There are a lot of recipe nodes out there. I know, I've put a lot there. But every now and then some noder sees a recipe and says "No you're wrong, you make it like this". Well folks, that's the wrong attitude. Recipes are remarkable in that they are adaptable. There are thousands of variations on some recipes and they are all correct. They've evolved and changed to match ingredients over the years to meet regional and seasonal availability. Now I'm not saying you can dump a can of Kraft Grated Cheese into a pint of milk and call it alfredo sauce. Every cook/chef makes variations on recipes I just think we need to be more tolerant of that fact. Shoot try another variation. You may like it better than the one you've been using.

Well, Lord Omar's right, mostly. I mean, there are some recipes that will just taste like crap or have a horrible consistency or be undercooked or overcooked. For instance:

1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons graham crackers, finely ground
2 pounds lard

Mix all igredients. Cook until charred mass of carbon in a blast furnace.

See, in my opinion, that's a wrong recipe, and wrong in some sort of immutable, absolute sense. It's an exaggeration, admittedly, but my point is there are flavors, and textures that go together and others that do not. With experience you learn what works and what doesn't and can work with recipes as guidelines to make truly inventive meals.

The painstaking and strangely gratifying realm of cooking for oneself is often further complicated with the introduction of doubt about a recipe. I popped by the restaurant across the road from my office for a carbonara and contemplated preparing one myself at the next opportunity. It looked devilishly simple, with no more than three or four ingredients so how hard can that be?

Off we rush to trawl cookery books and the net for the recipe and this is where we encounter the first hint of impending trouble. A hundred sources suggest a thousand variations, each proposed as the ultimate, the unique, the quintessence of Italian simplicity, the platonic carbonaraness of carbonara. Any deviation is an evil conspiracy against the dissemination of the perfect recipe.

Add two cloves of crushed garlic to the gently frying bacon.
But surely pancetta was mentioned as the only possible meat source. Or was it guanciale? And elsewhere it was firmly stated that a carbonara with garlic included is not a real carbonara. Should I add a dollop of fresh cream if it only features in half the recipes that popped up? All of you who have prepared a carbonara before are reacting to each of these statements. "Garlic? No way!", or "I always used gammon and it tasted just fine.", and "Cream? Cream! Who ever heard of cream in a carbonara?" It is this kind of instant defence of one's own pet variant that entangles the little downy chicks of doubt in the huge bird's nest of conflicting recipes.

Within very broad gastronomical parameters one may safely state that there is no wrong recipe. It is easy to mess up a dish by cooking it badly, burning it to a crisp, boiling pasta until it cries out to Mount Olympus for interjection, grilling a steak until it cooks through or allowing a roast to dry out. Yet all these are errors in the process and not the ingredients themselves so the problem can't be blamed on the recipe if one decides to ignore crucial factors like cooking time.

Let's go back to our carbonara. For four people we'll need the following ingredients: Cook the pasta in plenty of lightly-salted, boiling water. Make sure it is just al dente because it will spend some more time cooking once it joins the rest of the ingredients for a final romp. Drain very well.

In the meantime fry the pancetta on a low flame together with the butter and a little bit of olive oil. This should take around ten minutes of gentle frying until most of the fat has melted. Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a bowl, add all the cheese and grind some pepper into the mixture.

The cooked pasta is now back inside its dry pot. With a low flame keeping the heat, pour the pancetta together with its hot oil onto the pasta and mix carefully with two forks to avoid damaging our precious pasta. Finally pour the egg and cheese mixture, mixing well to ensure uniformity until the egg isn't runny. The trick to a perfectly made carbonara is making sure the egg does not cook completely at this stage. Serve immediately.

So there's our recipe in all its simple splendour. Adding a couple of cloves of crushed garlic to the pancetta is an acceptable addition, as are a couple of spoonfuls of fresh cream to the beaten eggs. Both of which fit into the carbonara definition and depend very much on personal preference. Adding some finely chopped cherry tomatoes towards the end will most definitely strip the meal of its carbonara title but can add an interesting personal touch. Have we 'ruined' the recipe or should we add a notch on the magical staff of creativity and plod on in search of that deliciously imperfect recipe?

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