The Zuni Cafe Cookbook (2002)
Recipe: Pasta alla Carbonara
Oh Judy Rodgers, how I love thee, thy restaurant, thy straightforward cooking, thy sense of humor, and thy cookbook. I have been waiting to cook from thy book since January, but I waited, waited as I should, for just the right English Peas from the Berkeley Bowl. There they were, and, well, here I am.
Bonny Doon's vin de glaciere*. I had no idea cheese, honey, and wine could be so perfect. We have been here for family birthdays, Sunday afternoon hamburgers, rainy afternoon shoestring fries, weekend cocktails at the copper bar, out-of-town-guest oysters and martinis, pre-theater dinners, and post-beach Caesar salads.
And when I turned 30, the husband gave me this cookbook.
So it is with pleasure, I turn to page 210 with Judy Rodgers and her amazing cafe cookbook. Behold the Pasta alla Carbonara. The word "carbonara" means "coal-worker" or "coal-seller," and some say that this was a dish eaten by coal workers or that the black pepper resembled coal flakes. But this recipe was not included in Italian cookbooks prior to World War II. When the husband and I were in Italy with his family back in 2003, we heard a story that this pasta was created for American troops in Italy during the second world war. Americans liked their eggs and bacon, and this was the way to satisfy them. But others have suggested that the food shortages in Rome post 1944 forced Romans to get creative with their Allied rations of powdered eggs and bacon. In the end, American, Italian, coal-worker or just plain black pepper, this little pasta recipe is fantastic, and Judy Rodgers does it just right. She suggests serving it with Malbec. I suggest just making the pasta right now.
7 ounces bacon or 5 ounces guanciale cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch segments
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup ricotta cheese (I used part skim), at room temperature
1/2 pound penne, spaghetti, or bucatini
1 1/4 cup shucked sweet English peas
2 ounces pecorino romano or pecorino sardo, grated
Lots of fresh black pepper
1. Warm the bacon in olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over low heat. It should gradually render a little fat, which will mix with the oil.
2. Lightly beat the eggs with the ricotta.
3. Drop the pasta into 6 quarts rapidly boiling water seasoned with scant 2 tablespoons salt (a little more if using kosher salt). Stir, and cook until al dente.
4. When the pasta is about a minute from being al dente, add the peas to the water and raise the heat under the bacon. Cook the bacon until it is just crispy on the edges but still tender in the middle. Turn off the heat under the bacon.
5. Drain the pasta, shake off the excess water, and slide the pasta and peas into the pan of bacon. Immediately pour the beaten eggs all over the steaming pasta, add most of the pecorino and lots of cracked black pepper. Fold to combine, working quickly so that the heat of the noodles, bacon, and bacon fat slightly cooks the eggs. The eggs and ricotta will coat the pasta and form tiny, soft, golden curds. (If you prefer the eggs cooked further, return the pan to low hear, but use a nonstick pan, or the eggs and pasta will stick to the pan and to each other, becoming a big glob of pasta).
6. Serve in warm bowls with the remaining pecorino and black pepper.