Mark: So you just go in the kitchen at four in the morning -
Rachel: Oh, sure.
Mark: And you come back out with this. This is the best spaghetti carbonara I've ever had.
Rachel: You're making fun of me. You probably think it's very bourgeois to cook for somebody on the first date. You probably think I do this for everybody.
Mark: Rachel, I love this. When we're married, I want this once a week.
Heartburn*, Nora Ephron
If you follow me on any social media sites (@bakingfiction on Instagram and Twitter), you may have noticed my posting from Italy over the past week. A dear friend provided me and some London buddies the perfect excuse to get some early summer sun, and invited us to see him marry his university sweetheart on the Italian coast. We spent a happy four days marvelling at the blue skies, the delicious pizza, the porchetta (the region is famed for it) and the generosity of the bride and groom (and their families). A truly wonderful week.
I've not stopped thinking of Italy since I landed back on English soil so, in addition to this post being a poorly concealed opportunity to reminisce and share some photos with you, it could hardly feature an un-Italian dish. I therefore turned, as ever, to one of my favourites. Of course Italian food can be light and fresh, but with all those wonderful carbs, it is just as often comfort food - the type that warms on cold, homesick evenings. This recipe makes enough for four people (or three hungry ones), so reduce the quantities if you're cooking for one - it needs to be served immediately or the egg sauce will scramble on reheating. Serve with a green salad if you're trying to impress at the dinner table, or do as Rachel and Mark do* and eat this straight from the pan, in bed (which, let's be honest, is pretty impressive as well).
*Last night, at 11pm, realising I had lent my copy of Heartburn to my friend Sonia, I texted her to ask her to find the part in the book that sees Rachel and Mark eat pasta in bed. She looked, we talked it through, we Googled it. Turns out, to our complete surprise, that they actually only do this in the film. But it's such a brilliant moment, and about both pasta and marriage, that I'm just going to pretend they do it in the book too. Thanks in advance for pretending this too.
Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson's, but with a couple of Italian tweaks.
500g spaghetti or other long ribbon pasta (dried is great, fresh would be brilliant, but save the homemade stuff for another dish - this is all about ease of preparation)
Large pinch salt
2tsp olive oil
250g pancetta, lardons or streaky bacon, chopped into cubes
4 large eggs
75g grated parmesan (plus infinite amounts to serve)
Largest saucepan you have
Heavy bottomed frying pan
Fine cheese grater/microplane
1. Fill the saucepan with water (around 3/4 filled, so your pasta has room to move) and put it on to boil.
2. Heat the large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the oil and the pancetta, and fry until golden and crispy on the edges. Once crispy, pour the vermouth into the pan and cook for two minutes or so until reduced. Turn off the heat.
3. Add the salt to the water in the saucepan, and add the pasta. Stir it around to keep the strands separate for a couple of seconds, then replace the lid. Follow the packets directions on your pasta and cook until al dente - keep trying it to ensure it's not overdone. While the pasta is cooking, whisk the eggs, cheese and pepper together in a bowl. Turn the pancetta pan back on to a low heat.
4. Once the pasta is done, remove a mug full of the cooking water and set aside, then drain the pasta and add it to the pancetta pan. Toss the pasta in the pancetta and vermouth, adding a small amount of the pasta water if the pan is looking dry or the pasta is sticking/clumping. Remove the pan from the heat.
5. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and quickly toss with the tongs, ensuring you coat the pasta with the egg and keep everything moving while doing so. Grate over some extra cheese and a little nutmeg, then add lots more black pepper and serve.