“Cream is communism!” the proprietor of a now-closed Santa Rosa Italian restaurant wrote to me in the mid-1990s.
The letter was a response to a review in which I praised a pasta dish but questioned its name, spaghetti carbonara, because it wasn’t. The pasta was swimming in sea of cream. Spaghetti carbonara is made of eggs, cheese, pancetta or bacon, and lots of black pepper, for which it is named. Sometimes it includes Italian parsley and some cooks add garlic, too, but cream transforms it into another dish entirely.
The letter went on to rant about American soldiers stationed in Italy during World War II.
“They wanted cream in everything!,” he wrote, adding that cream renders everything equal in taste, hence the comparison to communism.
I still laugh when I think of that letter and hope that one of these days I’ll come across it.
Spaghetti carbonara has legions of fans, including writer Calvin Trillin, who proposed making it the official dish of Thanksgiving because he likes it a lot more than roasted turkey and all the fixings.
Spaghetti carbonara is one of the most delicious dishes ever and the good news is that it is very easy to prepare.
It is delicious enough to be the centerpiece of a special dinner but simple enough to make that you can fix it on a weeknight, especially if all the ingredients are in your pantry, as they should be.
This is my version of the classic dish. When I can get guanciale, which is make from cheek meat, I use it, but it is not something I have on hand all the time. If you have it, definitely use it in this dish.
Serves 4 to 6
1 garlic clove, cut in half lengthwise
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch wide crosswise strips
— Kosher salt
1 pound bucatini or spaghetti
4 large eggs from pastured hens, at room temperature
6 ounces grated cheese (see note below)
— Black pepper in a mill
Rub the cut sides of the garlic over a heavy pan — a seasoned cast-iron pan is ideal — and set the pan over medium-low heat. Add the olive oil and swirl as it warms so that it picks up the garlic flavor.
Add the bacon and cook slowly, so that the edges brown but the bacon itself remains somewhat tender. When the bacon is cooked, drain off all but about a tablespoon or two of the fat; keep warm over a very low flame.
Meanwhile, fill a large pot two-thirds full with water, season generously with salt and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water reaches a rolling boil, cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente.
Drain but do not rinse; the pasta must be hot.
While the pasta cooks, put the eggs into a large bowl that you have warmed under running water and dried. Whisk until very smooth. Fold in the cheese and season very generously with black pepper.
Turn the hot pasta into the bowl with the eggs. Working quickly, add the bacon and all the pan juices to the pasta and use two forks to lift and turn the pasta so that each strand is evenly coated.