Long long ago when I was a small boy, we spent our summers in Naples. My dad taught a summer seminar there. Perhaps my fire for delicious food was first kindled there. We had an Italian friend who was rich enough to eat at the fanciest places but he preferred to seek out cheap rustic places in tiny off-the-beaten-track villages. We once ate pizza in a hamlet whose streets were so narrow that our car got stuck between two houses. I loved the pizza but my favorite thing was spaghetti carbonara.
I never order it in the U.S. because I'm afraid it wouldn't be the same. A few years ago, an old man, then about eighty, emailed me a recipe he had got in Naples 25 years before. It used cream and American bacon and I figured it would be totally inauthentic. (The authentic kind, I believe, uses raw eggs which cook by the heat of the spaghetti after the burner has been turned off.) So I put it aside. One of my friends made it for me tonight and it was wonderful! Just like I remembered. So here's the recipe. (She is LDS [Mormon] so we omitted the wine)
1 pound bacon, diced (easiest while semi-frozen)
1 medium onion, minced
1 cup dry white wine (Rosé wine may be used)
1 teaspoon pepper
1 pound spaghetti
4 (extra-large) eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup (1/2 pint) heavy cream
DIRECTIONS: (Total preparation time, about 1 1/2 hours)
In a large heavy pot, sauté diced bacon over low heat until half done,
about 15 minutes, until semi-browned. Add minced onion, and sauté over
medium heat, stirring occasionally, about 15 more minutes. Remove from
heat, allow to cool slightly, and DRAIN OFF FAT. Add the 1 cup wine and
1 teaspoon pepper, cover, and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes.
While bacon mix is simmering, in a large glass or porcelain bowl mix the
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese with the 1 cup of heavy cream; stir. Add the 4
eggs, and stir (with a whisk) to blend smoothly. Set aside.
Also while bacon mixture is simmering, cook 1 pound of capellini,
according to package directions, to the al dente stage. (Time cooking
of the pasta to coordinate with completion of simmering the bacon
mixture.) Drain the cooked capellini, and add the capellini to the pot
containing the bacon mixture; stir to coat capellini evenly. Then, while
continuing to stir capellini/bacon mix over VERY LOW HEAT, slowly pour
the egg/cheese/cream mixture over the capellini; mix quickly* but well,
lifting the pasta with forks until it is well-coated (this is most
easily done as a two-person operation, with one person pouring the egg
mixture, the other lifting and stirring the pasta). Remove to warm
serving bowl(s)*, and serve immediately.
This entrée is so very rich that it is best served with simple
accompaniments; a tossed salad, garlic bread, and white wine are
This had been served at the NATO Officers Club in Naples, Italy, some 25
years ago.[my friend wrote] I asked the chef for the recipe, and over the years I've
made it evolve. (In all modesty, I think it's better than the
original...with the minor exception that rather than use bacon, the
authentic formula calls for pancetta[actually, it worked just fine with bacon].)
* Note: mixing too slowly, and/or allowing pasta to stand in warm pot
may curdle the egg mixture.