I regularly read Paulo Tulio’s column in a Saturday supplement and although I don’t necessarily agree with everything he writes, it is obvious that he has a wealth of experience & knowledge of not only the Irish restaurant industry but of all things gastronomic.
He is of course Italian and saves his most cutting & challenging observations for would be Italian restaurants, of which there are many up & down the country that he has lambasted.
Paulo is insistent that Italian restaurants should stay true to their roots & serve authentic Italian dishes, with authentic Italian ingredients using traditional Italian recipes, preferably cooked by a team of native Italian chefs.
I have to say that I understand his ideology, many pure Italian recipes can be ruined by the bastardisation inflicted on them by unassuming non- Italian chefs who are heavy handed with in vogue ingredients or over complicate what should be a simple recipe in order to put their own, often unnecessary, spin to a dish.
I accept that in certain locations there may be the demand for ‘pure’ Italian restaurants, where the clientele expect and are happy to eat true Italian food. However, without any disrespect to Paulo or the Irish people, not everyone wants their Carbonara cooked bone dry as it is traditionally served in and around Rome, from where this Italian version of Bacon & Eggs originates.
When I first opened La Bucca in Ashbourne in 2004, I was adamant that although my menu wasn’t purely Italian (chicken wings are not a common staple in Italy), my pasta recipes would remain as authentic as possible.
Within two weeks, apart from the faulty extraction system, the most common complaint feeding back to me was the absence of cream in the Carbonara, along with the usual benign comments of “this isn’t carbonara, there’s no: chicken / mushroom / onion / garlic / white wine….etc. etc.”
Unfortunately the perception of Carbonara in Ireland has been forever blighted by the tubs of sauce available in supermarkets which bare no resemblance to a traditional carbonara & more to an emulsification of cream, wallpaper glue & small chunks of meat that once upon a time resembled bacon.
I decided to take the brave step of removing the carbonara from the menu, refusing to surrender my true beliefs. If people didn’t appreciate true, honest to goodness, traditional carbonara then they could go elsewhere for it.
Two weeks later my business brain won over my feint heart and I changed my mind. I put carbonara back on the menu with the addition of cream, chicken & wild mushrooms, not too much cream though, just a small, incy-wincy compromising dash. The idea of a pasta sauce after all is to coat the pasta to enhance it’s flavour, not to provide it with a sloppy pool to float around in.
The recipe below is the slightly compromised Irish version of carbonara, without the chicken & mushrooms, but if you want to add them feel free. You can also add as much or as little cream to it as you see fit, unless Paulo’s coming round for dinner.
Spaghetti Carbonara – Ingedients for four
450g dried spaghetti
300g diced, smoked pancetta
4 large eggs plus 4 extra yolks
Large handful grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
150ml double cream
Drizzle of olive oil
Freshly milled black pepper
First of all cook the pasta for 8-10 minutes in plenty of boiling salted water to which a drizzle of oil has been added. Meanwhile, heat a frying pan & fry the pancetta without any additional oil until it’s crispy & golden & the fat from the cubes has melted in the pan, this will form part of the sauce & enhance the flavour.
Next, whisk the eggs, yolks & cream in a bowl & season with black pepper. When the pasta is cooked, drain it & add to the frying pan with the pancetta on a low heat. Add the egg & cream mixture & the grated cheese & slowly turn up the heat whilst tossing continuously.
The sauce will begin to thicken & start to coat the pasta. Before the dish becomes too dry & you make scrambled egg serve the pasta into hot bowls, sprinkle with extra grated cheese & add black pepper to your taste.
Enjoy with a nice crisp glass of Italian white, I find a good Gavi or Pinot Grigio the perfect accompaniment.