Carbonara in the Clouds

On a recent vacation to Lake Tahoe with our friends the Heins and the Pfaffs, I planned a post-ski carbonara — a perfect simple pasta to feed a large group.

For some reason, the pasta never got made — perhaps it was the Flintstone-esque beef short ribs or the opening of Dungeness crab season that distracted us, or the mellow lull of the tequila that met us first.

Through the Mojave Desert on the road to Tahoe

Through the Mojave Desert on the road to Tahoe

So the eggs, guanciale, parmesan and spaghetti that made the 8-hour drive into the high Sierras turned around and came back home again. And made the perfect post-ski-trip dinner when we got back. Just as well, pasta is a little tricky to nail at 8,000 feet.

When I say simple pasta, this is to take nothing away from carbonara — one of the most perfect culinary creations in the history of man. Like the perfect taco (this being the Year of the Taco, after all), the pasta’s success is a culmination of the quality of the ingredients. First and foremost, the eggs. For my carbonara, I would of course use eggs from my own free-ranging chickens. (For your carbonara, if you’re in the neighborhood, I’d encourage you to drop by and pick up some of those eggs!) A good quality guanciale, pancetta or bacon is the second necessity, followed by parmesan reggiano and cracked pepper.


Debate rages in the carbonara constellation as to the addition of other ingredients. Rather, purists point their fingers in outrage at the inclusion of onions, peas, garlic or anything else. I am agnostic to these arguments — I will admit to tossing in onions and peas as a tasty add-on, if you choose to disqualify me from the carbonara category, that’s your business. Or, leave them out of your recipe. I’m not watching.

I didn’t get to my carbonara in the high Sierras. But it tasted just fine on my own little mountain in the south.


*    *    *

Spaghetti carbonara
serves 4-6

1 lb. spaghetti al chitarra (or regular spaghetti if you can’t find chitarra)
1/4 lb. guanciale, pancetta or bacon, cut into thin strips
1 cup grated parmesan
2 eggs
4 egg yolks
1/2 brown onion, slivered lengthwise
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Cook the spaghetti to al dente in a large pot of salted water.

While spaghetti is cooking, fry the guanciale (or other baconesque product) over medium heat until lightly browned (not crisp). Add onions and cook until translucent. Turn off heat and stir in peas.

Mix together the parmesan, eggs and egg yolks in a bowl.

When pasta is cooked, drain — reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. Return pasta to pot. Toss pasta with egg/parmesan mixture and guanciale/onion/peas. Add 1/2 cup pasta water to create a creamy sauce. (Add more if pasta doesn’t seem saucy enough.)

Divide between plates and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cheryl "Cheffie Cooks" Wiser
    Apr 08, 2016 @ 03:54:29

    Perfect recipe Sean! Have a great weekend friend. Cheryl


  2. pal-O
    Apr 08, 2016 @ 11:00:37

    Yummmm…I like it with the add ons but I’ve never really been a purist; I have appreciated from afar and respect it; I’m just not a practitioner. Hope all is well my friend!


  3. andreathompson2
    Apr 08, 2016 @ 18:00:10

    I do like peas in carbonara!


  4. Michelle
    Apr 10, 2016 @ 02:05:22

    Like you, I’m ecumenical on the subject. Wine? Peas? Onions? It’s all good. My family actually several times did the Calvin Trillin Thanksgiving. And it was grand.


  5. Trackback: The Breakfast Salad | skinny girls & mayonnaise

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