Spaghetti carbonara

One thing to remember about great Italian cooking is that there is nothing over the top about it. No tricks of presentation – no sprigs of parsley here, nor judiciously laid leaves of chervil there – just readily available, simple flavours, cooked with gusto, spirit and plenty of love. Love for the raw ingredients, love for the tradition, love for the company.

Pasta carbonara sits exactly with this philosophy. You really have to love the ingredients, respect them and know where they have been, to serve eggs basically raw, ‘cooked’ only by the heat of the sauce. The only way you’ll get that is at home. Restaurants have ‘evolved’ the sauce to such an extent, it tastes nothing like it should – it has become something like bacon with cream. Eggs? Well, there might be one, cooked, to every four or five portions.

Carbonara, at its most simple, is no more than fresh pasta – itmust be made at your bench – tossed with raw, free-range eggs, bacon, salt and black pepper. When it is all together, a little Parmesan and fresh herbs are sprinkled on top.

Note: Raw eggs. There might be some who will blanch at that, particularly after eggs getting some poor

PR over the last few years, but the fact is, the pasta, straight out of the boiling stock, will give them a fair cook-up anyway. What we are aiming for is the warm, runny version, as in poached eggs with runny yolks.

I am indebted to a marvellous cooking/history book by Julia della Croce, Pasta Classica, for the fine detail of carbonara. She says carbonara could refer to the generous sprinkling of coal-like (carbone) black pepper sprinkled over the dish; or it could date from a dish preferred by coal miners (carbonari). Whatever its derivation, it is at its best in spring, when the grass is still lush and green from the winter, and the food is plentiful, and the chooks are as happy as Larry.

1-2 leeks, depending on their size, roots and the tough green parts chopped off, the rest chopped roughly

25g unsalted butter, cut into cubes

30ml cream

1 chilli, sliced finely

100g best ham or best bacon, the bacon cooked

4 eggs – 1 per person

enough home-made pasta for four - Of course you can use dried pasta, but in this case it is not as good as freshly made. The eggs need the extra flavour, fresh texture of the tender home-made product. Cut to fine spaghetti.


Parmesan cheese for grating black pepper


Soften the leeks in the butter and cream, toss in the chilli and ham/bacon, and cook gently until the flavour is infused. Set aside in a warm place in a warm bowl.


Whisk the eggs thoroughly, so the white and yolk are well blended.


Cook the pasta – only for 60¬†seconds if it’s fresh – and work it through the leeks etc., until well mixed. Toss the lot into the eggs and make sure the eggs touch all of the pasta. Add salt, Parmesan and plenty of black pepper from the pepper mill. You can’t use too much. If you feel like it, a few peas, or a few tips of asparagus are delicious with this dish. They may not be part of the most pure of carbonara sauces, but who cares?

WINE: Our Sunday night staple. A Coonawarra red like Jamiesons Run, or Rouge Homme claret, or, for a special Sunday night, a cabernet from Margaret River in the Wild West (Cape Mentelle and Mosswood are my favourites).