Spaghetti Carbonara for a crowd at home isn’t the easiest meal to pull off. It’s about the most last minute dish of all time so I’ve had to figure out a way to streamline things a bit. This link to my egg yolk and cream version might be of help.
I love to cook for and feed people, but I’m not a cook who wants an audience while I’m doing the work. And I prefer to get things done early so I can enjoy my guests and the party. Spaghetti Carbonara is probably the only exception and, since it’s my dad’s favorite dish that I make, it’s an exception worth making. Carbonara was burned into our souls and taste memories when I was a kid and we lived in Naples, Italy. The dish is as integral to our family culture as Carlsbad, NM, flat meat enchiladas and Cortez salsa.
My guess is that Carbonara is often left to the competent line cook at your favorite Italian restaurant. Some folks might prepare it at home with a pound of pasta, but that’s 4 people tops. Max insists on Carbonara for his birthday dinner so I had to figure out how to pull this off for a crowd.
Carbonara is freshly cooked hot spaghetti tossed with bits of pan-fried pancetta, a few beaten eggs tempered with some hot pasta water, and a handful of Parmesan cheese. Lots of black pepper and fresh parsley. Bacon and cheesy eggs with spaghetti sounds quick and easy, but there’s a trick. The eggs must coat the noodles like a thin layer of silk and must absolutely not be allowed to form clumpy scrambles.
Here’s what I’ve learned after plenty of scrambled egg spaghetti batches:
— Successful Carbonara in a home kitchen for a crowd is a super-quick operation requiring dexterity, a little help, and a nice bubbly Scotch.
— Limit each batch of Carbonara to one pound of pasta.
— In advance, dice and cook the pancetta in olive oil over gentle medium heat (1/4 to 1/2 pound of pancetta per pound of pasta).
— In advance, cook the spaghetti to a chewy al dente and pack each pound separately. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta water for each batch. Reheat the pasta water to boiling in a separate small saucepan just before assembling the Carbonara.
Gently rewarm the pancetta while the pre-cooked pasta is revived in boiling water for about half a minute.
Reheat pasta in a pot with a removable insert and reuse the boiling water for all batches.
Whisk the four room temperature eggs in a small bowl with enough room to add the hot pasta water. A dash of heavy cream to the egg mixture is a little insurance for a creamy texture. Use a big flat skillet with high sides to reheat the pancetta mixture and toss the pasta with the eggs and Parmesan cheese. I use an old chicken fryer.
Make 3 pounds of pasta for 10 people and you’ll have a little left over.
Here’s the whole mis en place business. Cooked pasta in bags, shredded cheese ready, and pancetta warming. I’m a nervous wreck, but the Scotch is helping.
- 1 pound spaghetti cooked al dente in nice salty water
- About 4 cups reserved pasta water, 1 cup per pound of pasta
- 1/4 to 1/2 pound pancetta, diced (have the deli slice it into 1/4 inch slices) and cooked in 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 room temperature eggs, beaten
- Dash of heavy cream, optional (this helps keep the eggs creamy, just an extra precaution)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese (get the good stuff), plus more for passing around the table
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Chopped fresh parsley
- Reheat the oily cooked pancetta in a big high-sided skillet until nice and hot.
- Reheat one pound of pasta in a pot of boiling water.
- In a separate small saucepan reheat the reserved pasta water to boiling.
- Beat the eggs in a small bowl and whisk in the boiling pasta water and a dash of heavy cream.
- Pour the hot drained pasta into the pancetta pan. Mix and stir until well coated with the oil.
- Quickly stir in the egg mixture and 1 cup of cheese. Add a generous amount of black pepper. Serve immediately and top each serving with parsley. Keep going with the next batch!