He sends you flying.
High up in the air.
The same way hummus is controversial.
You spread your wings, catch your breath, and squeal with delight.
It’s innate. The dream of flight. And in an instant he has given you wings.
To soar. Beyond your dreams.
He claps once. Maybe twice. Depending on how much air you catch.
A recipe can only take you so far.
Fathers love this game. Mothers hold their breath and look away.
Children are perpetually caught in the middle. In mid-air.
A recipe is only as good as the hands that prepare it. The soil that feeds the herbs. The stories, memories, love, frustrations, ambitions, disappointments, history, experience, traditions, culture, tears and laughter that pour out of your heart, surging through your shoulder blades, down your arm, through your finger tips, on to the cutting board, and sizzling into the pan.
You come tumbling back down. Back down into his arms.
And sometimes a recipe is just a recipe. A means to an end. And that’s ok too.
He’s always there to catch you. Baba.
Carbonara is a maddeningly delicious – lick your fingers, smack your lips and go back for more – comfort food. It boasts very few ingredients while stirring up very strong opinions and allegiances. At its most traditional preparation it is simply fresh raw eggs (yolk only or the whole egg is debatable), Parmigiano Regianno and Pecorino Romano (the use of one or the other or a combination of the two, also debatable), and guanciale – Italian cured pork cheek or jowl (the use of pancetta and bacon, again, debatable), black pepper and the pasta cooking water (the use of which is non-debatable, salt that water and use it!).
Purists and traditionalists will demand you stick to these few simple ingredients and beware their wrath, disapproval and eye rolls lest you venture off course. Passions run high. Very high.
And so it is with a healthy dose of respect and a nod to tradition that I stir up the carbonara pot and debate even more.
No matter where you fall in the carbonara wars, one thing can be agreed upon by all sides: the freshness of all your ingredients. Especially that of the eggs. I use the whole egg here, the yolk and the whites. And since the eggs are raw, it is imperative that they be as fresh as possible. Baba’s Carbonara starts off with a saute of onion and prosciutto. You could use pancetta, bacon or guanciale, but the sweet prosciutto works wonderfully here. Baba also likes to stray from tradition and add fresh parsley and basil to his carbonara. The fresh herbs really brighten and lighten up the dish. And I love incorporating fresh herbs anywhere I can. The fresh herbs are mixed in a bowl with the eggs, parmesan/pecorino, pepper and crushed garlic. This mixture is set aside until ready to be incorporated to the pasta. It is also imperative that the pasta be drained (reserve about 1 cup of that pasta water) al dente because it will continue to cook as it is tossed with the onion and prosciutto. The trickiest part of preparing carbonara – what is seemingly an easy dish to prepare – is incorporating the egg mixture with the pasta without srambling the eggs. The success of every carbonara is judged upon this. The idea is that the raw eggs will cook with the residual heat of the noodles, creating a smooth and creamy consistency. No scrambled eggs! Once you add the egg mixture to the noodles you need to quickly and efficiently toss the pasta. And add the reserved pasta water as needed (judiciously, not too much and not too little) to thin out the sauce and to keep the noddles from drying out.
Baba’s Carbonara is the one dish that has my girls (and husband) drop whatever they’re doing and come crashing to the dining table. It is the dish that every other carbonara is compared to. It’s Hawaii in December. It’s Vancouver in July. It’s Baba and Grandma Kumi working side by side, a finely honed duet. Baba chopping the herbs, Grandma Kumi cracking the eggs. It’s the constant debate over how many eggs to use. One more she suggests, one less he insists. Passions run high. Very high. It’s everyone stepping back and giving Baba room to swiftly and expertly incorporate the raw eggs with the steaming pasta.
It’s the hands that prepare it.
He is no longer able to send you flying. You are grown now and his back is far too weak.
It’s Baba singing and his granddaughters trailing him with squeals of delight as he sets the carbonara on the table.
But he is always there to catch you.
In mid-air or with your feet planted firmly on the ground.
Carbonara. It’s controversial. It’s family. And it’s maddeningly delicious.
BABA’S SPAGHETTI ALLA CARBONARA
- Raw eggs are used in this dish. Please use your own judgement in preparing this dish. Make sure you use extremely fresh eggs.
- Please salt that pasta water. This is not negotiable. Salt it so it tastes like the ocean. Yes, really.
- The garlic needs to be really crushed well. Almost to a paste. Since it is used raw here. You can use a garlic crusher. But I find the best way to crush garlic is in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of coarse salt as an abrasive. You can also crush the garlic on the cutting board by chopping it, sprinkling it with salt and using the flat of the blade and the palm of your hand working in a back and forth motion to work it into a paste.
- Don’t drive yourself crazy measuring out the herbs. Just grab a handful and chop away.
- I use a mix of Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses here. If you only have Parmesan on hand just use a full 3/4 cups of that.
1 pound spaghetti
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
5 ounces sliced prosciutto, chopped
4 fresh eggs
4 medium sized cloves garlic, crushed almost to a paste
25g/1 ounce/a handful fresh parsley, finely chopped (about 3 tablespoons chopped)
25g/1 ounce/a handful fresh basil, finely chopped (about 3 tablespoons chopped)
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan
1/4 cup finely grated pecorino
Bring a large pot of generously salted water (see note above) to a boil. Add spaghetti and cook until al dente, about 8-10 minutes. Please do not over cook the pasta. Before draining set aside about 1 cup of the pasta water (you won’t use all this water but good to have on hand). Drain the pasta.
WHILE the pasta is cooking heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the prosciutto give a quick saute, about 2-3 minutes and turn off the heat.
WHILE the onion cooks, in a medium sized bowl whisk the eggs and add the garlic, parsley, basil, cheese (see note above), 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Mix well to fully combine. No lumps.
Turn on the onion and prosciutto pan back up to medium heat . Add the spaghetti to the pan along with a couple of splashes of the pasta water. Quickly toss the pasta to incorporate. The water will evaporate. Remove the pan from the heat.
Add the egg mixture to the pan. Work quickly. Toss the pasta with egg mixture until egg mixture is incorporated fully and creamy (no scrambled eggs!). The heat from the pasta will cook the eggs through. As you toss add splashes of the pasta water to thin out your sauce, if necessary. I usually end up adding about 1/4 cup of pasta water.
Season with more black pepper if you like (I skip this part since my kids don’t approve). Serve immediately with freshly grated parmesan. A crisp salad, and a crisp Rosé accompany this dish beautifully.