A short while ago my friend Joe called me with a seemingly simple request: he wanted to surprise his girlfriend by making dinner for her. Being that they’re two of my besties, that his culinary abilities are self-admittedly so-so and that she’s a phenomenal cook herself, the guy needed a simple meal with a big “wow” factor.
Enter carbonara! Sure, it takes a little bit of coordination to pull off, but it’s made with only a handful of ingredients that were likely already in their refrigerator and pantry. Plus, it’s one of her favorites. No pressure.
The secret to carbonara is timing and heat – the latter of which you need very little. To be successful, have all your ingredients ready at the same time that the pasta is ready. Once you drain it, toss everything together off the heat (emphasis on off the heat) and the hot pasta will provide just enough warmth to cook the eggs through and make a beautiful silky sauce. It’s when you try to mix everything together over the heat that you end up with scrambled egg spaghetti – a sure-fire date-night ruiner.
So how, you may be wondering, did Joe’s version turn out? He and Charissa are getting married this August. Nailed it.
“Date Night” Spaghetti Carbonara
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
6 slices thick-cut smoked bacon, roughly chopped
1 pound thick spaghetti
5 large egg yolks
1 large egg
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons ground black pepper, more or less depending on your tastes
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Chopped fresh parsley, to garnish (optional)
Place a large pot of salted water over high heat and bring it to a boil.
Place a medium skillet over medium heat with the bacon. Gently cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the bacon from the skillet and drain it on a paper towel. Reserve the drippings in the pan.
When the bacon is just about ready, drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook to al dente according to package directions. When the pasta is ready, reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining it.
In a large mixing bowl whisk together the egg yolks, whole egg, cream and pepper. Reserve until the pasta is ready.
Drain the cooked pasta well and add it to the reserved egg mixture along with about 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water and 1 tablespoon of drippings from the bacon. Immediately begin tossing the pasta to evenly coat it with the egg mixture. While continuing to toss the pasta constantly, add the cheese in two additions (along with some more of the reserved pasta water if the mixture looks dry). Add in the reserved bacon. After tossing the pasta for about 30 seconds total, the mixture will come together as a silky sauce.
Serve the pasta immediately garnished with the parsley, if desired.
If you want to gussy up things a bit, swap out the bacon for pancetta or guanciale. If you’re not into eating meat, leave it out and just replace the fat that you add to the pasta with some extra virgin olive oil.
NOTE: I realize that date night for two and a dish that makes four servings might be a little incongruous, but wait and see how you feel about it when you’re dishing up your second helping.
Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Bobby Deen and Paula Deen, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest tweets on Twitter at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickwdecker.com.