Monday, June 10, 2013

The Ongoing Struggle to Conquer Carbonara

I really like well-executed pasta.

Ideally, the pasta noodles would be cooked just right with just the right amount of salt. While this is not an easy task, it is doable with lots of stirring, tasting, and proper care of the noodles once they are cooked.

The sauce is a different story, however. In my opinion, the sauce must not be overpowering or salty, and it should be the right consistency and amount. The sauce should coat the noodles evenly such that there is a balance between the flavor of the sauce and the pasta noodles.

I've been battling with carbonara since I started learning how to cook. My first time making it was as a silly little high school senior, and I decided to combine elements of various recipes that I liked. The resulting 'sauce' was a curdled mixture of milk, cheese, salt, and tomatoes, and it ended up in the trash bag.

Last summer, I tried again after discovering that pork, especially pancetta, is probably the best choice of meat in Switzerland. Accidentally, I ended up with a really nice dish—the noodles absorbed the sauce and the flavors were really well balanced.

fresh parsley <3

Since then, I have tried and failed to make 'good' carbonara many times. A few times, I failed because I browned the garlic too much, and I often added too much cream (the actual, 'real' carbonara should actually not use any cream or milk, but I really like the creamy texture and flavor). I also went through a phase where I would add too much salt to basically everything.

Today, I was studying how to make spaghetti aglio e olio (I've been watching a Kdrama called 'Pasta', and that's the most basic pasta dish that the lead girl learns), which taught me that cooking garlic on low heat is the best way to get the flavor in the oil. I found some pancetta, parmesan, and cream that needed to be used up (I'm leaving home tomorrow), so I armed myself with a pan, a pot, a pair of chopsticks, and a pair of pasta tongs, and tried again. There was a bit too much sauce, but it was actually kind of successful, so I took a picture of it (I was actually not planning on taking a picture, so I didn't care about plating/choice of plate...blah).

you can see the extra sauce on top
Maybe some day I'll actually write about different sauce recipes in a blog (I keep changing my mind so the first post for my personal food blog has been undergoing changes for about a month now -.-), but for now I'll just leave some notes here:

- use as little water as possible to cook the spaghetti; a lot of water takes longer to boil and dilutes the taste so the spaghetti isn't as tasty
- do not rinse the spaghetti
- do not leave the garlic on heat for too long before adding the pancetta
- sauce mixture: 1 egg to 1/4 cup cream ratio, and flavor with parmesan cheese and pepper. not much salt needed.
- toss the cooked spaghetti with sauteed garlic+pancetta+peas on heat briefly, then turn off the heat and toss with the sauce (the residual heat should 'cook' the sauce)

This was not the best carbonara I've had, but I think I can now happily move on to the next step in my quest for the 'perfect' carbonara—sauce without heavy cream. That should be interesting


On a completely different note (that is more relevant to my life than food), I am going to Las Vegas tomorrow with my parents, then I'm going to CalTech for my biochem internship. I've also started reading the last book of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, and have realized that I should probably learn some vocabulary after looking at some GRE questions.

I just now realized that I talk about food too much. I'll try to make my next post more exciting! Also, I'm sorry if I make people hungry and therefore unhappy by posting picture of food. One of my friends told me that making people want food should be a sin.... o.0

Anyway, I'm going to go watch more of the drama I mentioned above. Hope everyone's having a fun summer.... and people should blog more!


  1. you're making me want lunch and I just had breakfast. >:

  2. hm. you have really early breakfast! also you should eat lunch if you haven't already :P
    you should also post pictures of your food :D