I am spending the weekend in Palm Springs with friends. When I spend a weekend at someone’s house I like to say and thank you with food. So I cook.
Currently I am cooking from a new cookbook by Lucy Lean. Made in America: Our Best Chefs Reinvent Comfort Food. I think it’s a good choice for a weekend of cooking with really great friends. The kind of friends with whom you feel completely at ease. Your comfort friends.
On page 174 Lucy has a recipe for Rigatoni Carbonara (with guanciale) from Barbara Lynch the chef at No.9 Park in Boston. It’s a great example of the wonderful food that bubbles up in our great American melting pot. Because Carbonara is a traditional Italian dish that has found its way into our comfortably full bellies here in America. As Lucy explains it, Carbonara as American comfort food, gets its power from our great American breakfast ingredients– bacon, eggs and cheese. Mmmm, feeling comforted? But as much as I love the big ‘sit right down and say hello’ creaminess you associate with Carbonara, the Italian version has a bit more restraint.
Carbonara may achieve comfort status because of its familiar ingredients, well that and the fact that it is so easy to make. In fact when I make this dish it usually falls into the category of what I call default pasta. In other words I make it on a whim– with my mood and my pantry dictating the direction I will go.
This is probably how the American version of this traditional Italian dish was born, because here it is common to see the dish made with cream, making a saucier version than the original. But Lucy turned to Barbara Lynch for a reason. A reason I am taking to heart. Barbara’s version is an “artful blend of regionally inspired” simplicity.
Because there is art in restraint. Especially in cooking. I am guilty far too often of thinking “if a little is a good then a lot must be great”. In fact most of the pasta Carbonara dishes I have made have probably suffered from a bit too many culinary flourishes.
So today, I am taking a step back to basics. I am following Barbara’s recipe word for word. It’s more traditional than most of the Carbonaras I have eaten (or prepared). It uses Guaciale and pecorino Romano giving it a geographic provenance close to Rome.
Instead of spaghetti, she chooses Rigatoni, which are big enough and chewy enough to remind us that the noodle itself should be the star of the pasta bowl. But Barbara is not without her own flourishes! She grinds three different kinds of peppercorns (green, pink and white) which add enough pungency to sit nicely beside the rich egg and cheese sauce, but this trio also has a sophisticated floral quality that elevates this dish.
And I am perfectly comfortable following her lead.
- 1 box (16oz) high-quality rigatoni
- 2 large eggs
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/4 lb guanciale, diced small and rendered
- salt as needed
- 1/4 c pecorino romano, plus more for serving
- 1 T assorted pepper corns, like green, pink, black & white, freshly ground
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Drop in the pasta and stir. Cook for about 12 minutes until al dente; reserve 1-cup of the cooking water and then drain.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, lightly whisk eggs and yolks with a fork and add the cooked guanciale. Gradually add the drained hot pasta and then the cheese. Mix until the pasta is thoroughly coated with the creamy sauce. If necessary, add a little of the reserved cooking water to thin the sauce to taste. Season with salt and the freshly ground peppercorn mix.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD