What feels like a month ago forever ago, I took a cooking class with my dad, good ole Chris, at the Brooklyn Kitchen (otherwise known as that place that takes all my money every time I go in). I took him there as a Christmas present, so the class choice was all his to make. Brooklyn Kitchen has so many different classes to choose from and they’re constantly changing. Some stay the same due to popularity, like the Roberta’s pizza making class. Chris didn’t feel the need to attend that one because the recipe is online and he’s already mastered it, so he doesn’t need anyone to teach it to him. (I’ll back him up – my dad makes mad good pizzas, y’all.) If you’ve ever met him, you’ll probably know that he loves Rome from that one time he visited. And you’ll probably also know that on that visit, he had the best pasta alla carbonara ever at this small, hole-in-the-wall, local place. So when we saw there was a February Taste of Rome class in which we would make carbonara (as well as amatriciana* and cacio e pepe), my dad was sold. We were going.
Rome-obsessed Chris met me in Williamburg in his Mini Cooper because he’s so euro, and in we went, ready for a night of carbo-loading. The class was lovely. We signed in and were greeted by a lovely little table with wine and beers chilling and aprons to put on. There were sixteen people in the class, and we’d all be working as one big group, so I settled myself down, content to mostly just watch. I’m kiiiind of an all-or-nothing girl in the kitchen. I’ll admit it. I’m a grade A control freak when I cook, so I just decided to stay chill on the sidelines with my glass of wine…
…That is, until the instructor asked who wanted to make the anchovy vinaigrette, at which point my hand shot up and I declared that I would. What?! I paid good money for that class and I love whisking things! Plus, I’ve always been a little put off by anchovies but had recently decided I wanted to try working with them, so the chance was just too perfect.
Besides that one outburst, my dad and I did just watch. These are very simple dishes, really, and easy to grasp. They’re dishes that Italians made with what they had back in the day. Pasta alla carbonara is pasta with guanciale (or pancetta or bacon), eggs, cheese, and pepper. There are arguments over whether it includes cream or onions (I’d say no to both), and it most definitely does not include peas. Some people do like to add something green to garnish and add a bit of color, which I think it fine. I add parsley myself. The reason a lot of people get worked up about the cream is that if you make it properly, the eggs and cheese make such a creamy sauce on their own that cream itself is completely unnecessary. That’s what matters so much in these old, classic dishes; it’s technique, not a hefty ingredient list.
The trick here is to have everything ready before you start cooking and to work quickly when the time comes. Have your eggs and cheese mixed and make sure your guanciale/pancetta/bacon is cooked and ready by the time your pasta is finished and boom – you’re set.
Another key part, I’d say is that starchy pasta water I’ve talked about before (here and here). It helps loosen up the egg and cheese mixture to make it even saucier. I’m going to be totally honest with you right now. When I was making this dish for my friends on Sunday night, I got flustered. That’s right, I got flustered and I dumped the pasta without saving any cooking water. I know I have a food blog so it must seem like I have it all together and am completely self-composed at all times, but the cold truth is that even I get flustered and forget to save the cooking water sometimes. DON’T BE LIKE ME. Remember the water! I had to heat up some plain water to loosen the sauce up and I still regret it to this very day.
But really, our pasta alla carbonara dinner was delicious. It was my favorite from that class. Obviously Chris loved it, too. He made it for himself my mom on Valentine’s Day, yielding wonderful results as well. If you’re located in or around Brooklyn, I would definitely recommend taking a class at Brooklyn Kitchen. It’s especially fun with a friend, and like I said in an earlier post, you get 10% off the entire store the day of your class, which I definitely took advantage of. Or did it take advantage of me…? Hm.
Pasta Alla Carbonara
Adapted from the class recipe
Serves: 4-6 people
1 lb spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, diced
4 ounces guanciale, diced
4 large eggs (I might add 1 or 2 more next time)
2 large egg yolks
½ cup grated Parmesan, plus more to serve
½ cup grated Pecorino
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
Freshly ground pepper
- Bring a pot of well-salted water to boil.
- Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the pancetta and guanciale and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. (I find low and slow, as with most proteins, is best here. It renders plenty of fat for flavor and really crisps up the meat nicely.)
- Once the water is boiling, drop in the pasta. Meanwhile, whisk together the cheese and the eggs until they’re blended without any lumps. You can add a generous grinding of black pepper here, or wait until you serve.
- When the pasta is just about al dente, reserve a ¼ to a ½ cup of the cooking water, and dump the pasta. Return the sauté pan with the meat to medium heat and add the pasta. Cook, tossing together to coat the pasta, for about 2 minutes.
- Take the sauté pan off the heat, ad the egg mixture and stir vigorously. Keep it moving until everything is incorporated. Add cooking water if you need to thing the sauce out. It should be creamy.
- Serve sprinkled with parsley, more cheese, and more ground pepper and don’t bother trying to talk until you’re finished with your first bowl!
*Ahhh, we meet again, pasta all’amatriciana. The class had a recipe that was more balanced than mine was but still nothing is as good as The Pasta hop in Bushwick. (which I still can’t tell – is it open or did it close?!)