Classic Spaghetti Carbonara

I first had Spaghetti Carbonara on the Greek island of Paros.  I was 18 and was there with my great Italian friend, Dodi, visiting some friends of hers from her town, Varese.  One of the friends was Giulio.  When I met him, he was standing on steps leading to a roof top apartment on one of those white-washed Greek structures trimmed in a vibrant blue.  He was negotiating with the landlady, struggling to communicate with her in his best ancient Greek which of course she didn’t understand. She was dressed all in black, and seemed quite old.  Dodi and I had just arrived.  He looked at down at me at the bottom of the stairs.  In Italian it is called un colpo d’amore, an attack of love.  In English: love at first site. That night he made a big group of us pasta carbonara, using bacon because he couldn’t find guanciale or pancetta in the food stores.  It was as simple and as delicious as the following recipe, and I have been making it ever since and every time I make it I am 18 again on a Greek island, filled with possibility.

Pasta Carbonara

3 eggs (use the best because they are only cooked by the heat of the spaghetti fresh from the boiling water.  I use eggs from my mother’s farm.)

1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of grated parmigiano

1 pound of bacon cut into 1/2 inch pieces and cooked until crisp (carbonara refers to the coal miners who invented the dish in mid-century Italy.  Take apart carbon – ara and you get carbon.  The bacon becomes the little bits of coal.)

1 pound of spaghetti (don’t use anything thinner — spaghettini or angel hair NO NO NO.  I absolutely love how Italians have put a lot of thought into which shape of pasta works with which type of sauce.  A thinner noodle would wilt under the weight of the bacon and egg, become mushy.)

FACT and HINT: A real carbonara should have NO cream.  Mistrust any recipe that involves cream.

Cook the bacon.  Boil the pasta.  Break the eggs into the serving dish.  Stir swiftly with a fork.  Then stir in the cheese. Just before the pasta is ready to strain, toss the bacon with the eggs.  Strain the pasta and while still wet and very hot pour on top of the egg/bacon mixture.  Let stand for about a minute, then toss, as you would a salad.  Serve with more parmigiano.

Warning: Heart Attack On A Plate, as my brother-in-law liked to describe Carbonara.

Or, as my daughter likes to say: Breakfast for dinner.


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Shaping The Story

From Stephen Koch’s wonderful and very useful Writer’s Workshop.  He was a professor of mine at Columbia University.


“In Chapter 1, we pointed out that the Latin root of the word invent means “to discover.”  Writers do not make up stories. They find them.  They uncover them; they discover them.  Sometimes they find them in the real world.  Sometimes they find them in the depths of their imaginations.  In either case, they invent stories by finding them and, conversely, they find those very same stories by inventing them.  Which comes first?  That’s the elusive part—the interplay between making it up and digging it up.  Your imagination will not always know the difference.”


I find it incredibly helpful to remember and remind myself that stories don’t come out of thin air, that they are discovered. Koch’s book is enormously insightful.  I recommend it to all writers and teachers of creative writing.


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