I was all set to write triumphantly about conquering carbonara—how I’d figured out the foolproof way to make this silky pasta dish without scrambling the eggs or ending up with slippery pasta and no flavor. I wanted to assure you that you, too, could fearlessly make carbonara and wow your friends.
Clearly, I am not writing that story.
Seriously though, I had made like six great carbonaras in the last few months. They were all amazing—simple, smooth, rich-yet-light, and full of flavor. I really thought I had it. But this week, without warning, in my best Dutch oven, using my time-tested method, and the best ingredients available, my carbonara turned out downright crappy. I mean, it was edible, but hardly awesome. The eggs scrambled, the flavor was lacking, and it was all a bit dry.
In retrospect, I was stressed, I didn’t have red pepper flakes, my onion was on its deathbed, I substituted garlic scapes for garlic cloves (a good move, but I didn’t cook them long enough), I didn’t stir the linguine as diligently as I should have so it was a bit stuck together. And finally, I used new tongs, which didn’t give me the same mobility and agility as my old ones. (Damn that sexy-sounding self-locking mechanism.) Since I couldn’t move the pasta and eggs around quickly enough, I ended up with scrambled eggs in somewhat stuck-together, and not-so-flavorful pasta. (Ugh.)
While Anthony and I ate it, I attempted a half-hearted explanation, but the only thing to say was: Hey, carbonara is a mercurial little minx. Just when you think you’ve got it, it’s slipped between your fingers (or tongs.) Tony just shrugged, knowing exactly how it goes with this dish, and graciously steered the conversation away from our bowls and on to livelier topics. The time together was great, even if the food lacked.
Though I recovered relatively quickly from this weeknight flop, I dolefully crossed carbonara off the list of things I am planning to make at my next dinner party. (And I was so excited.) I’ve decided that carbonara is one of those dishes that you can only make for people you love. It’s the kind of thing that when it goes bad, it’s so bad you’d better be with people that will eat it, forgive you, laugh it off, and love you anyway. And when it’s good, it’s so good that you’d only want to share it with your favorite people.
So here’s my recipe. Six out of seven times it’s really freaking good. Those aren’t bad odds.
I so relate to this piece on so many counts.
Can’t tell you how many dishes I think I’ve nailed, only to blow it some random night. It’s just the way it goes, and it has more to do with the cook’s state than the dish. But banging dinner out when you’re not really on is good practice too.
I agree, carbonara is perfect weeknight family food. I guess that’s why they call it a pantry dish. Even when you think there’s nothing to eat, chances are you’ve got all the ingredients for this dish hangin’ around.
I too have curdled carbonara, and I think the pot is partly to blame! As much as I love my Le Creuset, it really holds heat–usually a good thing, but if you add the eggs too soon, the hot pot will surely curdle them. The window of opportunity is narrow. On the other hand, if you miss it, how bad can bacon, scrambled eggs, and pasta be?.
And don’t get me started on tongs! Give me the no-frills variety. The cheaper, the lighter weight, the better.
BTW, next time I come to your house for dinner, I know what I want.
SMITH BITES says
ahhhh . . . the minxy Carbonara . . . we all have one of those dishes that vex us everytime, don’t we? mine? mayonnaise – why i can’t master such a simple thing is beyond me. but i’ve gone thru no less than 4 dozen eggs and have yet to make made-from-scratch mayo – but i shall prevail!
as for Carbonara – for me, it all came down to the method – and Cook’s Illustrated April 2010 gave me the answer i was looking for; here’s the link to my post if you’re interested: http://bit.ly/bi7iVT
the Carbonara turns out perfect every. single. time.
After cooking for years it’s pretty funny when I mess up something quite simple — and it always seems to be when company comes! This carbonara sounds divine — I HAVE to try it . . . but maybe not for company 🙂
The last time I had carbonara was in…MALAWI of all places, haha! We were in the capital, about to fly out, and stopped at a well-known Italian restaurant there. I didn’t think I liked carbonara, but I do. Especially your version, it’s delish! And oh-so simple.
Hearing how other more skilled cooks have flops sometimes is good for the soul. I’ve been off game lately (probably because I’ve been way too busy and tired) and feeling a little like ding-a-ling in the kitchen. Your transparency helps to move right along to the next culinary endeavor.
I know of a restaurant where a brunch dish involves a carbonara-like dish that has on-purpose scrambled eggs…I’ve not personally tried it, but I hear it’s really good.