SPAGHETTI ALLA CARBONARA DI CARCIOFI
Listen, I'm not going to sugar coat this for you because I know you're already really jealous of the week I spent in Rome. Yes, the historical sites helped me transcend space and time. Yes, the piazzas and winding, narrow streets had that perfect paint-chippy authenticity. Of course the people were enthusiastically kind, loud, and gesture-y. But the food: effing amazing.
Now, like I mentioned in my previous post (where you can see some photos of the space/time transcending monuments and paint-chippiness), there's a lot of crappy food in Rome and it can be quite tricky to tell the difference between a restaurant dishing out frozen pizzas to tourists or making homemade pasta and ragu. While in other cities proximity to tourist hot spots and kitschy decor might be dead giveaways that the place is a dud, that's not necessarily the case in Rome. The landlord of the apartment we rented directed us to places I would normally disregard, but truly had that great blistered pizza crust everyone is searching for in life. So, location, decor, and prices really aren't reliable indicators of whether a restaurant will disappoint or amaze. I was left to develop my own investigatory process that mostly involved snooping around and peering over the shoulders of diners to catch a glimpse of their crusts and sauces.
If you're going to Rome, my best advice for choosing a restaurant is to look at plates, and be prepared to feel fooled from time to time. But, when you find a place that gives you exactly what you're looking for - freshly made pasta, homemade sauces, high quality ingredients, a wood burning pizza oven - don't be afraid to keep going back. I mean, why waste your time on a wild hunt for another pizza/pasta place that's just as good? And, by going back to a little place that you love, you're probably going to find the same host and waitstaff will remember you and your order, making your next experience seem even more local than your first. If you have a short amount of time in Rome, just go immediately to Hostaria Farnese, on a side street between the Campo di'Fiori and Piazza Farnese.
So, here I am back in Chicago really feeling like I'm in the thick of it. First draft of term thesis due Wednesday. AP exams something like 26.5 class days away. Only one more week to test out any pasta or pizza dishes until Passover. While I was most excited to try recreating the amazing pappardelle and ragu dish I had in Rome, I knew there were a few other faster options that didn't require hours of braising. Spaghetti carbonara, cacio e pepe, and a pistachio dessert were all on my list.
So, first up, Spaghetti Carbonara. I really like that Europeans get excited about particular vegetables being in season, and they were definitely excited about artichokes, so I added them to this dish. They are completely optional. Other than that, carbonara is basically a trifecta of perfect ingredients: egg yolks, cheese, and cured meats. While the best quality pecorino and guanciale will make a big difference in flavor, you can certainly pull this off with some standard parmesan and thick cut bacon.
- 1/2 lb. spaghetti
- 2 whole artichokes
- 1/4 lb. panchetta, guanciale, or pork belly (something cured and unsliced is ideal), cubed
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese (but parmesan will work)
- 1 tbsp. cream
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- fresh ground black pepper
The artichoke is an optional addition to this carbonara. Deal with it first if you are choosing to include it. Here's a brief tutorial on how to peel whole artichoke (although I found looking for YouTube tutorials helpful): 1) snap off all the outer leaves until they become 1/-4 to 1/2 yellow, 2) with a paring knife, peel away the tough outer layer at the base and trim the stem, 3) trim off the top, 4) halve the artichoke, 5) remove the hairy/purple "choke" to leave the center hollow. Soak the halves in a bowl of water with the lemon juice added.
When ready to grill, pat the artichokes dry and coat with the olive oil. Salt, and grill on high heat, turning every few minutes, for 15 minutes total. Alternatively, you could roast, steam, or poach your artichokes for this recipe.
While your artichokes cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and heat up a large pan to start cooking the panchetta. Once hot, add the panchetta to cook for about 10 minutes, until the fat is rendered and the meat is crispy. The rendered fat will become the base of the carbonara, so if you want to discard a teaspoon or two, that's fine. When the artichokes are ready, cut them into large bite-size pieces and add to the pan with the panchetta. Add the pasta to to pot and cook for 3-4 minutes.
When still very al dente, transfer the pasta to the porchetta/artichoke pan without discarding the cooking water. Toss in the panchetta and artichoke, ladling in pasta water until al dente. As it cooks, whisk together the eggs, cream, grated cheese, and pepper to make the carbonara. I added the carbonara by first tempering it a bit - slowly adding in a ladle of the pasta water while stirring quickly. Turn off your heat, and pour the carbonara on to the pasta while stirring. Add any additional pasta water or grated cheese to achieve the consistency you like.
Season with any additional salt and pepper, as well.