My cousin, Roberto, was making Spaghetti alla Carbonara for me in his apartment on Via Fonte Delle Amore in Rome. In those years he was a spy for the Italian government, but now he has retired from that. It was always interesting visiting him. Once he took me to Cine Citta, the big film studio just outside of Rome to meet with his old friend Federico Fellini. Roberto had a part in Fellini’s Film, “La Intervista”, playing himself, Chief Inspector of the Roman Police.
Roberto taught me a lot about Italian cooking. It is a great passion of his. Romans don’t usually use cream in their Carbonara, he told me, “It is an American addition”. A Carbonara is a coal minor. Spaghetti of the coal minors became one of my favorite dishes. It is so delicious, fast and easy to make, that it is a perfect impromtu dish for any occasion. I make it with many variations, depending what I have in the house at the moment, keeping the egg yolk, butter, grated cheese and shallot as constants.
Here is a meatless rendition that subtitues morel mushrooms for prosciutto and fettucine for spaghetti, and an addition of piselli (green peas), which is very typical in Italian cuisine. The recipe easily serves two very hungry people or four light eaters.
Fettucine alla Carbonara
1/2 cup dried morel mushrooms
4 cups boiling water
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/8 cup hot red pepper, seeded and sliced into thin rounds and half rounds
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas, cooked and drained
8 ounces Italian 100% semolina egg fettucine
1 jumbo or 2 medium egg yolks
1 Tablespoon butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leafed parsley, plus additional for garnish
1/4 cup shaved Pecorino Romano cheese, plus additional for garnish
1. Soak the mushrooms in the water for 10 minutes to hydrate and soften them. Drain thoroughly and slice into 1/4 inch rounds.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet and saute the morels, red pepper and shallot until golden, about 5 minutes. Add peas and heat through.
3. Meanwhile bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the Fettucine until al dente (to the toothe) about 8 minutes, or until it is done the way you like it.
4. Put the egg yolks in a large bowl and whisk in the softened butter and black pepper. Drain the pasta and quickly add to the egg and butter mixture. Toss immediately. Add the morel, pepper and shallot mixture to the pasta and toss again. Italians call that last addition the salsa, even though it isn’t very saucy. Add the cheese, parsley and salt to taste. Add the extra parsley and shaved cheese to each plate for panache. Serve at once with a great Tuscan wine. Enjoy!
Photos by Colin Cooke