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Shrimp and Red Pepper Carbonara; or, What’s the big deal about carbonara, anyway?

April 16, 2008

Shrimp and Red Pepper Carbonara

I tried to make fettuccini carbonara last year for Mr. X, and the result: scrambled egg pasta. I tried to make a very similar Chinese noodle dish a few weeks ago, and the result? Scrambled egg pasta. I have been having a hard time getting this egg sauce thing down, but this week, I believe I finally perfected it. I decided to jump in there and give it another go, and hey! No scrambled egg pasta! However, I did find myself wondering, What is the big deal about carbonara, anyway? I mean, it was good, sure, but was expecting transcendent, and it was not that.

That’s not to say it wasn’t good, and if you like carbonara generally, I’m willing to bit that you would really like this version, with shrimp and blackened red peppers and, of course, bacon.

Thanks to Bon Appetit, I discovered that the trick to carbonara, to not ending up with scrambled egg pasta, is to whisk a bit of the hot pasta water into the eggs before adding the egg mixture into the pasta. I believe they call that tempering, or something. Whatever it’s called, it worked like a charm. I was also careful to add the egg mixture to the hot pasta slowly, while continuously stirring it about. That probably also helped a bit. And I used my immersion blender to whisk the eggs, because my whisking by hand tends to be, well, not very thorough.

I can’t imagine cooking carbonara the way Bill Buford recommends in Heat: He just tosses that egg (well, the yolk and whites are separated) onto the hot pasta and mixes it in. I’m sure I’d have scrambled eggs in seconds if I tried this, but perhaps it’s all about the timing? And maybe this magical technique would create the rich and mind-blowing dish I’ve heard carbonara is meant to be?
Shrimp and Red Pepper Carbonara

What I can say about this is that shrimp and bacon are great friends who really belong together, and I’m glad that I was able to reunite them in this bowl of pasta.

Shrimp and Red Pepper Carbonara

  • 3 slices of bacon, cut into pieces
  • 1 large red pepper, cut into strips
  • about 1/2 lb. of penne pasta
  • 1/2 lb. large or medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 c. grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper

First, set a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. If there’s one thing carbonara requires it’s good timing, and you generally want your pasta to be done cooking when the shrimp are done so that nothing gets overcooked and everything is still warm enough to create the egg sauce and all that good stuff.

Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Once it’s nice and hot, add the bacon. Let the bacon cook for a few minutes, until it’s crisped up to your liking and rendered some of its fat. (Mmm, delicious bacon fat…). Remove the bacon from the skillet to another plate with a slotted spoon, so all that lovely bacon fat stays in the pan. Add the sliced red peppers, stir them to coat them in oil, and lower the heat just a smidge. Cover the pan, and let those roasted red peppers cook for awhile. Stir them only occasionally; what you want are very soft, browned (blackened, in my case) red peppers.

While the red peppers are cooking, add the pasta to the (hopefully) boiling water and mix up the egg sauce. Just whisk the eggs very thoroughly, and stir in the parmesan cheese. Giada has a recipe that involves adding some heavy cream, which might up the richness factor I thought was missing, but I didn’t want to go that crazy, so I left it out.

Check on the peppers after about 10 minutes. When you think they’re close to being done, add the shrimp and saute everything together until the shrimp are pink and cooked through. Season the whole bit with salt and pepper, and lower the heat to keep it warm while you finish up everything else.

Before draining the pasta, take about 1/4 of a cup of it and whisk it slowly into the egg mixture. Then quickly drain the pasta, and stir it into the skillet with the peppers and shrimp. Add the bacon back in, then slowly pour the egg mixture into the pasta, stirring to coat everything throughly and cook the egg just enough to create a silky sauce, coating everything well. Cook for just another minute or so to thicken the sauce a bit, but be careful not to overheat it or, yeah, you’ll end up with breakfast in your pasta.

So that’s carbonara. I’m still willing to say that perhaps I missed something crucial that would have made this into the luxurious dinner I was expecting. Mr. X suggested that I didn’t add enough salt, which is entirely possible, because what I really felt it was lacking was flavor. The shrimp were perfect, the red peppers were sweet and tart all at once, and maybe it was all too much for a little egg sauce to stand up to. What do you all think about carbonara? Sexy delicious pasta dish or overrated?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2008 6:06 pm

    Scrambled Eggs is what makes carbonara, and for our Italian family scrambled eggs, pancetta, cream and cheese with a salad is a great staple in Winter or Spring for supper.

    I really enjoy Pasta alla Puttanesca:) Have you tried that?

  2. gastroboy permalink
    May 21, 2008 4:46 am

    My (almost) Italian mother-in-law showed me how to do carbonara and my family love it.

    Timing is crucial but not difficult. Dran the pasta but not 100%, leaving it still somewhat wet, hot and steamy. Just break the eggs into the pasta, give a quick stir to spread it over the fettucini and serve before it does go all gluggy.

    A key point is not to add too many eggs that they end up all over the bottom of the pan and to turn the heat off. The pasta does the cooking, not the stove.

    I’m glad you don’t add the entirely unnecessary cream that so many “chef’s” recipe’s call for.

  3. September 23, 2009 7:11 am

    Looks and sounds delish!! Thanks for the recipe!! :) Great pics!

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