Recipes

Italian Cooking 101: Pasta Carbonara, Roman style

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When people think “Rome” and “pasta”, there are four main options that come to mind. Amatriciana, Gricia, Cacio e Pepe, and Carbonara. Pasta Carbonara is a classic Roman dish that dates back decades and is so simple to make. With only 3 main ingredients in the sauce, it’s one of those dishes that’s so easy to make at home, but tastes dramatically different in an Italian restaurant. If you want to practice your Italian cooking skills and learn how to make pasta carbonara at home, read on for ingredients, technique and Carbonara recommendations in Rome.

Ingredients

Because there are so few ingredients in this recipe, they need to be top-notch and very flavorful. The base of carbonara is a sauce made from melted pork fat, beaten fresh eggs, a good helping of pecorino and the pasta cooking water. The eggs go uncooked into the sauce and are warmed up by the hot pasta and oil, which makes the pasta so creamy. There is no cream, milk, or other ingredients in a classic Roman Carbonara. If you’re nervous about the egg component, buy farm fresh eggs or find another dish.

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  • 100-150 grams spaghetti (per person)
  • 2 eggs, minimum, plus one extra egg per person (stick to only the yolks if you want a creamier sauce, adding a couple more to the total number of eggs)
  • 100 grams guanciale (or pancetta), cut into small cubes
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  • 50 grams freshly grated pecorino romano cheese, more if desired (parmesan will do in a pinch but it lacks the bite of pecorino)
  • 1 cup of reserved pasta cooking water
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  • Cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Salt

Recipe

The difference between a good and bad pasta relies a lot on being precise with timing and technique. With Carbonara, the order of steps and timing are key.

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  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente.
  2. In the meantime, have the guanciale in a large pan on the stove, cooking slowly over low heat. The fat from the pork must be fully rendered for the sauce the come together properly.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until combined and add the grated pecorino, black pepper and a pinch of salt to the mixture.
  4. When the pasta is ready, drain it (reserving a cup) and add to the pan with the guanciale.
  5. With the pan off the heat, stir well, until every noodle is coated with fat and slowly add the egg mixture.
  6. At this point, start adding a bit of starchy water to the pasta, constantly stirring. It’s better to have a bit more liquid than necessary, because as the pasta sits it will absorb more. Let sit for a couple minutes, covered.
  7. Move to plates and add extra pecorino on top, as desired.

Recommendations

It's very difficult to go wrong with a plate of carbonara in Rome. Almost every restaurant will have it, but here are some in particular that will blow your pasta-loving mind.

Da Danilo—alongside their cacio e pepe, da Danilo's pasta carbonara is one of the best I've had. Go for the wheels of cheese and truffle option.

Da Enzo al 29—a classic Roman trattoria with all of the famous pasta dishes, in the heart of Trastevere.

Roma Sparita—while I haven't been here myself, it's definitely on the list. Roman Sparita is widely held as some of the best Carbonara in town and that's saying something.

Flavio al Valevodetto—go for the big plates, variety of options and wine-cellar setting.

While it will never compete with the carbonara from my favorite restaurants in Rome, this recipe is easy and surprisingly good. Where's your favorite pasta carbonara in Rome? Have you had any success making this in your home?

How to Make Homemade Lasagna: Making Lasagna the Italian Way

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After learning how to make gnocchi and fettuccine by hand with a lot of practice, Edoardo’s mamma graduated me to making lasagna by hand in her kitchen. Lasagna alla Franca involves handmade pasta, béchamel sauce, tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella di bufala. It’s labor intensive but the rewards are an amazing pasta al forno that will blow all of your previous tries away, made with love. Keep reading for how to make homemade lasagna by hand—ingredients, recipe and cooking notes.

Ingredients

As with all of Fanca’s recipes (something she has in common with most great cooks), she doesn’t use precise measurements in her lasagna. Everything is un po’ di this and a pinch of that. She’ll sometimes weigh her flour, but the number of eggs in the pasta for example, depends on how big your eggs are and the resulting consistency of the dough. Also, please excuse the lack of pictures in this post. Turns out it's very difficult to both participate in the lasagna-making process and photograph it.

  • Flour (about one kilo or 8 cups)
  • 6 eggs (one per person, 6 will fill a good size casserole dish)
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • 1 small onion or shallot
  • 1 stalk of celery (washed)
  • 1 carrot (washed, peeled)
  • 2 liters smooth tomato sauce
  • 1/2 liter of milk
  • Nutmeg
  • 50 g (2 tb) salted butter
  • Fresh-grated, good parmesan reggiano
  • 1 big ball of buffalo mozzarella (or regular)

Tools

  • Cheese grater
  • Glass casserole dish
  • 2 sauce pans
  • Pasta machine with various settings for pasta thickness
  • Clean work surface for pasta making (preferably a marble table top)
  • Tub of cold water

How to make homemade lasagna

Pasta recipe:

  • Put about a kilo of flour on your work surface
  • Create a well in the middle of the flour mound and crack open 1 egg per person into the middle
  • Add a pinch of salt
  • Whisk eggs with fork then kneed together with the flour with hands (be careful not to kneed too much or the pasta will be chewy and tough)
  • Separate the dough into small balls and flatten
  • Using your pasta machine set on #1, feed one portion of dough into the top and roll dough through as many times as it takes until the sheet is thin and flour is well combined
  • Continue rolling each piece of dough through the machine on gradually increasing numbers up to #6 (I was told on no uncertain terms NOT to skip a numbered setting on the machine)
  • When you have various long and thin lasagna sheets, cut them into squares
  • Into a large pot of boiling water (not salted), put 5-10 in and remove when they float to the top
  • Transfer them into into cold water bath
  • Immediately lay on clean dish towels, dab dry and cover

Béchamel Sauce Recipe:

  • To a small saucepan, add 1/2 liter of milk
  • Add a pinch of salt & nutmeg
  • Into the warm milk, add 50 g (2 tb) of salted butter
  • Whisk together until the butter is melted and the sauce is tepid
  • Add 1 large spoonful of freshly-grated parmesan and 1 spoonful of flour
  • The sauce should be creamy and thick. If it’s not thick enough, add more flour by the spoonful

Tomato Sauce Recipe:

  • Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saucepan
  • Cook one small, diced onion or shallot for a few minutes
  • Add 2L of smooth tomato sauce with the stalk of celery and carrot
  • Add a pinch of salt
  • Check the consistency as the sauce cooks and add water if necessary, as the end product must be fairly liquid.
  • Simmer for at least 15 min on low heat then check flavor/consistency (could take up to 30 minutes)

Assembly

  • Glass dishes
  • Put sauce on bottom, sprinkle with parm
  • Lay one layer of pasta on top
  • Add sauce
  • Layer of mozzarella (regular, cut into pieces)
  • Add parm
  • Pasta
  • Sauce
  • Mozzarella and parm
  • Pasta
  • Sauce, parm and heavy layer of béchamel
  • Cook for 30 minutes, or until sauce bubbles over

This recipe will make one large lasagna dish, or two smaller dishes. If you don't have a pasta maker (a life essential, according to the Italians) you could buy dried lasagna pasta or even try flattening the dough with a rolling pin. You could also sub out the béchamel for a bit more cheese if you didn't want to make so many components. But if you do all of these steps, it's pretty difficult to mess up homemade lasagna, with an end result of saucy, cheesey perfection. It's perfect for special occasions and if you freeze the leftovers, you can have fabulous lasagna even when you're feeling lazy. Let me know how it turns out!

How to Make Gnocchi by Hand

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italian gnocchi by hand Gnocchi is one of the most delicious and easiest pastas to make by hand. Due to its short ingredient list and round shape, anyone can make this northern Italian specialty. I like it best with a simple red sauce (maybe topped with fresh mozzarella), but gnocchi is also amazing in a topped with variety of other sauces like ragu and pesto.

I’ve made gnocchi by hand with Edoardo’s mom a couple of times and every time I'm surprised by how easy the method is (if time-consuming). The most important thing to keep in mind when making gnocchi is that because it has such few ingredients, the timing while boiling the potatoes, mashing, forming the dough and boiling the gnocchi is key. Everything has to be done straightaway, with no breaks in between.  Giving exact instructions for a pasta like gnocchi is difficult, because the most important component is the texture, which has to be assessed in the moment. Like any good Italian cook will tell you, it just has to "feel right". But if you do take the time to make your own gnocchi by hand, it could be the best pasta you've ever tasted.

Keep reading for an Italian mom’s recipe for gnocchi and red sauce.

Ingredients

One kilo of big, mature potatoes (about 8 medium sized potatoes)

2-3 etti all-purpose flour (about 2-3 cups)

1-2 eggs (if necessary)

3 tsp salt

Parmesan cheese (for topping)

Recipe

  1. Set a large pot of water on to boil, with cold water and the potatoes already added. Cook until the potatoes become soft (test with fork).
  2. Let potatoes cool completely, peel and put through ricer so they are completely mashed
  3. Add salt and half of the flour and combine until the consistency is like a thick paste. If the dough is too soft, add the rest of the flour.
  4. Knead the dough with your hands until all the mixture is absorbed. If the dough is still too mushy, you can add an egg and a bit more flour to help it combine better. Do not over-knead the dough!
  5. Separate your dough into 6 parts, then roll the balls out into long, snake-like ropes.
  6. Cut each rope into one inch pieces and roll individually in the palms of your hands until you make a ball. Press each piece with your finger to give an indentation in the center.
  7. Boil a large pot of salted water and in shifts, add the gnocchi to the boiling water for 5 minutes, or until they rise to the surface.
  8. Skim off the cooked gnocchi and add to a large platter.
  9. Add tomato sauce (cooked in a pot with carrots, celery, and basil for flavor) or any other sauce you want.
  10. Top with a generous amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Giving exact instructions for a pasta like gnocchi is difficult, because the most important component is the texture, which has to be assessed in the moment. Like any good Italian cook will tell you, it just has to "feel right".

italian gnocchi by hand

italian gnocchi by hand

italian gnocchi by hand