Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Classic Penne Carbonara

Category: Pasta
Style: Italian
Difficulty: Easy
Portion: Serves 4

1 lb dried penne or other kinds of pasta (about 450g)
100 g bacon or pancetta
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup whipping cream (can substitute with coffee cream, even milk)
5 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat broiler. Place rack at the top 1/3 of the oven.
Cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente according to package instruction.
While pasta is cooking, place bacon slices on a baking sheet and broil until slightly crispy, about 4 minutes. Break bacon into small pieces.
Mix egg yolks and cream in a bowl.
When pasta is cooked, reserve 2 cups of cooking liquid. Drain pasta and immediately return it to the pot. Mix in egg mixture and toss. The residual heat should cook the eggs and make a creamy sauce.
Mix in half the cheese and the bacon pieces. Season with salt and pepper.
If the sauce is too thick, add some pasta cooking water to dilute.
When serving, sprinkle the rest of the cheese on the pasta to garnish.

This is a traditional Italian style pasta recipe. The name is called "Carbonara" because it is a favourite among coal miners –it provides a lot of energy through the protein and the carb.
Always use good quality Parmesan cheese. It is the key to the success of this dish. Never buy pre-grated cheese, or worse, cheese powder in a green can. Good parmesan cheese cost about $5 per 100g; a packaged 200g piece usually cost about CDN$10. Anything cheaper than this will not be good enough.
This pasta needs to be served at once. It will dry out very quickly.
If you like, you can also add some green peas to the pasta.

How to Cook Dried Pasta
When cooking pasta, use a large pot and lots of hot water. Use as big a pot as you can find. At least 5 litre in volume. There are 2 reasons: 1. the more water you have, the less starchy will be the water after you add the pasta, thus less sticking together to sticking to the pot and less mushy pasta; 2. the more water you have, the quicker the water will return to a boil after you add the pasta, thus less mushy pasta.
Generously salt the water. It will not only flavour the pasta, but will also makes its texture not as mushy. For a 5 litre pot, I add about 3-4 tbsp of salt. Trust me, it will not be too salty.
Do not add oil to the cooking water. Oil makes the pasta slippery, thus unable to hold onto the sauce.
Bring the water to a rapid boil. (Do not add pasta until water is rapidly boiling!) Add the pasta, and keep stirring with a wooden spoon for the first 2 minutes. It is because in the first 2 minutes, the pasta releases the most starch to the water. If you don't stir, the pasta will eaily stick together. But if you stir in the first 2 minutes, it will not stick together (or to the pot) even if the don't stir afterwards. But still, after the first 2 minutes, stir occasionally.
Length of cooking: whatever said on the packaging. But 2 minutes before the scheduled done time, check the doneness of the pasta by taking a bite. If it is already al dente, stop cooking.
Do not rinse the pasta after it's done, unless you are making pasta salad. Rinsing will remove the starch on the surface of the pasta, thus unable to stick to the sauce. Simple drain the pasta, and add to prepared sauce immediately. Do not pre cook pasta, it will stick together or dry out very quickly.

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