Tag Archives: comfort food

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

It’s been a minute since Johnny La Pasta shared a pasta recipe with you. And so, today I am sharing one of my all-time favorite recipes that I learned in the motherland (Italy): Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

In 2014, I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime, traveling all around the Italian peninsula with a whole party of new and now very dear friends. We visited the historical and iconographic sites, we took in the naturally dramatic and beautiful landscapes, we immersed ourselves in the warm and vibrant culture, and we DRANK A LOT OF WINE and we ATE A LOT OF PASTA.  It was bliss.

Eating pasta in Italy is true living. Beyond the soul joy of devouring bowls of authentic pasta dishes, for a cook like me, these indulgences were also inspirations for my own kitchen back home. Whilst in Rome, we had a lot of Pasta alla Carbonara as this is Rome’s signature dish. My Italian family did not immigrate to America from Rome, they came from Calabria in the south, and so no authentic recipe for carbonara came over with them. Pasta alla Carbonara was not a dish I normally had growing up, so having the opportunity to taste authentic incarnations of it in Rome was new and exciting for me.

Of course, I had had Pasta alla Carbonara dishes here in the states; but they were always incredibly cream based, white and gooey, made with a rue like an Alfredo sauce. I could never really detect the use of egg and therefore could not appreciate it in these dishes, which is unfortunate as egg is supposed to be a main feature of any carbonara.

So I was pleasantly surprised by the Roman’s carbonara dishes: silky, smooth, salty, decadent, very simple, yet absurdly divine. The use of egg is pronounced in these dishes as the yolks provide a beautiful yellow gold color for the sauce and create a silken consistency, making the dish creamy and luxurious but in a different way than probably most American eaters are used to. I was hooked on the stuff, and I had to know how to make it at home.

I spoke with several natively Italian cooks about carbonara at length because I am me and obsessed with food. I explained to them what most Americans thought carbonara was: a cream sauce made from flour, butter, and milk or cream cooked down with cheese melted into it and then an egg beaten in for good measure, often served with peas and mushrooms. The Italians were absolutely, deeply, and profoundly horrified to hear this. They told me that, “If that is how Americans are making carbonara, they should be ashamed of themselves.”

They then proceeded to BLESS me with the proper, authentic technique for Pasta alla Carbonara in the hopes that I could bring it back home to the USA and bring the American people closer to God by showing them how to make and eat carbonara right!

The secret to this carbonara is that it is super simple: eggs, parmesan and pecorino cheese, pancetta or bacon, black pepper, and pasta. That is all. No fancy rue sauce, no added cream, no mushrooms, no peas.

Basically, the eggs and cheeses are beaten together in the bottom of a pasta bowl to make a thick cream. Once the pasta is done cooking, it is removed from the water, and the bowl with the egg-cream is placed on the pot with the hot pasta water still in it. The heat from the water underneath the bowl starts to cook the egg-cream mixture. The pasta is added, with more cheese, and the heat from the pasta 1. finishes cooking the egg-cream sauce so that it is safe to eat and 2. melts the cheese and eggs into a thick, silky sauce the coats the noodles completely. Bacon or pancetta is added and the dish is served. That is all and it’s truly one of the greatest pasta dishes ever. I typically make this dish with Spaghetti as the long noodles are perfect to be coated and twirled in this rich sauce.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara has since become a staple dish in my kitchen. I turn to it again and again for its ease and affordability, its authenticity and its decadence, and for its ability to transport me right back to the streets of Rome with each and every bite. I hope you enjoy Spaghetti alla Carbonara! Buon Appetito!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • ¾ lb-1 lb spaghetti
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 full egg
  • ½ cup grated pecorino romano cheese
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 5 slices bacon or wheels pancetta
  • 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper

Directions:

Cook bacon your favorite way. You can chop the bacon up into bits, cook until browned and crispy in a pan, and set aside to drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Or, you could cook bacon my way! Place a cooling rack on a baking sheet, lay the bacon pieces across the rack, and bake in the oven at 400F till crispy, about 20 minutes. Remove, allow to cool, and cut into pieces.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook till al dente, about 8-9 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the eggs, black pepper, and ¾ of the pecorino and parmesan cheeses in a large glass bowl. Whip until completely combined; it should be very thick.

Without draining the pasta water, remove the spaghetti to a separate bowl. Turn off the heat. Place the bowl with the egg-cream mixture atop the pot of hot water. Whip the mixture quickly for 30 seconds. Add the pasta to the bowl and remaining cheese to the bowl. Work quickly and toss for 1 ½ minutes until the sauce completely coats the noodles.

Serve equal amounts into bowls and top with the bacon/pancetta. Garnish with additional cheese and if you’d like, a small chopping of parsley. Serve and enjoy!

Easy Bolognese

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find anything as comforting as a bowl of pasta with a rich, hearty meat sauce (sorry vegetarians, I practice Meatless Monday and yoga, but I am Italian thru and thru). When I was growing up my mom often made pasta with Bolognese sauce when it was chilly outside. Curling up with that bowl of pasta and watching a good movie was simply the best…and it still is! Bolognese is something I now make on the regular during Fall and Winter. It’s inexpensive, simple, rustic, hearty, and it can actually be decently nutritious if you use grass-fed organic meat and control your portions.

Now, there are lots of Bolognese sauce recipes in the world and some of them can be slightly complicated and require hours of cooking, but my recipe for Bolognese is fantastically easy and rather quick! Serve with your favorite shape of pasta, on spaghetti squash, or even by itself in a bowl with some crusty bread. My Easy Bolognese will quickly make you feel like you’re dining in Tuscany! Buon Appetito!

Easy Bolognese

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 75 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • ½ lb ground beef (preferably grass-fed organic)
  • ½ lb ground pork (preferably grass-fed organic)
  • ½ cup red wine (preferably a chianti or darker)
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ¼ cup fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • Salt & Pepper
  • ¼ Pecorino Romano Cheese

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté for about 5 minutes until tender. Add the carrots, celery, and 1 tablespoon of the crushed garlic, season with an additional pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté for 3-4 minutes longer. Add the beef and pork. Using the back of a wooden spoon, break the meat up into small chunks, cook until the meat is browned and slightly caramelized, about 7-8 minutes. Pour in the red wine and cook until the meat absorbs the wine completely. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, remaining 1 tablespoon of garlic, half the parsley, the basil, the bay leaf, the red pepper flakes, a pinch more salt and pepper, and half of the pecorino cheese. Stir together. Allow to come to a simmer. Reduce the heat the medium-low and cook uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour until sauce is slightly thickened. Serve with the remaining pecorino and parsley. Enjoy!

Pro-tip: If you make pasta or spaghetti squash, toss the pasta or shredded squash with additional pecorino cheese and olive oil, then place into pasta bowls, and serve the Bolognese sauce over the top. Allow the guests to mix the sauce into the noodles or squash as they like on their own.