Humorist Calvin Trillin has been campaigning for years to persuade Americans to replace turkey with spaghetti carbonara as the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table. To judge by the covers of the November issue of various food magazines, virtually all of which show off a turkey, and none a platter of spaghetti carbonara, his sensible suggestion has a way to go.
Nonetheless, spaghetti carbonara is a terrific fall dish, being both robust and comforting but not as rich as commonly perceived. We reminded ourselves of that last night as we prepared both a big bowl of spaghetti carbonara and the first fire of the season. Our inspiration wasn't so much Trillin's persuasiveness as the peppered bacon we'd picked up during a shopping spree over the weekend at Swingle Meat Co. of Jackson. Also motivating us was the recipe for "spaghetti alla carbonara" I'd just run across in a dandy new book, "Life Is Meals: A Food Lover's Book of Days" (Knopf, $27.50, 462 pages). Briefly, writers James and Kay Salter provide some sort of culinary anecdote, factoid, essay or joke for each day of the year. Their recipe for spaghetti alla carbonara, or "charcoal worker's spaghetti," appears early on, for Jan. 29. Why they didn't hold it back until the fourth Thursday of November goes unexplained.
I'll be writing more of this entertaining book, but for right now I'd just like to share their recipe for spaghetti alla carbonara, which they credit to their friend Franca Tasso. We found it quick to make and so spirited in flavor that seconds were irresistible:
3 large, fresh eggs
½ cup or more grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
6 slices thick bacon or pancetta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound dried spaghetti
In a good-sized salad bowl, combine eggs, cheese, salt, and pepper to form a mixture heavier than cream but lighter than pancake batter. Cut bacon or pancetta into small pieces and fry slowly in olive oil. Meanwhile, cook pasta in three or four quarts of boiling salted water. When pasta is al dente, drain and quickly add to the bowl with the cheese and egg mixture and toss. Add the hot bacon and olive oil in which it was cooked, and stir to cook the eggs. Serves four.