There’s nothing not to love about bacon, cheese, and pasta that make up this classic and easy Spaghetti alla Carbonara recipe. It is the perfect dish for pairing with a crisp and refreshing Arneis wine.
This month, the Wine Pairing Weekend theme came from Val at Girl’s Gotta Drink. She challenged the group to get to know Arneis, a favorite summer wine from the Piedmont region in northeastern Italy.
What is Arneis?
Arneis literally translates to “little rascal,” and it gets the name because it is a grape that is difficult to grow. It has been grown for centuries in this region of Italy, initially as a blending grape, but more recently as a stand alone for some incredibly unique wines.
Arneis are typically considered the perfect wine to transition from summer to autumn because they have the crisp freshness of a summer wine, while being drier and more robust in flavor than most commonly thought of ‘summer’ wines. However, with all that strong fruit flavor and crispness, we would also consider it a perfect drier summer wine for sipping alone or pairing with food.
This wonderfully balanced wine can be a bit tricky to find in some parts of the States. However, we were in luck because the wine connoisseurs at Wine Maniacs Bar & Bistro also sell wine by the bottle, and these guys have a nose for unique, hard to find wines. We knew we could count on them to deliver a bottle of the elusive Arneis for this challenge, and they did not disappoint. (Although, we do have to apologize for snagging their last bottle of Ceretto.) They also gave us the opportunity to try three varieties of Arneis from the Negro Family.
We found the Arneis to be a beautifully complex wine. Each bottle showcased the characteristic crispness, but brought unique variances in the levels of dry tannin and bright acidity, changing the way the wine would play on your tongue. With so much complexity, the wines were wonderful alone because they continued to change throughout the sip and after, as they lingered. Paired with food, new elements of fruit and creamy smoothness showed themselves in the wines.
After a few sips, we could already see why Arneis is considered the perfect wine to sip as a starter, with an array of light appetizers. However, for today’s pairing, we wanted to go with a classically Italian main dish. We were thinking that our bottle of 2011 Ceretto Blange Lange would work quite nicely with a lighter pasta or a fish dish, and eventually we settled on the Roman classic: Spaghetti alla Carbonara.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara: a lighter pasta dish?
At its most basic level, Spaghetti alla Carbonara is a pretty, well, basic pasta preparation. The essential ingredients are panchetta (or bacon), garlic, eggs, cheese, and (of course) pasta. That doesn’t necessarily sound heavy to me.
But, some recipes will tell you to use only egg yolks with a heavy-handed drizzle of olive oil and a good glug or two of cream while you’re at it. Top it all off with an overly heavy hand on the cheese, and we’re really starting to pack the heaviness into the dish.
But, let’s get back to the basics.
All of the key ingredients bring lots of flavor to the dish, so there isn’t a need to go over and above in the name of making something tasty. It already has that covered.
Making Our Spaghetti alla Carbonara Recipe
We started off by sauteing panchetta (or bacon) and garlic until it was crispy and the entire house smelled like heaven. Then we added some cooked pasta, and tossed it all around with the garlicy panchetta goodness. We did leave the fat from cooking the panchetta in the pan to add a bit of extra richness to our sauce. But, we found the end result to be slightly too greasy for our tastes. The next time we make it, we will drain most of the grease from the pan before adding the pasta, leaving only just enough to finely coat the noodles.
Adding the egg and cheese mixture to create the sauce can be the tricky part. You don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs, you want a nice, creamy sauce! The trick is to add the egg mixture to the pan while it is off of the heat and to add it slowly. By adding it little by little as you toss the pasta, you are coating the pasta with a smooth layer the eggs as they cook from the residual heat of the pan. If necessary, once you have added all of your egg mixture and tossed it well, you can turn the burner on very low to thicken up the last of the liquid. And, keep tossing that spaghetti, or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs!
We topped our carbonarra with fresh chopped parsley. The herby-ness of the parsley balances out the salt of the panchetta and cheese, creating a wonderful play of flavors.
A simple pasta dish with few ingredients, we found that the Carbonara paired incredibly well with the lightness of the Ceretto Blange Lange. The wine was incredibly fruit forward and smooth, but with a definite dryness and just enough acidity to cleanse the palate and cut through the cheese and panchetta. The result was a beautifully complementary pairing.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
- ½ lb spaghetti, dry
- 4 oz pancetta or bacon, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Pinch Ground black pepper
- 1 egg
- ¼ c Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- ¼ c fresh parsley, ,chopped (for serving)
- Bring 1 quart of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add a generous dashing of salt and the pasta to the boiling water. Boil the pasta 7-8 minutes, until just barely al dente. (Remember, we will be finishing off cooking the pasta in the skillet, so stop it just before you would want to eat it.) When the pasta is done drain it, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.
- While the pasta is cooking sauté the pancetta or bacon over medium high heat until it begins to crisp, 3-4 minutes. Add the minced garlic and black pepper and continue to sauté an additional minute. Remove the pan from the heat. (And drain the excess grease, if desired.)
- Beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Slowly add 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid, while beating constantly, to temper the eggs. Mix in Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
- Add the cooked spaghetti to the garlic and pancetta in the sauté pan (off the heat). Toss the pasta together with the pancetta to coat it well with the grease in the pan.
- Add the egg mixture, slowly, tossing constantly to coat the pasta with the eggs and slowly cook them from the residual heat of the pan. If there is still liquid that has not thickened after you have added all the egg mixture, return the pan to a very low heat and cook, tossing constantly, until the eggs have thickened.
- Serve topped with fresh, chopped parsley accompanied by a side salad.
More Summer Arneis Food Pairing Recipes!
- Summer Arneis Food Pairing: BBQ Chicken in a Citrus Butter Curry Sauce, GirlsGottaDrink
- Kale Pesto Tortellini Paired with Arneis, Cooking Chat
- Shrimp and Fennel Risotto with Arneis, FoodWineClick
- Heritage Grain Risotto with Roero Arneis, Wine Pass
- Damilano Langhe Arneis Paired with Dungeness Crab and Pea Purée Crostini, Pull That Cork
- Maltagliati con Sugo dei Porri e Trotte alla Salvia, Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Shrimp and Cheese Grits with Vietti Arneis, Enofylz Wine Blog
- Shrimp, Fennel, Fava Bean Pasta with Vietti Arneis, Tasting Pour
David of Cooking Chat started this event in June of 2014, and every month since then this group of wine and food lovers have had a great time! For more background, check out the original post announcing Wine Pairing Weekend. You can see the full list of past and upcoming #winePW events here.
If you liked this recipe, here are some similar dishes you may enjoy!
Sarah is co-owner of Curious Cuisiniere and the chief researcher and recipe developer for the site. Her love for cultural cuisines was instilled early by her French Canadian Grandmother. Her experience in the kitchen and in recipe development comes from years working in professional kitchens. She has traveled extensively and enjoys bringing the flavors of her travels back to create easy-to-make recipes.