Follies of a Frazzled Chef: Disaster alla Carbonara


There are two reasons why my friend once referred to me as “The Frazzled Chef”:

Reason #1 has to do with my physical appearance. I have a mane of unruly, curly hair that sticks out every which way. Seriously, on my best days it looks like I’ve stuck a finger in a light socket and emerged with a new ‘do. On my not-so-best days… Well, let’s not even go there. And, when I’m cooking, I always end up wearing at least a little of what should be in the pot. You’ve got a nice mental image now, right?

Reason #2 has to do with my method. I guess you could say I’m a little unorthodox in my ways, and I’m not the most careful cook you’ve ever encountered. They could never do a cooking show on me, because they’d need to use a panoramic lens to capture the various things I leave all around the kitchen. I just can’t contain myself to one area, and this is a reflection of the way my mind works (or doesn’t) when I’m cooking.

The other night, the Frazzled Chef struck again. I’ve finally found a place to live that has proper kitchen facilities (yes, for more than a month I didn’t have a stove or oven…) so I decided to cook up a nice plate of pasta to inaugurate the new cucina. As my readers know, Spaghetti Carbonara ranks up there on my list of favourite pastas, so I decided to start with that one. Except my recipe book is sitting back home in Canada, so I figured, what the heck, I’ll just wing it! That’s what Italian cooks seem to do. And I’m in Italy, doing a pretty decent job of being Italian, so I figured  some of this natural cooking talent must have entered into my veins by now through pure osmosis. Yeah, right.

In retrospect, I guess the first thing I may have done wrong was select the wrong size pot. Much too small, but I figured it wouldn’t matter. I filled it with water, lit the gas burner (another thing I’m not used to, so I’ll blame the whole ordeal on that) and dropped the bucatini pasta into the boiling water. Somehow, the flame from the burner crept up and started to lick the pasta that was still sticking out of the pot, and poof! I was now the proud chef of charred bucatini in boiling water. Who BURNS pasta, you ask? Me. Apparently.

Not wanting to give up so soon and figuring the delicious sauce I was busy whipping up would cover the burned taste/smell/look of the pasta, I continued. I cracked two eggs in a bowl, added some grated parmesan, some pepper and I whisked. While all of this was going on, my cubes of pancetta were sizzling nicely in a pan on another burner in the stove. Knowing that the secret to success with carbonara was nine tenths timing, I figured I had everything under control. The pasta was just about cooked. The pancetta was nice and browned. The eggs were ready. Time for the big mixing.

In one fell swoop, I sloshed the egg-and-cheese mixture into the pan of pancetta and gave it a stir, using a nice little wrist-flick technique that splattered gooey egg all over the stove and into my hair. I then ran to the pot of pasta, lifted it off the stove and dumped the boiling water into the sink, the steam giving me an unexpected facial in the process. I was even multitasking! Of course I hadn’t thought to find a pasta strainer, so I watched a few of the un-burned bucatini go down the drain. Needless to say, all the burned ones stuck nicely in the pot. Ugh.

Dodging the chair I had somehow left in the middle of the kitchen, I ran the pot of semi-strained pasta back to the stove and dumped it into the pan with the pancetta and egg mixture. I stirred it twice and shut off the burner. Voila!  I was feeling pretty smug as I transferred the pasta from the pan into my awaiting bowl. I surveyed the ingredients scattered around the kitchen, the egg-coated bowl, the splattered stove, and felt confident that I had done well. And I hadn’t even sustained any serious injuries in the process! I was certainly making progress as a chef.

I sat down in front of my bowl of steaming pasta, and really looked at it for the first time since I had taken it off the stove. Let’s just say that the result was a shade less than spectacular…

How did it turn out, you ask?  Now, don’t laugh. If you laugh I’ll never write about my cooking adventures again…

What I ended up with was Carbonara’s ugly, ugly cousin, which could be called something like “Burnt Bucatini with Fried Egg Clumps.” The egg that was supposed to be a gooey sauce had become hard clumps, the pancetta had cooked too long, and the whole thing sat sadly in puddle of the pasta water that I hadn’t quite properly strained into the sink. Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it? It was so appetizing, I transferred it directly into the  garbage can as I all but ran out of the house and to the gastronomic safety of the pizzeria down the street.

Since pasta certainly isn’t my forte, I’m thinking of trying my hand at eggplant lasagna soon. Can’t be that hard, right? I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!!!

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2 thoughts on “Follies of a Frazzled Chef: Disaster alla Carbonara

  1. Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. I’m not even Italian and I can make carbonara with my eyes closed. Why did you put the eggs in the pan with the pancetta?!? That’s not where they go! You just glop them on to the pasta once you’ve drained it and then sit it back on the stove for a few minutes, stirring away until it all reaches the right consistency. It’s pretty much the pasta equivalent of stew – throw it all together in a pot and it just works. I have no idea how you could end up with charred bucatini and fried eggs. You’re amazing.

    And by the way, I definitely laughed.

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