when i was younger, my friends would laugh at the proscuitto we had hanging in our basement kitchen. i had the last laugh, though, because my friends didn't know what they were missing. we grew up making and curing our own sausage, salami, pancetta and proscuitto; and every january, we do it again.
you may not have the luxury of having home-cured pancetta/guanciale/bacon on hand, but luckily, there are wonderful purveyors at our local farmer's markets who can supply you - Red Haven Farm (Collegeville Farmer's Market) or Countrytime Farm (Phoenixville Farmer's Market). pick up some farm-fresh eggs while at the market as well.
if you are going to the grocery store instead, look for uncured (nitrate/nitrite-free) pancetta/guanciale/bacon and organic eggs...get a wedge of really good Parmigiano or Pecorino as well.
if you keep these ingredients on hand - you can fall-back on a quick and satisfying dish on those nights when you may find yourself at a loss for what to make. i like to say this is the italian version of 'breakfast for dinner' - my kids refer to this as 'bacon and eggs' spaghetti, and it is one of their favorite dishes.
a few notes on technique - have all of your ingredients ready to go (mise en place) before you start, and be prepared to work quickly as everything needs to be hot - this dish needs to be eaten immediately once finished.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
3 - 4 fresh eggs, depending on the size of eggs
1/4 - 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese
1 Tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for cooking spaghetti
1 pound good-quality spaghetti
6 - 8 ounces of pancetta/guanciale/bacon, diced
preheat a serving bowl.
beat eggs in a small bowl and add in grated cheese. season with pepper and salt and set aside.
heat a large pot of water to boiling. once boiling, add salt and cook spaghetti according to package directions for al dente.
meanwhile, in a large pan, saute your pancetta/guanciale/bacon over medium-high heat. regulate the temperature so that it does not cook too quickly; you want to render out the fat without it burning. ideally, the pasta will finish cooking at the same time as the pancetta. if your pancetta finishes first, turn heat down to low to keep this as hot as possible.
once spaghetti has finished cooking, drain, reserving a bit of cooking water if needed. here is where you will need to work quickly: place pasta in heated bowl, adding in egg mixture. (yes, you are using the eggs raw, but have no fear, the heat of the spaghetti will cook the eggs). quickly stir the eggs into the pasta really well - you don't want to coagulate/scramble the eggs, but you do want to coat the pasta. (if you are worried about this, you can temper the eggs with a Tablespoon of hot pasta cooking water beaten in just before adding to pasta).
quickly, add in your hot pancetta and the rendered fat (yes, you are using the fat - top-quality pancetta/bacon will not produce a ton of fat so please don't worry that you will be left with a greasy sauce). if your spaghetti looks a bit dry, add in just a bit of pasta cooking water and stir really well.
serve immediately, passing more pepper and cheese if you wish. i actually like to add a bit of red pepper flakes for a hint of spiciness.