Carbonara-Based Life (recipe)

Front Porch Republic Blog

There’s a story (if memory serves) about a little spat that affected the greatest and best-dressed rock band ever.

(I confess that, given the inveterate mendacity of consciousness, one never knows for sure whether one is being ironic or sincere.)

During a rehearsal or a sound check or something, Neal Schon was wailing away on his guitar, as was (and is) his wont—and long may he wail—when the ever-humble Steve Perry came over and turned his amp down. “They want to hear the voice,” Perry said, pointing to himself. “The voice.”

Divorce was inevitable, and eventually it came, and I, like many whose musical tastes are impeccable, regretted it. But still there are days when, standing in my kitchen, inching toward the vital late-afternoon decision as the lights go down in the city, I want to hear both the wailing guitar and the soaring pinched voice. And that can mean only one thing: I’ve decided to feed the troops some carbonara (and maybe hope for some lovin’, touchin’, and squeezin’).

That this culinary delight (not to mention this melodious word) is not on the lips of more people is a mystery, given how good it tastes and how simple it is to make. Of course you can make it more complicated if you want to, and that’s okay by me (first rule of cooking to music: more time in the kitchen is better than less). Any way you want it, that’s the way you need it.

Carbonara makes use of two important staples that, were I the head of the USDA, would be food groups unto themselves: bacon and eggs. (Bacon! Is there anything it can’t do? And, O, thou egg! How noble in design, how infinite in flavor! In form and moving how express and admirable!)

Faithful reader—and even you, my enemy, benighted though you be—hear the words of the greatest and best-dressed rock band ever: be good to yourself. Make your move across the Rubicon.

Get a pound of bacon. I’m partial to dead pig smoked with apple wood, but do not think ill of hickory or maple or any other hard fiber set aflame. Just get some damn bacon.

Make sure you’ve got a selection of late-seventies / early-eighties songs on a tape or CD. Every band produced more plaque than platinum, so high-tech your way to a reasonable mix to protect your divine soul. Then put your selected mix on the hi-fi and pull out your favorite skillet.

What? You prefer to do bacon in the microwave? Away with you and all your works and all your ways, you devil! Return to your tartarus whence you came! The microwave is an abomination! “Microwave cooking” is oxymoronic, like “jumbo shrimp,” like “light beer,” like “motor home.”

No. Spread your bacon strips on the skillet or, if for some strange reason you want to spend less time cooking, chop the bacon into small chunks before frying it and then dump them into a pan.

But for the love of God and Christ Jesus our lord, give yourself the chance to stand over some sizzling bacon (bacon!). Give yourself the chance to watch and smell the heat convert it from trichinosis into food.

When it’s done—cooked but not crisp—put it on some paper towel and draw off the grease. (Save some of the grease in a cup so that, once it’s cooled, you have something to drink later when you’re swallowing your statin.)

Put some water in a pot, salt it generously, drizzle in some olive oil, and turn up the heat.

On a wooden cutting board, chop up some parsley. Italian parsley is greatly to be preferred, but I’ll not be a fundamentalist on this score. Put it in a bowl. Chop up the bacon (eating a few pieces or strips as you go; this is called “chef’s portion”) and add it to the bowl.

Sing along: “Foolish foolish heart, you’ve been wrong before. Don’t be wrong anymore …”

Take a sip of whatever it is you’ve poured to lubricate the process.

What? You haven’t poured anything? Have you learned nothing from these late-night Tuesday acts of deadline desperation? Throw back a neat bourbon or a little gin martini or a glass of deep inky purple cabernet. Do it quickly!

See what I mean? Who’s cryin’ now? Not you, my friend–nor you, my enemy.

Crack no fewer than three—allow yourself as many as four—eggs. Not those impious white store-bought eggs with the highlighter-yellow yolks. Be sure you’re using Farmer Jim’s eggs, newly squeezed from the hind-ends of chickens who enjoy the freedom to peck at bugs and worry about coyotes. Beat the eggs in a little tin bowl.

When the water is boiling, throw in about a pound of linguini or fettuccini. I don’t care which. This is no time for dogmatism. Give it nine minutes in the boil, strain it, and dump it in a serving bowl.

Some benighted souls will tell you to add the eggs immediately. This is a mistake. It is true that you want the hot noodles to cook the eggs, but you don’t want scrambled eggs. You don’t want eggs that look as if they’re curdled.

So wait thirty seconds and then pour in the beaten eggs. Stir. Then dump in the parsley and bacon. Stir some more and cover.

You’ve made Carbonara.

Serve it with a deep assertive red wine. A good Salice won’t disappoint you. If you’re richer than I am, get a good Amarone.

Both Scripture and Tradition allow that hard cheese may be sprinkled atop the carbonara. Just don’t use the sawdust Kraft sells.

Then experiment with Carbonara. It’s great with fresh sweet peas. It’s great with chopped garlic, or chopped onions, or capers, or sun-dried tomatoes. Probably not with all of these, because it’s the nature of carbonara to be simple. Try it with several different combinations, not exceeding two or three on top of the basic ingredients I’ve suggested here.

You won’t be alright without it. There isn’t something else, so don’t keep telling yourself.

But mayhap you’ll be greeted for your labors later on by open arms.

The last time I made this my younger boy presented me with a Hersey’s kiss the next morning. “What’s this for?” I asked. “For the best dinner ever last night,” said my little baconator. God bless the boy and all those who share my impeccable tastes.