Cook’s Illustrated Carbonara: Dump the Fat, Amp the Flavor

I apologize for my hiatus but I’m back baby with a better than ever recipe for pasta carbonara. Carbonara is one of those dishes that calls to me when I see on a restaurant menu. But, after just five bites, I feel myself slipping in quite the intense food coma. Yet, I continue to scarf down my dish because, let’s be honest, this Italian staple is just so delicious that it’s virtually impossible for me to stop eating until the bowl is licked clean.  And then you need to put me in a wheelbarrow to roll me home.

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However, Jenna suggested that we try a Cook’s Illustrated version that really lightens things up. The Cook’s Illustrated recipe nixes any cream and butter and suggests using only a tablespoon or two of rendered bacon fat (Jenna and I obviously went for two). Yet, the sauce stays smooth and creamy by adding some reserved pasta cooking water to the cheese and egg mixture. Using three eggs plus one yolk also gave the sauce a custardy flavor without the thick consistency. You’re left with a rich sauce that softly envelopes your pasta rather than creating the sticky texture of many other carbonara recipes. You might be thinking skeptical of carbonara  without cream or butter. But honestly, without these elements, the bacon and garlic flavors truly shine.

What you’ll need:

  • 8 slices of high quality bacon, cut in to 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 4 garlic gloves shaved or minced to a paste
  • 1 and 1/4 cups of Percorino Romano
  • 3 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 1 pound of spaghetti

Prep your bacon and garlic.

DSC02735Bring bacon and water to simmer in a large skillet over medium heat.

DSC02737Cook until the water evaporates and bacon begins to sizzle, about 8 minutes.

DSC02740Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking until fat renders and bacon browns, about 5 minutes longer. Next, add your garlic.

DSC02742Stir constantly for about a minute. The divine fragrance of garlic and bacon should fill the air.

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If this doesn’t look amazing to you I don’t think we can be friends.

Pass the bacon mixture through a fine-mesh strainer set inside in a bowl. Place the strained bacon and garlic to the side and save 2 tablespoons of fat. Place the reserved bacon fat into a new bowl and mix in your Pecorino, 3 eggs, 1 yolk, and pepper.

DSC02750Whisk until thoroughly combined.

DSC02753Meanwhile, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot or dutch oven. Add spaghetti and salt to pot. Cook until al dente. Drain the spaghetti into a colander over a large bowl to reserve the starchy water.

DSC02759Pour about 1 cup of cooking water into a liquid measuring cup and discard the remainder.

DSC02752Return spaghetti to your empty pot. Next, slowly whisk a 1/2 cup of reserved cooking water into the Pecorino mixture. Gradually pour the Pecorino mixture over the spaghetti. It’s important to work quickly between these steps as the heat from the cooking water and the hot spaghetti will “cook” the sauce only if used immediately.

DSC02763Toss to coat.

DSC02765Add bacon, garlic mixture.

DSC02766Toss again.

DSC02768Let the spaghetti to rest for a few moments then toss until sauce has slightly thickened and coats the pasta. If you feel the sauce is too thick, you can adjust the consistency by adding some of the remaining reserved cooking water a little at a time. Serve and enjoy immediately.

DSC02770We added a bit of chicken breast to get our protein fix.

DSC02774After this meal, Jenna and I found ourselves comfortably full, without the moral hangover of cream and butter. And better yet, we both had an ample serving of carbonara for lunch the next day.

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