Many people up north seem to believe that all Italians are authorities on food, that your average Italian working mum is also a near-professional chef, that people here have secret family recipes passed down from generation to generation. That Italians would never eat any premade stuff, that they only eat sauce that they made from scratch with tomatoes that they brought up themselves, handfed every day, sang songs to before bedtime. That they judge the rest of the world for their filthy, barbaric cooking habits and that in fact, they are quite right and should always be believed.
But they’re not, and they don’t. Unlike what many experts on food from the north believe, most Italians seem to be very relaxed about these things. You get jars of ready-made sauce and sachets of risotto mix, here, too, and it’s not like hardly anyone buys them, no, they sell really well. As for their superior food knowledge, when you ask Italians about certain dishes, fairly often they don’t know the answer, or they really just don’t give a crap. I’m not implying that all Italians are clueless about food, because like in every country, some people here know quite a lot about cooking, and some know fuck-all. I’m just trying to bust a myth here, that of the Italian as an omnipotent, all-knowing and wrathful kitchen god, because I think that generally, Italians are more like benevolent, mild-humoured kitchen nymphs, gracefully minding their own business.
Take Carbonara, for instance. Spaghetti carbonara, at least where I come from, has been the spur of wars between culi-writers, it has incited food lovers to write angry letters to papers, it has wrecked seemingly solid marriages. How? By dividing the world into those who do add cream, and those who don’t, two groups of people who are less likely to be ever reconciled than Israeli and Palestinians.
I’m one of the no-creamers, but I won’t judge cream punters. However, this debate does intrigue me, more than anything because I’ve seen people get so passionate about it. If the Dutch of all people are outraged by variations of the recipe, then how must the original inventors of the dish feel? I asked my flatmate. His response: “Well, I do add cream, and onions, too. But it doesn’t really matter, to be honest. Whichever you prefer.” What, that was it? No tirade at all, not even a little rant? “Well, some people say that with cream, it’s not really carbonara, it’s just an entirely different dish. But you know, in Italy, stuff is different in each region, so there’s never just one Italian way of doing things, it depends on where you go.”
Well, that’s settled then. We can all do whatever we like with our carbonara and we don’t even have to fear being judged. For those who are still not too sure, make the following. It’s inspired on Carbonara, but it’s something different altogether. Whatever you do though, don’t add cream. You can get away with it in a carbonara, but here it would just be gadzy.
Not carbonara, for one person:
– enough spaghetti
– one egg, separated (you only use the yolk)
(if you don’t know how to separate an egg, follow the instructions at the bottom of the recipe)
– two cloves of garlic
– one tomato, or a handful of cherry tomatoes
– a lot of olive oil
– parmesan cheese
Boil the spaghetti in enough water with enough salt. Peel the garlic and slice them into fairly thin slices. Get a frying pan and put in quite a lot of oil. (Don’t be shy, come on, add a little more.) Now keep the fire very low, and carefully fry the slices of garlic, don’t let them go brown. Slice the tomato into wedges (or, if you use cherry tomatoes, halve them). When the pasta’s almost done, add the tomatoes, they only need a couple of minutes.
When the pasta’s done, chuck it in a colander, and don’t shake the water off like you might usually, don’t even leave it in there too long, the pasta needs to be a bit wet when you throw it in the frying pan with the garlic and the tomatoes. Turn off the fire completely, quickly add the egg yolk and some parmesan to the pasta, and mix it well. The yolk should form a sort of filmy layer around the pasta.
Top with some more parmesan if you fancy.
Instructions on how to separate an egg: Take a glass or a cup or some kind of bowl. Crack the egg open on the side like you would normally, but before breaking it open completely, let out as much egg white as you can. Now, break the shell open completely, holding one of the parts of the shell up straight, making sure that the yolk stays in there. To get rid of any egg white that might still be in there, carefully pour the yolk from the egg shell it’s in now, into the other one. Repeat until the yolk’s pretty much in there by itself.