An Afternoon With the Godfather -
Some of our memories are so perfect and vivid that they never fade. This is one of them, and I will share it with you. It is a tale that includes one of the most heavenly of Italian pasta dishes, SPAGHETTI CARBONARA. This dish supposedly hails from the region of Lazio, native to my mother, Loretta’s family. It is, like many from Italy, simple, and made from just a few well chosen and very good ingredients. Its origins are said to have been with a carbonai or charcoal maker who may have been the first to make it – thus the name Carbonara. The simple ingredients include olive oil, onion, bacon (or pancetta or guanciale), Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, black pepper, salt,and egg yolks. Sound easy enough? Don’t be fooled by the simplicity. The key is the use of the best of each ingredient you can find. Note that I did not mention cream! This is an item added by some restaurants and recipes who attempt to over complicate the dish, and it is not an authentic addition. The egg yolks give the dish its creamy nature and golden color, and the miracle of the dish is in the TIMING! Putting this dish together quickly and while ingredients are hot is key to a successful result.
Now for the story! Godfathers are very special to Italians. They play an active role and are usually revered by the family. I am not referring to the godfathers of movie fame – all “mobbed up” and with a darker persona. Instead, I refer to the highly valued godfathers who play a special role in the lives of Italian children as they grow and are truly a part of the family – the kind who watch over and gently guide. They stand ready to noticeably approve when you have done well – who encourage – who nudge with kindness – and help when it is needed. That is the kind of godfather I had. He was almost a larger than life figure to me when I was very young – attractive, robust, generous of spirit, and always fun to be around. He was my father’s closest friend. Every Sunday, after mass at the Italian church, our families came together for breakfast. His name was Nick Corbisello – sometimes called N.R. – I affectionately called him “Compare Nick”. Compare (Sometimes pronounced Gumbah in Neapolitan dialect) is not directly translatable and can mean friend or family friend. Any true Southern Italian will know this term.
Shortly after I became engaged to be married, I visited Compare Nick, to introduce my future husband, hoping to gain his approval – a tall order, as my fiance was NOT Italian! We had high hopes that he would pass inspection, but had nothing to fear as my godfather’s way was almost always approving and kind. On the day of this visit, Compare Nick’s cousin, young , handsome Aniello, who was on an extended visit from Italy, happened to be there. What good fortune for us, as the charming Aniello was a gifted cook, and it was lunchtime.While we sat at the kitchen table and shared a good bit of laughter and endless stories, Aniello effortlessly put together a lunch for us that my husband and I have never forgotten. It was the first time we had ever tasted SPAGHETTI CARBONARA. I watched him as he made the dish with a few simple ingredients. He used bacon instead of pancetta, as that was what was available in the refrigerator. I generally still use it for the dish, as that is the way it was first served to me. He served it in individual portions with an egg yolk at the side of each serving , so that each person could toss the spaghetti with a “personal yolk.”It was an amazing dish, golden in color, aromatic, and flavorful beyond almost anything I had ever tasted. That was 40 years ago, and it is still my husband’s favorite pasta dish. Fortunately, I watched Aniello carefully as he prepared it, so that through the years, I was able to prepare it in a similar way.
Recently, Compare Nick’s grandson, Nick Cerretani, was kind enough to put me in touch with Aniello’s daughter, the beautiful Susy, who kindly asked her father, living in Casamarciano, Italy, to confirm the original recipe, just to be sure. It was great to re-connect with Aniello after all these years through Susy. He remarkably remembered the now “famous” afternoon at Compare Nick’s where this splendid dish was first introduced to me and graciously shared his preparation for this blog post. Happily, Aniello still is a remarkable cook, and according to Nick ,grows most of his own vegetables, using and enjoying them in Napoletana style dishes. Some wonderful things just do not change!
I am grateful to Nick, Susy, and especially dear Aniello for still remembering that very special afternoon with my godfather and for sharing his cooking secrets with me.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
1 lb. Spaghetti (cooked according to package directions)
1/3 lb. Bacon, Pancetta, or Guanciale (use more if you like) –For the very best bacon, I always recommend ordering from: Circle B Ranch !
4 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Onion coarsely chopped or sliced thinly (Aniello likes to use 1/2 an onion)
4 Egg yolks
1/2 C. Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese or Pecorino Romano Cheese – grated
Lots of Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Salt to taste
A little fresh parsley for garnish
More grated cheese to serve with the spaghetti at the table
Fry the bacon in one pan. Chop the bacon after cooking – leaving it all in the drippings
In another pan, fry the onions in the olive oil until tender.
Separate four egg yolks and reserve.
As soon as spaghetti is ready, mix the cooked bacon, drippings, cooked onion and oil, and the egg yolks in with it quickly while hot. Toss well.
Add the grated cheese, plenty of fresh pepper, and salt.
Add some fresh chopped parsley for garnish.
Serve with extra grated cheese.
There you have it: SPAGHETTI CARBONARA – simple and beautiful, as suggested by Aniello Restaino from Casamarciano, Italy (in Campania near Napoli). Grazie, Aniello!
PARLA COME MANGI!
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