Growing up with a mother of Italian descent, I can’t recall ever seeing a measuring cup in our kitchen. There were cookbooks, but the rare times they were opened, recipes were treated more like suggestions. Substitutions were frequent, measurements were eyeballed and, after years spent watching her cook with my knees on a stool and elbows on the counter, I ended up cooking the same way.

Still, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to get some suggestions from Anna Del Conte, a highly respected Italian cookbook writer. “Italian Kitchen” is a compilation of four of her previous books and includes her favorite classic antipasta, pasta and risotto dishes, as well as desserts. Each chapter is dedicated to one of those courses and covers both basics and background – from how to tell if pasta is al dente to when risotto first showed up on Italian dinner plates.

The recipes aren’t written as rigid directions, but in explanatory paragraphs that walk the reader through the process, as if the writer is standing there. The book feels like a conversation with Del Conte, who comes off as supremely knowledgeable without being judgy. (She says store-bought pasta is just fine. Phew.)

The recipes, in general, are fairly simple, unless you decide to follow her directions for making your own pasta, which I didn’t even contemplate for my attempt at her spaghetti alla carbonara. In fact, I didn’t even use the title pasta of the dish, but replaced it with bucatini, which turned out to be too thick for the sauce.

But despite the mistake, the sauce was delightfully light. I chose the carbonara because my boyfriend insists that Americans don’t know how to make the dish, which became his favorite after he spent a college semester in Italy. According to Steve, in Italy the dish is simple, light and the best thing in the world.

Del Conte’s rendition didn’t disappoint. True to form, though, I didn’t measure anything, and the sauce came out watery. Also, the eggs got somewhat scrambled, which might have been because I was having a hard time tossing the bucatini.

Advertisement

The recipe was so simple, though, I think I’ve already memorized it and will definitely make it again. Next time, I may use a measuring cup.

SPAGHETTI ALLA CARBONARA

I added about a cup of peas to the pan with the pasta, because that’s how my mother makes it. I also added extra salt, pepper and Parmesan at the end, because they taste good.

Serves 4 as a first course or 3 as a main course

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 fresh sage leaves

Advertisement

1 garlic clove, peeled

4 ounces smoked pancetta or smoked bacon, cut into matchsticks

12 ounces spaghetti

3 large eggs

6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Advertisement

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Heat the oil, sage leaves and garlic clove in a large frying pan. Add the pancetta and sauté for about 10 minutes, until the pancetta is golden brown and the fat has run out. Discard the garlic and sage.

Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente.

Meanwhile, lightly beat the eggs in a bowl and add the Parmesan, a little salt and a generous amount of pepper.

Drain the pasta, reserving a cupful of the cooking water. Return the spaghetti to the saucepan with the water and toss with the butter, then add to the frying pan. Stir-fry for a minute or so.

Pour the egg and cheese mixture over the spaghetti, turn off the heat and stir thoroughly with two forks before bringing the frying pan straight to the table. Mangia!


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.