Chasing Carbonara | Attempt 2

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If at first you don’t succeed making a dish, try, try again.

Since returning from Roma I’ve been chasing that perfect carbonara. It’s a diabolically simple dish with only a few ingredients. The first attempt was good but not as creamy as the plate I devoured in Trastevere. Last week at a restaurant in the ‘burbs I tried another carbonara dish. It wasn’t as good as my first effort. So I had two choices: go back to Roma or try to make it myself.

Sadly, my bank account doesn’t yet afford me the chance to haphazardly chase pasta dishes around the globe. I could however go to Trader Joes and get some cheese and thick-cut apple wood bacon.

Revisions since last time:
-Parmesan instead of pecorino.
-3 yolks and 1 whole egg.
-Heavily salt pasta water.
-If you think you’ve added enough freshly ground pepper, you haven’t. Add more.
-Use more bacon.
-Sprinkle in a few red pepper flakes.
-Remember to add minced garlic to cooked bacon and oil.

The sauce’s texture was bellissimo. The fettuccine noodles were al dente.

Short of looking out on the Tiber or Colloseo, this dish has been conquered.

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Spaghetti Carbonara | First Attempt

pasta, spaghetti, carbonara, bacon, dinner, italian

Spaghetti Carbonara. Creamy. Salty. Perfectly cooked pasta. It was a thing of beauty when I ate it in Trastevere, outside of Roma. So, good that my latest quest is to master it. Or come as close as I can to the inspiration dish. To the internet to read up on different recipes and tips! After reading Mario’s recipe, America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe and the array of takes on The Kitchn, I settled on the “foolproof” option from Chris Kimball and Co. With basket in hand I wandered the three aisles at Trader Joes. I grabbed pecorino and organic spaghetti from whole durum semolina. All the recipes stressed the importance of quality ingredients, especially when there are only four. I wasn’t pleased with the bacon offerings and lack of pancetta, so I walked to TJ’s unknown sister: Aldi. They had thick cut applewood bacon and some salad fixins. Last night’s dinner was of the traveling variety. I hadn’t spent bro time with my buddy in a while and I wanted to test run this dish before serving it for the masses. So I cooked at his place. He had cage free, organic eggs. 20140617-124515-45915128.jpg

They were so fresh the package gave the name of the chicken.

I fully expected one of the eggs to hatch. Step one is to fry up the bacon/pancetta. The quantity of bacon strips was cut off by the printer, so I guessed that the number was a 3. Turns out it was an 8. So my creation was lighter on the salty greatness. 20140617-124514-45914782.jpg While the bacon cooked, I shredded the cheese to combine with the eggs. I also started the half pot of water to boil for the spaghetti. 20140617-124515-45915453.jpg This dish comes down to timing. None of the steps are that time consuming or difficult. ATK’s procedure is a good one to follow as a starting point.

  • Start the bacon.
  • Then the water.
  • Mix the cheese, eggs, salt & pepper.
  • Place pasta in salted water once boiling.
  • Use a spoon to remove the bacon and place on a paper towel to drain some of the fat. Save the fat! (I want a t-shirt that says that.)
  • Reserve a cup of pasta water before draining.
  • Drain pasta.
  • Quickly dump hot spaghetti into egg/cheese/bacon fat/seasoning mixture.
  • Add bacon to bowl.
  • Toss.
  • FEAST!

This dish wasn’t as good as the Italian inspiration dish, but I have some thoughts on the next batch: two whole eggs, two yolks. That may create a texture closer to the original. Or maybe I should just go back for another taste. 20140617-124516-45916255.jpg

Traveling with Rick Steves

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I had car pooled with Rick for 2-3 weeks leading up to the grand departure for Roma. He was a stellar co-pilot during my morning commute, although he never chipped in for gas. But, he did provide me with great advice on how to travel smarter.

Prior to leaving, I loaded up my phone with his walking tours in podcast form. These are all free. He also offers an app, which is more interactive, but I found the podcasts ample for my travel education needs. I should probably mention Rick wasn’t physically with me on the trip, but he might as well have been. We had a volume of notes distilled from his travel books–attractions by location, hours/days closed, cost, best time to go.

Traveling abroad is an amazing challenge in terms of project management and logistics. You could easily create a matrix of which attraction is open when, then build your itinerary around that. I didn’t go that far, but I was tempted to bust out my pencil. Rome and Paris were perfect candidates for this level of planning. They both have more museums, piazzas, vistas, restaurants than you can possibly visit, no matter how long your trip.

Here’s a brief overview of the cities and sites we ended up visiting. All of which I hope to chronicle in the coming weeks.

  1. Rome – 4 nights – Colosseo, Galleria Borghese, Trevi fountain, Spanish Steps, Trajan’s column, Pantheon, Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Boca della Verita
  2. Florence – 3 nights – Galleria dell’Accademia, Uffizi, Il Duomo di Firenze, Giotto’s Campanile
  3. Venice – 2 nights – San Marco, Murano island, numerous bridges and dead-end roads
  4. Paris 5 nights – Eiffel tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, Champs Elysees, Arc de Triumph, Versailles, Jardin de Luxembourg, Musee d’Orsay, Pantheon, Louvre Pyramid, Moulin Rouge, Arc du Carrousel, Rodin Museum, Champs de Mars, Giverney (Monet’s jardin and maison)

And that’s leaving out some things! This was an incredibly active trip. Each day we had 1-2 things slated for the morning. For Italy, we would see a site or two in the morning, explore a bit, eat lunch, then I’d take a short nap before our dinner and strolls at night. For Paris, we rarely went back to the hotel. We didn’t have an unlimited train pass, so we tried to make the most of each pass by exploring the area we were in. Don’t worry. I still had my naps. Either I fell asleep sitting upright or I’d use Leann’s shoulder as a pillow for a short nappy nap.

For all of the above attractions, the longest we waited in line was for the Eiffel Tower (close to 2 hours). We tried to make a reservation in advance and they were all booked. I’m not sure how far you need to book, but as soon as you know you’ll be in Paris, try to book a slot. Otherwise, we booked ahead for Vatican, Accademia, Uffizi and Borghese (fun story about this one for a future post). Climbing the Duomo was the second longest wait time–about 45 minutes. Everything else was pretty much 10 minutes or less. This is a must for all travelers trying to see a lot in the time they are visiting.

This was the first trip to Italy and France for both me and my lady friend. Accordingly, we loaded up the trip with the must-see tourist sites. In future visits, we could take a more relaxed approach now that we’ve seen all the must-sees.

If you are at all like us (crazy), book what you can in advance, create a calendar, buy city passes to skip lines, start working out to get in better shape. But most importantly, invite Rick Steves along for the adventure.

un vasaio e il suo cane (a potter and her dog)

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Yesterday was the last night in Firenze on what I’m quickly learning is an epic and ambitious trip. The itinerary includes Roma, Firenze, Vinezia and Paris.

We had hit all the main sites on our agenda in Florence and decided to visit one more before departing today. Our “wrong” turn led us up a monstrous hill to see this potter working on a clay teapot. While watching from the street a woman came up and slowly opened the door to the workshop revealing the friendly dog.

The potter started speaking Italian, then when she saw my face, which can best be described as that of a person who is lost, drunk or supremely disoriented, she began speaking English. She said she’d been working on the teapot all day.

“I hate it,” she jokingly growled before picking it up and giving it a look of a displeased parent.

I love it when wrong turns turn out to be the best turns.

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Persone che guardano la gente

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Whether at the grocery back home or wandering the streets of Firenze, I always enjoy people watching. Yesterday was my first full day in Firenze. While there are fewer unique characters than in Roma, the more relaxed pace and overall calmer vibe are a welcome relief to the overwhelmingness of Roma.

The leisurely tempo can best be seen in workers taking a moment for a cigarette or to stare out the window looking at the tourists.

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