Many of the recipes in my repertoire have been inspired by dishes Hubby and I have eaten while on vacation or in restaurants. Although we don’t vacation or eat out very often, when we do we like to try foods that I don’t typically make at home.
Back some 25 years ago we went on a Caribbean cruise. At that time my pallet was quite young and hadn’t experienced much of anything so practically everything that was served on the cruise was new to me. One dish that was new to both of us was carbonara. This particular dish was served as an appetizer one evening and after tasting it, both Hubby and I ordered a second helping and then Hubby a third.
Even back then it was important to me to be able to make at home the dishes Hubby enjoyed when we went out, so when we returned from our trip, the search for a recipe for carbonara began. It didn’t take long for me to find one among the cookbook collection I had at that time. Now most of those cookbooks have had the recipes I liked in them scanned into the computer and the books themselves donated, but this particular cookbook is one of only a few I still have.
The original recipe is what I consider “authentic” Italian cuisine and uses ingredients that I do not usually keep on hand and therefore won’t necessarily use. No matter what recipe I use, one rule of thumb I have is all the ingredients have to be something I would normally use. I don’t want to buy a bottle of high-priced vinegar that will be used in only one meal perhaps two or three times a year. My version of a recipe like that would have to either be tweaked so I can substitute something I already have on hand, or I would have to find other recipes that would share the specialized ingredient so I can justify the purchase.
In carbonara, one ingredient never on hand in my house is pancetta – Italian bacon. The first time I made the recipe, I did go out and buy this bacon, but not only found it too salty, but too expensive for my budget. Since then I have found using thick cut, smoked bacon serves this dish well for several reasons. First and foremost, taste. Hubby likes this dish so much that I serve it as a main course. Using the thick cut bacon which is not as salty or expensive as the pancetta, I can use more of it to make the dish hearty and filling and not worry about it being too salty. Second, price. Although bacon is expensive, thick cut smoked bacon is at least half the cost of pancetta, and more likely a third of the cost of a good pancetta. And third, convenience. I always have bacon in the freezer. Hubby likes to have bacon for breakfast at least twice a week, so whenever I need a quick and easy meal on the fly, I know there is bacon in the basement freezer to cover me.
Another ingredient in carbonara that I don’t always have on hand is dry white wine. This is an easy fix and actually kind of a fun one. Several times when preparing this meal I discovered halfway through that I didn’t have any dry white wine or any white wine at all. Scavenging through the cabinets and fridge I came up with red wine. Using this not only worked, but gave the carbonara a different flavor. This led me to trying various types of wines and the results have always been wonderful. Probably our favorite is to use a dark red wine because it gives the dish a pretty red hue and the flavors are more dense and complex.
American-Style Fettuccine Carbonara
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
2 Tbsp. Minced Garlic
1 lb. Thick Cut Smoked Bacon, cut into pieces
2/3 Cup Wine (white or red)
3/4 Cup Grated Romano and/or Parmesan Cheese, additional for topping
1 lb. Cooked Pasta – Fettuccine, Linguine, or any style you like
Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant. Add bacon and fry until lightly browned. Add 1/3 cup wine and simmer until almost evaporated. Add remaining 1/3 cup wine and turn burner to low and cover.
Beat eggs lightly. Stir in cheese.
Cook pasta. Drain. Add egg-cheese mixture and hot bacon mixture and toss well.
Top with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.
One thing I have learned over the years is that being flexible is a necessity in the kitchen. Had I not tried a different bacon in this dish I might not have continued to make it and had I not experimented with various wines, I never would have discovered that just because it calls for “dry white wine,” doesn’t mean you HAVE to use “dry white wine.” This isn’t rocket science, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.