Pasta Carbonara

Made with pancetta, eggs, cheese and cream, carbonara is soaked in tradition. Young chefs, such as Francesco Apreda at the stunning Imago restaurant in the Hassler hotel (the best meal we had in Rome), are putting their own spin on this quintessential Roman dish. I adapted this recipe from the dish he made for us with quail and quail eggs. If you can find boned quail, use 12 oz (375 g) finely chopped meat instead of the chicken, and if you find quail eggs, you’ll need 12 yolks. Pecorino Romano is a sheep’s-milk cheese with a satisfyingly salty edge that is traditionally Roman.

Serves 4

Ragu:
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup finely chopped carrot
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
12 oz (375 g) ground dark-meat chicken
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 bay leaf
1 branch Italian parsley
Pinch dry thyme
2 tbsp white wine
¾ cup chicken stock

To finish:
2 tbsp olive oil
⅔ cup diced bacon or pancetta
4 egg yolks
2 oz (60 g) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
3 tbsp finely chopped parsley, plus extra for garnish
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb (500 g) fusilli pasta
 
Heat oil in a sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add celery, carrot and red onion and sauté gently for 10 minutes or until vegetables are soft and lightly browned. Turn heat to medium-high, add chicken. Press chicken with the back of a fork, separating morsels well. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add bay leaf, parsley branch and thyme and cook for 3 minutes, stirring, or until chicken is lightly browned.

Add white wine and cook for 2 minutes or until wine has almost completely evaporated. Add ½ cup chicken stock and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, adding more stock as needed, until chicken is cooked through and still slightly saucy. Discard bay leaf and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reserve.

Heat oil in a separate frying pan over medium-low heat. Add bacon and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes or until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp. Remove from pan using a slotted spoon and blot on paper towels. Reserve.

Combine egg yolks, Pecorino, bacon, parsley and pepper in a large bowl and set aside. 

Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain, reserving about ½ cup of the cooking water. (Pasta water gives substance to sauces, making them a little creamier. It’s a good addition to most pasta dishes.)

Combine ¼ cup of the cooking water with egg yolk mixture and quickly toss with the hot pasta, stirring to coat. If necessary, add more cooking water to make the sauce even more creamy. Add reserved ragu, toss and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with parsley.