When I’m not impressed with the meat prices at the grocery, as was the case this week, I either a) pull from my freezer or b) make a nearly meatless meal using ingredients I have on hand. Pasta alla Carbonara is just such a dish and should probably be in everyone’s repertoire. Simple, easy & cheap, it’s a perfect dish when you’re scrounging for ingredients to get something on the table, fast. Especially if you have a bit of bacon in the freezer.
I’ve been told this is a Northern Italian dish, very simple, very good, and traditionally made with Romano rather than Parmesan, which falls right into my strategy for getting the most out of cheese – use a stronger cheese and a little bit goes further. It’s also originally made with Pancetta, which would, frankly, break the bank if one is going for a budget meal. If money isn’t an issue, by all means, go for it.
The pure simplicity is a super bonus here – my daughter actually talked her husband through this from the bedroom shortly after one of the babies was born, and the few ingredients means one can pretty much throw this together from memory. If you can fry a bit of bacon and boil pasta, you have all the skills you need to make this.
My price for the meal, with a side of Oven Roasted Broccoli runs $5.51.
Recipe: Pasta alla Carbonara, 4-6 Servings, cost $4.04
- 1 pound dry spaghetti (save a cup of pasta water in case it’s needed for the sauce.)
- 1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 ounces bacon, cut into small strips
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, optional
Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready when the sauce is finished; it is very important that the pasta is hot when adding the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs in the sauce.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm (as they say in Italian “al dente.”) Drain the pasta well, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce if you need to add moisture.
Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large, deep pan, large enough to hold your pasta after you’ve cooked it, until fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Remove bacon, drain any excess dripping, leaving about two tablespoons. Add olive oil and toss in the garlic and saute to soften.
While your pasta cooks, turn off the heat and let the pan cool. In a small bowl beat the two eggs and stir in the Romano or Parmesan. Add to the cooled pan and whisk to combine. Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss. Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches desired consistency.
Season the carbonara with several turns of freshly ground black pepper and taste for salt. Mound the spaghetti carbonara into warm serving bowls and garnish with chopped parsley and bacon. Pass more cheese around the table.
Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:
- Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
- Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
- Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
- Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.
This meal goes very quickly if you preheat your oven and get the pasta water on right away; the rest of the meal can be pulled together while you’re waiting. Angel hair pasta cooks more quickly, and is great when you want to get the dinner on faster – but the broccoli does take a bit longer, so choose a quicker cooking side if time is an issue.
- Pasta - Ronzoni is on sale for $.98 cents a box, 1 pound boxes. I can almost always find coupons and pick up the higher quality pastas for free or near free – check for hang tags on olive oil, the manufacturer’s site of coupon printing sites. Cost: -.02
- Olive Oil – Here is the time to break out the Extra Virgin if you have it. I find if I buy in small bottles and use the $1.00 off coupons, I pay the lowest price. If I don’t have coupons, I’d buy larger bottles; every now and then you can get big cans at the big box store – I’ve divided these up with another family before. My cost $.16
- Bacon – I bought Corn King, $2.50 a pound, took it out of the package and sliced it top to bottom, using about the 1/4 of the pack. Put the rest in a Ziploc and use for BLT’s. This is traditionally made with pancetta, but of course that is going to up the cost considerably. I grew up having it this way – I’m pretty sure at one time there were bans on importing pork products into the U. S. at one point, and pancetta just wasn’t available where I lived. I’m actually fine with the substitution. Cost: $.63
- Eggs – I still have 2 left from free eggs at Easter. If you don’t, you’ll be paying $1.38/12 or 12 cents each. Cost: Free or $.24
- Cheese – Fresh is really key in this dish, or you could use the product in a green can if you’re in a real pinch. One cup is about 4 ounces. Romano is often less than Parmesan, and I’ve been told it is traditional in this dish. If you buy with coupons, you’ll pay less. I didn’t, so paid $3.99 for five ounces, used four. If you’re really in a financial pinch, use the canned, but pick it up on sale with coupons and you can get if for around a dollar to a dollar and a half for the can. Cost for the ‘real’ stuff: $3.19
- Parsley – It’s still a little early for the parsley, unless you bought some in from the garden to overwinter. Skip it if you don’t have it or top with a few chives for color, or use green onion. (I keep the bottoms and put in glass in my sunny kitchen window – they grow back in days and produce for two to three months. Cost 0.
- Broccoli – Surprisingly, this is one ingredient that looks more expensive fresh – but works out to be less expensive. See my “Rant” on frozen broccoli. I bought a head for $1.29.
Cooking & Kitchen Hack:
Nutrition for the Carbonara:
Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 532 Calories; 22g Fat (37.3% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 106mg Cholesterol; 560mg Sodium. Exchanges: 4 Grain(Starch); 2 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 3 Fat.
Put your own spin on it:
- Maybe instead of broccoli, you’d like to throw frozen peas right into the pasta to heat through or saute fresh asparagus and add to the pasta or serve as a side.
- Asparagus would be wonderful tossed with olive oil, sprinkled with that leftover ounce of cheese and roasted in the oven 400 degrees for a few minutes.
A little something different for dinner, lighter and fresher than I’ve been serving, and it takes a few seconds longer than boiling the pasta.
Pasta alla Carbonara – Made June 2010