Many years ago I saved up my Lire for my first trip to Italy. I had no particular agenda but I was determined to see Venice. I landed in Rome and spent a few days wandering the streets and tasting some of the most wonderful food I had ever had in my life. I was on a serious budget so breakfast and lunch were at a bakery of coffee bar, but what bakeries and coffee bars they were. The pleasure of a bit of bread with fresh tomato, salt and olive oil cannot be underestimated. The Italians know and love food.
In Venice the prices rose and my first day all of my meals were from the same bakery, that along with fruit from a street vendor made me very happy and gave me the fuel to explore this incredible city. The next day I decided to throw lire to the wind and eat at a serious Venetian eatery. I had my first risotto, the creaminess, the bit, the mushrooms, and peas and bit of truffle were beyond my culinary comprehension. Back in Minneapolis, even with Julia Child and Betty Crocker as my teachers I had imagined nothing this exquisite.
Young and bold I went into the kitchen, found the Chef and asked if he would show me how to make Risotto like that. Fortunately he spoke some English and told me to be in his kitchen the next day at 7 a.m.
My first day I was handed a knife, I diced the shallots, sliced mushrooms and took a break with the crew for some coffee and toast at 9. Because I was American they gave me an egg as well. I chopped, diced, stirred and stayed until 10 that night. On my third day they gave me the stock, the rice, the spoon and a place in the line. I was to make Risotto. That night it was to be with mushrooms and peas. I had a series of spoons to taste with along the stages because I had to learn when it was perfect. Risotto is an art, not a science and each order was done individually.
In the middle of a very busy night a waiter came into the kitchen and told the chef that an American had ordered his Risotto Carbonara, it was said with derision. They guys in the kitchen scoffed and I am sure cursed the customers in Italian. This was NOT a Venetian dish. While I am sure it has been tried somewhere they had never heard of such heathen.
"Ci." The chef came over to me and handed me some chopped pancetta to crisp and an egg yolk with cream beaten into it and guided me to make sure I did not serve scrambled eggs. We both tasted and I think he was surprised at the creamy goodness of it. As the restaurant closed he asked me to make a large batch for the staff meal. It was a hit, who knew an awful American customer could ask for the wrong thing and still get a good meal.
I spent 5 days watching and absorbing and being well fed in that kitchen and was shocked beyond all measure when they handed me an envelope with cash in it on my last day. They paid me to learn, I was in shock and thrilled beyond measure.
I took not only money but a wealth of information about what makes the Venetian food so exquisite and the ingredients for a bastard dish that is delicious, Risotto Carbonara.
1 cup Abborio Rice
1/2 cup finely diced pancetta
A Good splash of olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely diced shallots
3 cups stock (chicken works best, but any stock can work)
1/2 cup cream
1 egg yolk
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
A good dash Romano cheese grated
A few dashes of salt
Saute the pancetta until crisp, remove with slotted spoon leaving behind any fat it renders. Add a splash of olive oil and saute the shallots until soft. Add the rice stirring for about two minutes until you begin to smell the toasty rice, then stir in about 1/3 of the broth. Continue cooking ans stirring until the liquid is absorbed. Bit by bit stir in the remaining rice and cook until liquid is absorbed. When the rice reaches that creamy stage with a bit of bite stir in the peas and pancetta and cheese, beat your egg and cream and turn the heat to LOW. Gently stir in the butter til melted and the yolk and cream mixture, it will gradually thicken, beware of high heat or the mix will scramble. Plate and garnish with a bit more grated cheese.
The origins of Carbonara are muddy, but we know it came from the hill cities outside of Rome, but in the hands of a Venetian...Make it and taste for yourself.