Creamy carbonara

I read a really great article recently about how you shouldn’t put cream in your carbonara. Then, I went to the shop, bought Sainsbury’s finest double cream, and put it in my carbonara. And that’s what cooking is all about for me. Reading and researching, looking and learning – and then doing it my own way. Especially if doing it my own way involves a generous helping of thick dairy product.

The article, written by the very talented Mitch Orr, was really interesting and he puts forward a very strong case for carbonara without cream. Traditionally, carbonara is a simple mix of egg yolk, Pecorino Romano, guanciale, black pepper and pasta. Orr suggests you might swap guanciale for pancetta (and for those of you with limited guanciale resources, you’ve probably never even considered doing anything else or even bloody heard of the Italian cured pork jowl), and the Pecorino Romano for Parmesan. It’s all about the flavours for Orr, “The secret is balance and richness. Rich egg yolk; umami-laden cheese; salty, porky fattiness; the cutting heat of freshly-cracked pepper; and perfectly al dente pasta. Why upset that balance? It’s fucking magic.”. Basically, he reckons the cream just comes along and whacks all of that to one side, shouting HELLO, LOOK AT ME, NOTHING ELSE TO TASTE HERE!!

I totally get all of that. It’s really interesting, makes sense and I’m gonna take it on board. Hell, maybe I’ll even give a cream-free carbonara a try. And I might just hunt down some guanciale for next time. BUT. When I fancy carbonara, it’s the strong creaminess, the comfort and the, well, for want of a better word, the stodge, that I’m craving. That’s what carbonara means to me. It’s something so simple but so often cocked up (but not by the addition of cream, I should add!) and it’s a meal I tend to take my time over, making my own pasta, chopping great big soft portobello mushroom and dicing onion, grating my Parmesan and so on. It’s a meal I didn’t read a recipe for when I first made it, instead just going with what I thought was right and it’s a dish that when it turned out to resemble the creamy-cheesy dollop of yum I had imagined, made me think, by gum, I’ve got it, I can bloody well cook. And without copying anyone else’s take on it. I can cook for me and I can think of tastes and then make them happen. That’s a nice feeling. Carbonara is special to me too, because Alex doesn’t like it. So, when Alex goes out, and I’ve got Netflix to myself, it’s Carbonara Time. It’s all mine, misplaced double cream and all.

Plates and Places boasts the running theme of excess, and my carbonara recipe totally epitomises that. I believe in making and eating food that tastes good, first and foremost. Food should make you excited and it should be full of ingredients you love, not because someone with more foodie knowledge and experience tells you to (or not to), but because you just love them.

Part of my taste-over-correctness tribe? You’ll love my take on carbonara. With cream. It makes enough for two people, or in my case, one big evening meal (to be consumed with a large glass of Chenin Blanc from South Africa and a binge session of Making A Murderer) and a medium-sized lunch for the next day (imagine your colleagues’ jealous faces now). I for one am excited just thinking about tomorrow’s leftovers…

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You’ll need

200g pasta (I prefer tagliatelle but spaghetti works too – find out how to make your own pasta here)

1 onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, diced

3 or 4 portobello mushrooms

50g pancetta, cubed


2 free range eggs (I find the golden yolk ones work best and give the sauce an attractive colour)

100ml double cream

100g Parmesan

Fresh black cracked pepper and extra Parmesan to finish

Bring a pan of water with a sprinkle of salt to the boil and then drop the pasta in. My fresh pasta will take around 5 minutes – for packet pasta follow the instructions. Meanwhile, add a little olive oil to a wok and fry the onion for 10 minutes or until soft and golden. Add the garlic and cook for a further few minutes, stirring to stop anything catching too much.

Meanwhile, add a little olive oil to a wok and fry the onion for 10 minutes or until soft and golden. Add the garlic and cook for a further few minutes, stirring to stop anything catching too much.

Add the mushrooms and pancetta and a sprinkle of pepper and paprika. Cook until golden and then add the cooked pasta along with a little bit of the pasta water, stirring all the time so the ingredients stick evenly to the pasta.

Now, crack both eggs into a mug and stir with a fork until broken. Add the cream and parmesan and stir again.

Take the pasta mixture off of the heat and pour the sauce over it, stirring it slowly. If you stir too hard, or for too long, the sauce will scramble, so go careful.

Serve with more pepper and Parmesan, garlic bread and a seasonal salad.

That cream really adds to it, doesn’t it?


Posted by

Freelance writer, eater, drinker and cook living in London.

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