One bite, and my eyes got watery and my chest did that fuzzy, fluttery thing.
Isn’t it funny how food can do that to you? Or even certain scents and smells? It hits you like a jolt of electricity and makes you forget what you’re doing for a second. I’m not talking about an unpleasant feeling, I’m talking about a taste that threw me right into rush-hour traffic on Memory Lane.
With that one bite, I closed my eyes and could see my mom in her kitchen, serving up spaghetti carbonara from the oversized bowl that she used to toss together all of the ingredients for this particular memory-evoking dish.
I’ve ordered carbonara several times at restaurants and each time thought to myself, “They must not know how to make it… where’s the Italian sausage? The tomatoes and the creaminess? This is good, but it’s kinda plain.”
How was it that all the restaurants forgot those important components of the dish? Was it just a matter of interpretation? Maybe. Bear with me, Italian friends.
It was a matter of interpretation, all right… it was my mom’s interpretation that gave me the wrong ideas about what carbonara was, bless her non-Italian heart.
In my ever-evolving food knowledge, I’ve discovered that Mom’s Spaghetti Carbonara is about as un-carbonara as it gets. Somewhere along the way, authenticity went out the window and Italian sausage, heavy cream and chopped tomatoes climbed in and made themselves right at home.
Authentic carbonara is a simple, comforting dish made with egg yolk, Pecorino Romano cheese, pancetta, black pepper, and pasta. According to some, “under no circumstances can be there be any other additions, and that goes double for cream.”
Oops. And all this time, I thought the sausage and cream were what made it extra delicious.
I’ve had Mom’s recipe for spaghetti carbonara in my tattered recipe book for about 23 years… and I’ve only made it once, about 23 years ago. Back then, in my youthful inexperience, I thought it was too difficult to make and would just ask Mom to make it when I needed my carbonara fix.
When I recently made it for the first time in over two decades, I found it to be one of the easiest, most flavorful things to come together in my kitchen in ages. Why I’ve not made it before now, I don’t know. It’s always been a favorite of mine, but I guess I’d forgotten about it. One bite reminded me of how much I enjoyed it.
My darling even had seconds, and not just because we skipped lunch that day and he was on the brink of keeling over from starvation. He actually liked it, and said so.
“It’s not really carbonara but it tastes really good,” he said. He gave high praise and made those good eating sounds with every bite, and I don’t take those compliments lightly. He’s half-Italian and has no problem telling me exactly what he thinks of every meal I serve. Since he taught me at least half of everything I know in the kitchen, I don’t mind his constructive criticism too much.
Even my al dente pasta (I used penne rather than spaghetti) was perfect, or as the Italians say, “Perfetto.” I love when a meal comes together so well.
Whether you opt for authentic carbonara or my Mom’s not-so-authentic version, you are likely to end up making those good eating sounds, too. Leftovers are even better, if you ask me.
Mom’s Spaghetti Carbonara
16 oz. spaghetti (I used penne so it was Penne Carbonara)
8 slices bacon
1 lb. Italian sausage (I added extra fennel and red pepper flakes)
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tsp. minced parsley
3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 1 can (16 oz.) tomatoes, drained, chopped
2 eggs, slightly beaten
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese (Romano is okay, I used fresh grated Parmesan because that’s what I had)
½ cup cream, canned milk, or milk
Freshly ground pepper
Cook spaghetti according to package directions. In a large skillet, cook bacon until crisp. Crumble and set aside. Drain off fat. Add sausage, garlic and parsley and cook until sausage is done. Stir in tomatoes and bacon, mix with spaghetti. Quickly scramble eggs, add eggs and remaining ingredients to spaghetti. Toss lightly. Add chiffonade fresh basil as garnish if you like (Chiffonade basil – leaves are stacked, rolled like a cigar and sliced thin to make thin ribbons of basil). Serves 6 to 8.