How not to make carbonara, in 12 steps

Do you ever have a moment of insanity where you think, “I should make ___, but I think I will change the formula in these 6 ways and also not look at any recipes,” and then when you do exactly that you’re shocked when the results are less than perfect? Yeah, me too. Last night, for instance. Here’s how this went:

1. While reading last month’s Real Simple, notice a 1-line “recipe” suggesting a pasta dish with shredded brussels sprouts sautéed in butter and combined with fettucine and bacon.

2. Remember the stalk of brussels sprouts aging in the fridge; think you can probably make things more interesting than just combining the pasta with the sprouts and bacon.

3. Carbonara!

4. Don’t look up a recipe from carbonara, except to see that one online says “beaten eggs” and one in a cookbook says “egg yolks.” Do not read any of the rest of either recipe. Just start cooking, even though the one other time you made carbonara (following a recipe to the letter) you got it wrong and the eggs scrambled.

5. Proceed smugly, shredding the sprouts, cutting bacon into lardons and frying them, cooking the sprouts, separating eggs, cooking spaghetti.



6. Frantically call husband into kitchen to grate parmesan as the pasta finishes cooking; combine sprouts/bacon with pasta; assume the pasta is cooling down too much, dump eggs into pasta in a panic.

7. Pasta and pan are still too hot. Eggs sort of scramble.

8. Fling pot holder on the floor, while cursing.

9. Rip off apron and fling it against a cupboard, while cursing.

10. Storm out of the kitchen in a cursing, flinging fit.

11. Return to kitchen and mumble profanities while seasoning the pasta, meanwhile breaking it into smaller and smaller strands while husband silently pours large glasses of wine.

12. Eat giant mounded bowl of pasta (plus seconds), which looks horrible but tastes pretty damn good. Say a silent thanks for candlelight. Drink wine.


Lessons learned:

— For the LOVE, make sure the pasta is hot enough but not too hot when mixing in the egg.

— Keep in mind that things can only go so badly when the ingredients involved are: Bacon, brussels sprouts, parmesan, garlic, pasta.


I’m in a panic about cocktail party for 40 tomorrow night. It is sleeting and I need to grocery shop but I feel like I don’t have a very solid menu. Wish me luck, please! And if you’re feeling upset by that sad pasta up, let me offer you the following condolence prize:

I visited Bridge in NYC this weekend, and we celebrated her boyfriend Matt’s birthday at the unbelievably awesome Fette Sau (“fat pig”) in Williamsburg. Witness the glory of the Tray Of Meat:

9:29 p.m.
Weekend in NYC

9:55 p.m.
Weekend in NYC

We also drank cider and beer out of half-gallon jugs:
Weekend in NYC

It was a good weekend for food. We ate at Perbacco and had mince-meat-stuffed deep-fried cerignola olives (!!) (Bridge saw them on the menu and just looked at me, all “wow, they know your soft underbelly…”), and we visited my favorite bodega tacqueria on 10th Avenue. We spent an afternoon in my beloved old neighborhood, saw great apartments, and spent a lovely time with friends. Good times and at least a five-pound weight gain, I’m guessing.

3 thoughts on “How not to make carbonara, in 12 steps”

  1. Oooh, cocktail party! You can do it. I mean, you managed to eat all that meat (I realize not alone, but still, good job!), right? I hope you share your menu once it all goes swimmingly, cocktail food is my favorite. 🙂

  2. That sounds like a great way to add a little green to carbonara! Here’s my method for making carbonara– In a metal bowl, combine beaten eggs, parmesan, and pepper. When the pasta is done cooking, drain, and then quickly (doing this with two people helps) dump the hot, drained pasta in and the bacon/fat. Toss rapidly… I think having the eggs and cheese mixed well, and doing it in a cold bowl wit hot pasta/bacon helps! Good luck on the party, sounds fabulous!
    happy holidays

  3. Jillian- Both times I’ve made it I’ve used yolks only–next time I will definitely try beaten whole eggs; I think a big part of the problem is that the yolks cook too fast, and are too sticky. Whole eggs would give me a bit more time to work!

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