Carbonara for the Italian in-laws
Cooking pasta for Italians is nerve-racking, but a classic spaghetti carbonara keeps them happy, so long as it’s done properly, so definitely no cream, and preferably no peas, writes DOMINI KEMP
WHEN MY ITALIAN in-laws come to visit, I am usually too embarrassed to give them pasta as I’m sure I’ll botch it up or create something horrendously unauthentic. I usually stick to stews, shepherd’s pies or anything with potatoes; in other words, comfort food that smacks of home cooking, but also things I reckon they don’t eat much of in Milan.
However, spaghetti carbonara has to be one of the most delicious things you can eat, so it inevitably gets an outing because of its popularity with big and little people alike. It combines the best of comfort food and home cooking. It wouldn’t be the type of thing I’d ever order in a restaurant – even an Italian one – but something I love eating at home. It’s also a dish my eldest daughter loves making and has added to her repertoire.
Purists argue that cream has no place in carbonara and I agree. But equally, I used to be a terrible sinner and rinse pasta and then toss it with a little oil. This is fine if you need to pre-cook pasta and cool it down so that it just needs a brief plunge into water at a later date to heat it up. But making something like carbonara just needs to be done in one fell swoop and the pasta cannot be rinsed.
Bacon lardons, or pancetta ones, just need to get fried until super-crisp. This is helped along by adding a sprinkle of brown sugar to the pan. Not enough to sweeten things unnecessarily, but just enough to get some extra colour and chewiness to the edges of the bacon pieces, without having to cook it for too long.
Just before you drain the cooked pasta, reserve a good few ladle-fulls of pasta water. About 200ml for this recipe, but a few more won’t hurt. Then you can just drain the pasta and not suddenly panic that you’ve forgotten to keep back some pasta water.
Put the pasta back into this saucepan and then pour the carbonara sauce on top – to which you will have added some of that pasta water. The pasta water is not only is well seasoned – because you will have added a good bit of salt to the boiling water you cooked the pasta in – but also contains starches that will help emulsify and bond the sauce so that it coats and covers the strands of pasta.
If you wanted to bulk it up, you can consider adding peas, or even some chilli flakes to give it a kick. But I really like this version best.
The chocolate, almond and coffee cake is rich, delicious and delightfully easy to make. When it cooled down, it became a lot fudgier so please do make this the day before you want to eat it and serve it cold as a kind of moussey chocolate cake.
In my haste, I forgot to buy cream or ice-cream to serve with this and out of desperation, sweetened a bit of yoghurt with vanilla essence and icing sugar. Don’t. Yoghurt – even slightly sweetened yoghurt – is not nice with chocolate and my in-laws wasted no time in telling me so. The verdict was that this cake is delicious on its own, so no need to adorn it with anything except a spoon and strong coffee, or small bit of whipped cream if you really must. Raspberries are a good addition, too.