacon grease in large bowl and stir.
Cook the pasta and drain it.
While it's still hot, add the other ingredients and stir. Use more salt and pepper to taste, and add more Parmesan cheese if desired.