Fettucini Carbonara

Guanciale

I find it simultaneously strange and wonderful that I’m writing a recipe for the dish that single handedly made me loath pasta.
As a younger man I once graced the hallowed halls of an institution who’s culinary aspirations were not what I’d call astronomical.
I’m sure some of you may have fond memories of your school days, but my final years of high school were spent confined to a boarding school who’s idea of catering was to open a large can of something mysterious and pour it over toast.

The list of things that boarding school food turned me off was actually fairly extensive. Among them, steak diane, ham steaks with pineapple, lasagne, meat pies, hot dogs, and pretty much all forms of vegetable. There was very little that the lovely ladies in the kitchen could not make taste disgusting and industrial. I’m quite surprised I developed any kind of food obsession at all after doing my time there.

The carbonara of course was on it’s own existential plane of badness. A thin, watery, creamy sauce, with stodgy pasta and either thick chunks of mostly raw mushroom or a slurry of mushroom goo (depending on whether you were the first or last table to get your food). The older and wiser would pick out the bacon and chicken (or whichever meat they’d decided to add), and leave the rest, and then intimidate the young and new into handing over theirs.

It should come as not too much of a surprise then that it’s not the first thing I’d ever order on a menu at my local Italian restaurant. But then as is often the case, it seems I’ve had carbonara wrong all these years, and it took Mr Vincenzo Velletri to set me straight.

one handed Fettucini Carbonara

Vincenzo is a man who’s love of food and his Italian heritage knows no bounds. A chef, caterer, butcher, and educator. It was after talking to Vincenzo at a Slow Food Perth event that I realised he had in his possession some very special cured meat, namely Guanciale, that he’d made himself from a friends pigs.

Never having heard of Guanciale before I did what any good food nerd does, and headed to the internet for enlightenment. Soon discovering that it’s the meat that should be used in a traditional carbonara. My investigations into carbonara then led me to the shocking revelation that the traditional recipe contains no cream, mushroom, or watery goop whatsoever ! Amazing !

Armed with new knowledge and a hefty chunk of cured meat, it was time to reinvent my taste buds.

Fettucini Carbonara

Ingredients

  • 120 g Guanciale cut into small pieces (You’ll likely have to use Pancetta)
  • 2 large cloves Garlic minced
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano
  • handful finely chopped Flat-leaf parsley
  • 500 g Spaghetti/Fettucini/Linguine
  • Freshly ground Black pepper

How I made mine

Now I know this is going to be annoying to the majority of the world, but the simple fact is that Guanciale is hard to find. Unless you have a great traditional Italian butcher or know someone who makes it, then your chances of stumbling across it in a shop are relatively slim. It’s a particularly fatty piece of meat, and is actually the pigs cheek which has been cured in salt, pepper, and chilli for a few weeks. All I can say is that is gives the dish an intensity that you don’t get with just bacon. Pancetta (being cured pork belly) is probably the closest thing you’ll find to use as a substitute.

So firstly slice your meat up into small pieces, mince the garlic and fry it in a hot pan with olive oil until it’s soft, then add the meat and fry them together. The fat will start to come out of the guanciale, and create a lovely slick.

Put your pasta into a pot with plenty of salt and boil it til it’s al dente (or a little before, because it’ll continue to cook once it comes out of the water).

Once the pasta is done, drain it well and then add it to the pan with the guanciale, tossing it well.

Now comes the magic. Crack the eggs and mix them together with the cheese, take the pan completely off the heat and then pour the eggs into the pasta, stirring constantly to combine it. What you’re making is a very simple sauce where the egg cooks just enough from the heat of the pasta to bind it all together with a lovely creamy texture. Add a little of the pasta water if you need to get some more movement happening.

Toss it all together well, add the handful of parsley and a sizeable portion of fresh cracked pepper to give it the bite it needs, a little salt to taste, and that my friends, is that. No cream, no mushroom, no white wine… Just some very basic ingredients combining together to make a very beautiful result.

Home cured guancialeGuancialePecorino RomanoFried guancialeone handedFettucini Carbonara

Now to get started on changing my opinion of chicken nuggets…

34 thoughts on “Fettucini Carbonara”

  1. Cheers Max, it’s nice to be back, if sloppily… May even try to sneak a few more posts in by the time the year is out.

    Eddie: Bad food is bad food my friend. At least we’ve both survived long enough to know better :)

  2. Oh it can be much, much worse than cream or mushrooms. Ever heard of cream of mushroom soup used for “carbonara”? (I confess it can be a guilty pleasure, but it in no way is carbonara.) I use a recipe that has ricotta, but this is much more delicate (and look prettier on the plate too). Well done!
    p.s. I like ham steaks with pineapple ;)

  3. Mmmm YUMMO! Once I got over the idea that carbonora in itself is not bad for you – eggs + cheese + pig = good, I’ve been making it more and more.

    Sydneysiders – I have found Guanciale at AC butchery leichhardt. I have some in my freezer. No, you can’t have it.

  4. I looked for guanciale for months and months and the only thing I found was the obscenely expensive Marchetti range available at the Boatshed in Cottesloe. No thanks.

    I found that flat pancetta that has been cured with plenty of chilli (Mondo Doro and Princi each do a good chilli pancetta) was the closest substitute, as you suggested.

    Good to see you back blogging again!

  5. Conor: UWA ruined me for plenty of other things. Namely chicken pies and mostly everything they served in the Ref. Fortunately I didn’t have to endure college life though, just my sisters Coles brand chicken schnitzel…shudder.

    Manggy: I’m not sure if you’re for or against the dodgy pasta now Mark, but considering you’re Filipino I’m just going to assume you’re confused. And unless you’re Hawaiian you should just say no to ham steaks with pineapple :)

    Rachel: If I had a retail source for guanciale I’d have made this dish more than the 3 or 4 times it took me to get through my chunk of it. I can however see a market in illicit cured meats opening up that I might have to cash in on.

    And yes, you can keep your gefilte fish, I’ve had nightmares that were less scary looking than that.

    Charming Noodle Lady: You’ve used my exact method for working out what’s good for me by breaking it down into healthy components. Scientists will thank us in the future.

    Tenina: I’m waiting for McDonalds to bring out a range of gourmet chicken nuggets first, which will no doubt spur the nugget industry on towards gourmet greatness.

    Newly Melbourned Matt: I hadn’t checked the Boatshed for it actually, just the main old school butchers. I’m sure Vince could be convinced to make his own if he thought there was a buck in it.

  6. nice blog, i make my own guanciale each year, and agree that it is a fantastic well kept secret! you’ll find that normally the cheek meat is removed for a separate dish ( slow braise pork cheek )and that the jowl is the main part used for the guanciale. its actually quite easy to make yourself, and another of those products that i cant believe retails for such an ridiculous amount of money!!!

  7. If you’re Melbourne-based, you can get great Guanciale at a reasonable price from Leo Donati at Donati’s Fine Meats in Lygon Street, Carlton.

  8. Cheers Scott, the world needs more adventurous types making their own cured meats. I know I should get onto that as well, and you’re right, cheek/jowl is not exactly high on the luxury scale pre-curing…

    Alison: Ixnay on the Elbournemay. You people and your convenient access to fancy small goods. It never ends.

  9. Its weird that no one sells or makes their own Guanciale in Australia. I’m sure no one would know what it was if the Italians didn’t introduce it to ya’ll.

  10. except for the dude you mentioned..and my family and probably some people out there that like guanciale. I wonder if I could import it from France? I would money.

  11. Authentic Carbonara contains neither garlic nor parsley and the pasta is strictly Rigatoni or Spaghetti not FettuccinE. But spot on with guanciale e pecorino. Where can you buy them in Perth?

    1. Laura: I knew someone would slip something like that in… Just as well I didn’t include the word “authentic” anywhere… Lets just pretend that the word “traditional” implies a hint of nostalgia without a strict adherence to anything, and we’ll all get along fine. And it would appear the answer to where to find guanciale in Perth is either nowhere, or make it yourself.

      Caitlin: Lovely post ! I will read and comment ! I’m glad I inspired someone to do something more than just gorge themselves on pasta for once :) Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course…

  12. We should have a race-off to see who can get to six posts first for the year. I’m still not on the scoreboard yet for 2010. Le Sigh. :(

  13. Did you know your post is one of only two that come up on the first couple of pages of a Google search that DOESN’T use cream? Or mushrooms?! I’m appalled!

    Anyway, thanks for posting such an awesome recipe. Your instructions are very easy to follow. And, thanks to you and the lack of proper Carbonara posts, I’ve decided to post my own as well.

    Actually, you’ve inspired me to make a chicken nuggets post as well…

    1. What can I say ? There are clearly a lot of poorly informed people on these internets. I’m just happy to do my bit to restore the balance, and any chance to correct the use of cream added to a dish is a personal win in my book.

      I think chicken nuggets are scientifically proven to be impossible to dislike, regardless of how little chicken there actually is in one, so you best be careful with that, but best of luck anyway :)

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