What’s for Supper – Classic Carbonara

The weather is still chilly in Cambridge and despite several layers, I returned from today’s run (alright, jog) feeling cold and craving comfort food. A combo of salty bacon, egg yolk, cream and cheese; pasta Carbonara is a bear hug of a dish. My choice of pasta is Bucatini – long hollow pasta tubes. Not sure how to explain exactly why I love Bucatini so, other than that Bucatini are satisfyingly substantial, but also very light because they are hollow. They are just delicious and fun to bite into. But obviously, any pasta will do.

120g dry pasta

4 tablespoons of salt for 4 litres of water

8-10 rashers of smoked bacon

1 lug of sunflower oil 

2 egg yolks

100-150 ml cream – any kind you like

2-3 handfuls of grated cheese – Parmesan or Pecorino are best but any hard mature cheese will taste great

Ground black pepper


How to cook perfect pasta

You need a really large saucepan, and 1 small tablespoon of salt per litre. That’s right – 1 tablespoon of salt per litre. Nothing else – no oil. It is the volume of water which ensures that pasta strands don’t stick. Cook your chosen pasta for a couple of minutes less than suggested on the pack. The salt and shorter cooking time will ensure al dente pasta – that is to say pasta that is cooked, yet retains a little bite at the core, easing the effect of this rich dish on your gut and on your blood sugar levels. For Bucatini this means about 8-9 minutes. When cooked, lift the pasta using a pasta fork – don’t drain into a colander. This removes the need for dangerous lifting and moving of large pans full of hot water and also eliminates the risk of burns to hands and lower arms. The purpose for the cook, however, is to transfer pasta straight out of the water and into the waiting sauce. If you have never tried this you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes to any pasta dish, compared to topping quickly drying pasta with a sauce.

Bring the salted water to a rolling boil. This is what a rolling boil looks like. Don’t put a lid on and keep an eye on the pan. Give the pasta a stir when it first goes in.

While the pasta cooks, put a little oil in a cold frying pan. I use sunflower oil for all frying. I use extra virgin olive oil for drizzling on towards the end of any cooking process and for cold preparations like salad dressings. The reason is that sunflower oil has a high burn point and the added benefit of being neutral in flavour. It is also inexpensive. Olive oil, like all refined oils, has a low burn point and in addition is expensive and has a delicate flavour best suited for adding cold. Add the bacon – I use my kitchen scissors for cutting bacon. Whack up the heat under the pan to max. Turn it down a notch once the fat starts to spit but keep it reasonably high. Cook until crisp.

Turn the heat off when done but keep the pan of bacon as it is. You are going to use all that gorgeous released bacon fat.

Next, use a fork to mix egg yolk, cream and a large pinch of black pepper – the “charcoal” alluded to in the name of this dish from the Lazio region. Grate the cheese. Mixing the eggs with the cream before adding them to the hot pasta means the eggs won’t scramble.

As the pasta enters its last minute of boiling, turn the heat back up under the bacon. Enough for a gentle sizzle.

Using a pasta fork, lift the pasta out of the water, with some of the water that clings to it, and straight into the pan of hot bacon. The water will help to emulsify the sauce. Turn the pasta through the hot bacon, then add the eggy cream and the cheese. At this point I like to add a lug of olive oil as well – in the grand scheme of fats in this dish, why not? Quickly fold it all together. The heat should be high enough to thicken the sauce and coat the pasta, but not so hot that the ingredients cook or stick to the bottom of the pan. Serve immediately, in warm bowls.

Leftovers can be turned into tomorrow’s lunch as they are. However, if you are at home, with time on your hands, why not transfer leftover pasta into an oven proof dish, mix a few eggs with milk and/or cream and pour over the pasta then bake in the oven until set and golden. Serve it with a salad of some sort – any raw vegetables are good and deliver healthy fibre.

Bucatini make handy straws…

Join me again tomorrow

As usual, no sooner have I finished one meal than I begin to think of the next. This afternoon I was given a bag full of freshly foraged, tender nettles by a kind neighbour so the choice is easy. Tomorrow’s supper will be a vitamin packed nettle soup with poached egg.