Karen Martini’s Loose on the Rules for Her Silky and Glossy Carbonara (Except for One Thing)

Karen Martini's Loose on the Rules for Her Silky and Glossy Carbonara (Except for One Thing)

Karen Martini’s new cookbook is simply called cooking. And with 1000 recipes, it’s doing some heavy lifting in trying to get people to do it.

At 912 pages, its size is reminiscent of Stephanie Alexander’s hulking 1996 tome The Cook’s Companionwhich many refer to as the kitchen bible.

In fact, the culinary legend is quoted in the preface to Martini’s cooking. โ€œAll serious cooks will thank Karen Martini for this excellent and ambitious book,โ€ says Alexander. โ€œShe acknowledges the ‘undeniable kinship’ between The Cook’s Companion and cookingand I take this as a compliment from a talented colleague representing the generation after my own.โ€

Martini is one of Australia’s most famous chefs. She’s been cooking most of her life, and her brand of food is simple and with bold flavours, drawing on her Tunisianโ€‘Italian heritage and a career that includes Melbourne Wine Room, while she was also founding executive chef at Sydney’s Icebergs Dining Room & Bar . Her most recent restaurant endeavor is Hero, in Federation Square’s Australian Center for the Moving Image (ACMI). She’s also the author of eight books, resident chief on Better Homes and Gardenswrites columns and hosts events.

cooking includes some of her favorite recipes โ€“ some she learned from her family, others that featured on her restaurant menus over the years, as well as some classics, from midweek meals to elaborate feasts. In the sidebar there’s ingredient alternatives, suggestions for side dishes or what you could serve it with if you wanted to make it for a dinner party. It was five years in the making.

โ€œThe journey behind this book is a lot longer,โ€ Martini says of the book. โ€œIt’s 26 years, or maybe close to 30 years of cooking and eating. All the pleasure in life, I’ve realized, comes from food and flavor, and I want to share that [here].โ€

One of the recipes in her book is the beloved pasta dish, carbonara. We even popped around her home and she made it for us.

โ€œThe central tenet of carbonara is a sauce composed of egg and rendered fat from some kind of cured pork; I use flat pancetta or guanciale. The eggs cook gently in the heat of the pasta, not on the stove, and emulsify into a silky, glossy coating for the pasta. Plenty of cheese and ample pepper are the other key ingredients,โ€ she says in the recipe intro.

Like many Italian dishes, the ingredients used to make carbonara are contested. It doesn’t faze Martini, she knows what she likes and she’s sticking to it.

โ€œYou’ll encounter fierce opposition from some about adding garlic, but I still do. Some will be offended by the parsley, but that doesn’t put me off. Others will be appalled at the use of whole eggs, rather than yolks, but they sauce the dish beautifully, and I’m not about to waste egg white from the beautiful, pasture-raised eggs that I pay very good money for.โ€

She goes on. โ€œSome will dispute the use of Parmigiano-Reggiano, rather than Pecorino Romano (it is a Roman dish, after all) โ€“ but, for me, its nutty luxury can’t be beaten.โ€

As for the pasta shape to use? โ€œSpaghetti appears to be traditional, though macaroni mounts a formidable case. And, in truth, a fresh or dried egg pasta, tagliatelle or fettuccine, also works wonderfully. Do as you will, just please do not add cream.โ€

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

5 eggs
150g finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
6 flat-leaf parsley sprigs, leaves finely chopped
600g dried spaghetti, or fresh or dried tagliatelle or fettuccine
250g guanciale or flat pancetta, cut into 5mm-thick bacon bits
3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Add the eggs, cheese, parsley and about 20 grinds of black pepper to a large bowl. Whisk well. Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente.

Meanwhile, heat a good splash of oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Fry the guanciale until golden and crisp, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low and add the garlic. Cook until fragrant and lightly golden. Season with salt and pepper, take off the heat and add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta cooking water to stop the garlic burning.

Tong the cooked pasta from the water directly into the frying pan, over a medium heat. Toss through until any pasta water has been absorbed and the pasta is coated, rather than sitting in liquid. Remove from the heat, then add the egg mixture and toss to combine. The sauce will thicken with the residual heat of the pasta. Don’t be tempted to return to the stove, or there’s a danger of scrambling the egg. Serve immediately.

This is an extract from cooking by Karen Martini, published by Hardie Grant and out now, $100. Buy it here.

Looking for more recipe inspiration? Check out Broadsheet’s recipe hub here.



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