Every now and then I get a pasta craving – big warm platefuls of comforting carbs. On my wedding day a couple of years ago, I attempted carbonara for my brother and his family as a pre-ceremony lunch. I imagined how impressed they’d be at me rustling up a big meal on my big day. But somewhere in the emotional and organisational melee, I must have taken my eye off the ball. My nieces were beautifully polite as they pushed their forks through scrambled eggy pasta.
To be honest until a few years ago I never really got excited about pasta. A go-to meal rather than something I ever desperately wanted to eat. But then one cold and mistily beautiful November day in Venice, we stumbled upon a drab little trattoria. And after an long day of sightseeing, canal crossing and getting lost, my wife gleefully stabbed at little clouds of gnocchi, whilst I marvelled at how my ordinary looking crab spaghetti, which didn’t seem to have enough sauce and virtually no crab meat, was actually one of the most deliciously crabby things I’d ever tasted. Almost as if the spaghetti itself had originated out of the sea.
Then a couple of years ago I was watching No Reservations (18mins 40s) and Anthony Bourdain was sat in a drab little trattoria, shooting his usual shit and being told a majestically simple recipe for a classic carbonara. I was blown away by how such few ingredients can hang together into a great dish – eggs for richness, pancetta for porky saltiness, cheese for acidity and umami, and, crucially, the cloudy water from the cooking of the pasta to emulsify with the egg and create a creamy cream-less sauce.
I pretty much copied how it was done on the show, except I added avocado. Bit weird but I wanted something green and fresh. In the past I’ve tried adding courgette, asparagus, peas, broccoli… which were all good, but I can’t seem to stop eating avocados at the moment, and they go well with bacon.
So first I fried little cubes of bacon in olive oil and then took the pan off the heat and set aside.
I beat the egg (one is enough for two people) together with a handful of the two cheeses (parmesan is richer, pecorino sharper) and many turns of black pepper.
I prefer my pasta long and noodly so I went for fettucine, which I boiled to still-quite-underdone before using tongs to lift out into the pan with the bacon. I then added the egg mixture and stirred together back on the heat. At this point a big claggy mess presented itself, but once the pasta water was ladled in bit by bit and stirred through, the whole thing came together into one silky thing of harmonious unctuousness.
Finally I folded through small chunks of ever-so-slightly under-ripe avocado, and added a final flurry of parmesan.
It’s important that the pasta is still undercooked when it hits the pan so that it can take up some of the flavour of the sauce on its way to eventual doneness. The key to avoiding my wedding day scrambled egg disaster is to make sure no sudden temperature changes occur – so keep the egg mixture at room temperature, bring the pan up to heat slowly and stir, stir, stir.
pasta, eggs, smoked bacon or pancetta, parmesan, pecorino, olive oil, salt, black pepper, firm-ish avocado