There is so much to like about the idea of carbonara: there’s the name, it’s a beautiful word to say and it flows so effortlessly off the tongue; it evokes that eternal Italian rustic kitchen where Nonna is busy making wonderful food; it is made with only four ingredients and like so many dishes in Italian cuisine it’s essentially simple, yet very elegant in execution; there’s all the mysterious rituals and traditional conventions to making carbonara – should it be made with guanciale (pig’s cheek), or pancetta, or bacon, do we use pecorino or Parmesan, and everybody has their own rules for the number of eggs (and/or yolks) per person; but perhaps the most endearing aspect of carbonara is that you can make it anywhere, even if you forget to pack your provisions for that weekend away to a remote holiday home, the smallest of village shops will always stock eggs, bacon, cheese and spaghetti.
The trick to making good carbonara is getting the eggs to to emulsify with fat and pasta water into a sauce without over-cooking the eggs or leaving them raw. Imprecision will result in either spaghetti with scrambled eggs, or spaghetti with raw eggs. Both outcomes spoil the carbonara.
To overcome the raw/scrambled egg conundrum, people will add cream – despite being perfectly aware of the purist’s mantra: DON’T ADD CREAM TO CARBORNARA! But adding cream to a carbonara is a reasonable response, as the cream will allow the rawness of the egg to cook when gently heated and also guard against the eggs scrambling. The cream takes away the exacting accuracy required with eggs alone.
Perhaps what people are also after is a less eggy sauce and more of a cheese sauce, such as an Alfredo sauce. An Alfredo also follows a similarly rigid method – just add Parmesan and butter to spaghetti. The emulsion of wet pasta and melting Parmesan and butter may suit some palates better than the intense egg sauce of a carbonara. By the way, even with an Alfredo, it is not considered appropriate to add cream to the butter and Parmesan.
Apart from sourcing authentic guaciale, I have made my recipe based on a couple of principles: I have cut some of the egg white. This makes the sauce less foamy (and eggy). I have added some classic sauce builders into the mix – a splash of wine and a small amount of stock. This will help my emulsion along and add a bit of extra flavour and depth to the eggs.