Casual Carbonara

by Michael Tucker

ingredientsI had a cooking breakthrough this past week that I want to share with you. Because Jill is eating more and more veganly and handling a lot of her own shopping and preparation, I end up cooking a lot of dishes for myself. And I’m finding this has liberated me in a number of ways.

Instead of measuring or checking the recipe for amounts, I just say to myself, “How much of that do I feel like today?” And I throw in just that much.

Without having to worry about this person’s salt problem, that person’s meat problem, this person’s wheat allergy, that person’s fat phobia – my dishes are turning out just the way I like them.

A recent carbonara is a perfect example: Carbonara is an emotional dish – it’s bacon and eggs, on pasta, with cheese, with lots of black pepper.

One theory is that the name “carbonara,” which means, “in the style of the coal-workers” really comes from the fact that the black pepper scattered on top looks like coal dust. I’m going with that theory. I think a lot of pepper makes this dish.


Michael Tucker's Carbonara


Spaghetti – just enough for me – 120 grams – about a quarter-pound
Olio – just a touch
Bacon – guanciale, of course from Norcia or, best of all, from my friend and butcher, Ugo; as much as you want
Eggs – for me, only one egg yolk – fresh from a local chicken
Cheese – pecorino stagionato – that means the seasoned pecorino – hard for grating. It’s salty and powerful and many good cooks believe it’s the crucial ingredient in a carbonara – una mancia – a nice handful
Onion – This is blasphemy. Most people don’t put any onion in carbonara. I like it. And, going against every Italian recipe book, instead of slicing it thinly, I leave it in nice sized chunks. It’s the way I like it.
Pepper – fresh-ground black pepper – used liberally

In the pan:

in-the-bowl1. Put a large pot of water on a high flame. The dish can be made while it’s coming to boil.

2. Slice the guanciale into bite-sized pieces; chunk the onion; grate the cheese;

3. Separate the yolk, mix it in a bowl with the cheese and a little pasta water; stir with a fork; grate a lot of pepper into it;

And in the bowl:

4. In a sauté pan, heat a tbsp. of olive oil and throw in the guanciale; when it crisps up, add the onion; saute until the onion gives it up – maybe two minutes; add a half-ladle of water from the pasta pot to the sauté pan;

5. When the pasta’s done, drain it and add it to the pan, leaving it a bit wet; toss for a while with a wooden spoon; add the egg, cheese and pepper mixture and continue to toss;

6. When it all creams up, grate more pepper than you think is right over the top. It’s right. 


Michael Tucker is an actor and author whose third book is the recently published Family Meals: Coming Together to Care for an Aging ParentAlla Norcina.   He writes about his love of food on his blog Notes from a Culinary Wasteland.

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