Maria learned this dish from her Italian host mom, Mimma (“the most incredible cook!”), in Como, where she studied abroad during a gap year after high school. This carbonara is different from the carbonara you might know: the classic version is made with guanciale (or bacon) and eggs mixed with grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano, which creates a delightfully creamy plate of pasta. I love Mimma’s version, which adds grated zucchini and omits the guanciale.
This recipe calls for both pecorino cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano—pecorino is a bit saltier; Parm is a little sweeter and nuttier. I enjoy this combo of them for their subtle flavors differences, but if you have only one of them on hand, that’s fine; just double the quantity to make up for the absence of the other.
My favorite thing about this dish is how silky the simple sauce makes these noodles. It’s not magic, it’s science: that texture is the result of an emulsion between the egg-and-cheese
combination and the starchy pasta water. Pasta water is key; you should always scoop out a cupful before pouring the rest down the drain—it will improve just about any sauce or other addition to the pasta. (And make sure you salt the water well before cooking the pasta—salty pasta water imparts much more flavor! Italians absolutely swear by using coarse sea salt—the big granules of salt, called sale grosso—for pasta water. I’ve followed suit in the recipes in this book.)
Submitted by: Katie Quinn from Puglia, Italy
Yield: 4 - 6 servings
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, zucchini, garlic, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt and stir. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent and the zucchini is soft, about 5 minutes. Take off the heat and let the pan cool. Remove the garlic clove.
Fill a large pot three-quarters full of water and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Add a generous amount of coarse salt (the adage “It should taste like the sea” is a good gauge of how much). Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup (250 milliliters) of the pasta water (let it cool slightly so it won’t scramble the egg when you combine them!).
Whisk together the eggs, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, and a pinch of pepper in a large bowl. Add a couple tablespoons of the pasta water to temper the egg mixture, then add the pasta and toss to coat. Pour the contents of the bowl into the skillet with the zucchini and mix well, adding a splash more of the reserved pasta water if needed to help make a smooth sauce.
Divide the pasta among bowls. Serve garnished with a drizzle of olive oil, some pepper, and a bit more grated cheese.