When I was compiling my research on Carbonara, I found that most traditional recipes use 4 ingredients: pasta, pork, pecorino cheese and eggs. My approach to this recipe was basically, we can do better. While the original is sinfully delicious, you can’t deny, I thought it could use a few more layers of flavor. My addition of shallots, peas, white wine and lemon zest brings a nice brightness to what is usually a heavy, rich dish.
There are definitely things about this recipe, traditional or not, that are a must. Do not salt your pasta water. In fact, I did not use any salt in this recipe. The other ingredients will bring enough salt to the dish so you shouldn’t have to add any, and if you must, wait until the very end after you’ve tasted it. Also, this dish is all about the pepper, and lots of it. Do not use an overabundance of water like you normally would when cooking the pasta. You want the water to be starchy; it works with the proteins from the eggs and helps bring the sauce together. Most, most, most importantly, do not scramble the eggs. You will see in step 3 how to temper the eggs to prevent this from happening.
Most traditionalists out there would probably not even consider this to be a Carbonara, but this is what cooking is all about: mixing it up to satisfy your hunger and tastes.
1 pound of vermicelli pasta
1 cup fresh peas
1⁄2 pound speck, cut into strips
1 shallot, minced
1⁄2 pound Pecorino Toscano, finely shredded
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 lemon, zested
1 tablespoon olive oil
freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine
1. In a small sauce pan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add peas and blanch for 30 seconds. Drain and drop into ice water to stop further cooking of the peas.
2. In a large stock pot, bring 3 quarts (just enough to cover the pasta) of water to a boil. Add pasta and boil for 8-10 minutes.
3. In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, yolks, pecorino and lemon zest. Season with a generous grind of black pepper. Stir about 6 ounces of pasta water into cheese mixture to temper the eggs. This will prevent the eggs from scrambling when adding the mixture into the pasta.
4. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add in the speck and saute for 1 minute, then reduce heat to medium. Continue to saute until the fat renders and the speck is just crispy. Return pan to high heat, add in wine and deglaze pan for 1 minute. Add in the peas to coat with reduction.
5. Add cooked pasta to the saute pan, directly from the pot of water and give it a quick toss. Reduce heat to low and quickly stir in the cheese mixture and 8 ounces of the pasta water to begin to emulsify and bind. Add pasta water in a little at a time as needed to create a sauce. The sauce should lightly coat the back of a spoon. If pasta and sauce is too loose, cook over high heat to reduce slightly.
6. Serve with another generous grind of black pepper.