Fiddler's Favorite Recipes Episode 2: David Russell's Pasta Carbonara

March 26, 2020, 2:29 PM · I have known David Russell since ENCORE days...

David Russell's Carbonara
David and his carbonara - the picture of David is by Spanish portrait artist Paco Montañes!

Besides being on the faculty at ENCORE, he was on the violin faculty at The Cleveland Institute of Music for 24 years and taught at Oberlin, Meadowmount, Keshet Eilon and more. He's currently Professor of Violin at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and he also runs an amazing program in southern Spain, Masterclass Al-Andalus.

Given his love of music and food, I thought he would be perfect to ask for his favorite recipe. He is sharing a fabulous Pasta Carbonara -- Enjoy!


Pasta of your choice
Grated Parmesan Cheese
1-2 eggs (depending on amount of pasta you are preparing)
One small onion.
Cracked black pepper
Optional: truffle oil, heavy whipping cream.


Boil pasta, drain. While hot, add eggs an stir to cook onto hot pasta.
Cut bacon into 1-inch segments, cook with chopped onion.
Add cooked bacon, onion, and grease to the pasta with egg.
Add grated parmesan cheese to coat pasta.
If desired, add truffle oil to taste, whipping cream to moisten.
Stir in cracked black pepper.

* Stay tuned this weekend for Episode #3, a Cosmo Recipe from Ida Kavafian!

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March 26, 2020 at 09:02 PM · Cooking the eggs into the hot pasta -- never heard of that, sounds like it should work though. Looks like he is using gemelli. That sounds like a good choice for this dish and for the procedure with the eggs especially.

Regarding truffle oil, my understanding is that most of the stuff you can buy these days is counterfeit. The truffle oil flavor comes almost entirely from one chemical: 2,4,-dithiapentane. Therefore synthetic truffle oil will not be distinguishable from the real thing except by those with trained palettes.

March 26, 2020 at 09:52 PM · This dish turns out much better with cubed bacon (what the French call "lardons"). American supermarket bacon is too thinly sliced and has too much fat and not enough meat in it. So if you have the opportunity use slab bacon and cut it in cubes about 1/3 of an inch in size.

Lydia Bastianich gives the recipe about as follows (from memory; I don't have the book any more).

Coarsely chop a large onion* (assuming 4 people). Cut the bacon (1 to 1.5 ounces per person) in cubes and sauté those cubes slowly in a fry pan at medium heat. The fat will melt** and the meat will brown somewhat. Then add the onion and keep sautéing, stirring regularly, until the onion pieces begin to brown.

Meanwhile cook the spaghetti and drain. Put the spaghetti into the pan with bacon and toss. Transfer to a bowl (preheat the bowl with boiling water)***.

Crack one egg per person, stir them with a fork and add to the spaghetti. Toss, then add parmesan (or a mixture of parmesan and pecorino (romano) if like the taste), toss again and serve.

* The presence of quite a bit of onion improves the dish IMHO; with no or little onion it tends to be somewhat cloying. The whole dish is more rural down to earth than aristocratic sophisticated in this way though.

** At this point you can take the bacon out of the pan and degrease on a paper towel, drain the liquid fat from the pan and substitute oliv oil for the bacon fat if you don't feel like eating bacon fat. The bacon fat is very good in the dish though. The bacon should contain no more than about 50% fat; if it isn't lean enough I discard some of the fat.

*** The egg does not cook if you do this correctly. It stays liquid and should not coagulate (it IS the sauce). It is important though that it gets hot enough to destroy salmonella that is sometimes found in US eggs (40 degree C If I remember correctly, so not terribly not). Hence the recommendation to preheat the bowl. Don't mix in the egg in the pan; it will coagulate there as the pan is at at temperature above the boiling point of water and the egg is garanteed to coagulate at least partly.

March 27, 2020 at 01:35 AM · I also remember carbonara has having undercooked egg. Of course these days we're cautioned against undercooked egg and right now is not a great time to be visiting the ER. "Egg beaters," which I believe are pasteurized, could be substituted, but then, this dish is all about being echt.

Many supermarkets in the US have cubed bacon or pancetta in sealed packages -- in our store these are near the deli. And there are other forms of cured pork that are available.

Years ago I would have said that it doesn't matter if bacon is fatty because you just buy more of it and then drain off the fat you're not going to use and store it in a pickle jar for frying everything else! But these days bacon has become fairly expensive and we don't need more saturated fat in our diets beyond the occasional splurge to enjoy a dish like pasta carbonara.

March 27, 2020 at 04:57 AM · You can pasteurize your own eggs if your supermarket doesn't have them or you don't want to use Egg Beaters. I found the procedure in a cookbook, but I found a web page (wikiHow) that illustrates the procedure better and has more than one method:

March 27, 2020 at 07:22 PM · I am very proud to be an old student of Mr Russell, and I'm really excited to make his recipe! I'm just so disappointed that we can't get together to cook and eat!

March 28, 2020 at 10:11 AM · Interesting and certainly yummy recipe! I'll have to try it.

There must be more way than one to make the Carbonara, because my northern Italian wife learned it from her mother this way:

- spaghetti (not other kinds of pasta)

- egg yolk only (not the whites)

- pancetta in small cubes (guanciale, or pork jowl, in cubes is best)

- lots of pepper

- no onion

- cheese (Pecorino, not parmesan) only when serving and no cream

In other words, only 5 ingredients. This way it comes out without sauce but very tasty. Oh, and make sure you don't use the pancetta with cinnamon because you're ruin it! (I made that mistake once, I didn't check the ingredients on the package, and it was a disaster)

That said, make it any way you like it. And I will try David's recipe!

March 28, 2020 at 04:10 PM · Wow! Dmitri!

I will SO try your wife's mother's authentic sounds incredibly good. The egg yolks and pancetta....just wow. recipe has "developed" over the years (I admit), but as comfort food goes...

Paul, The partial cooking of the egg over the pasta is an attempt to guard against salmonella, but if you are feeling adventurous... hehe

The truffle oil was just an inspiration some time ago. I am a huge fan of truffle oil.

Cracked black pepper....can't get enough of it in this dish. The bacon I use is encrusted with it-- and still I add more on top.

Anyway, I hope everyone is staying well. I see Carbonara as a celebration of well-being. So enjoy it however suits you best, and celebrate life!

March 28, 2020 at 05:43 PM · David, thanks! The art of cooking is... starting at Point A, and then proceding towards the unknown! :-)

How else did Columbus discover America?

March 28, 2020 at 05:50 PM · If anyone's interested, I have a good recipe for spaghetti with clam sauce... satisfaction guaranteed!

March 29, 2020 at 04:15 PM · I vouch for David's Pasta Carbonara since I had the privilege of eating it in his house during one of my many visits with his wonderful family.

I hope David will share with all of us his wife's amazing receipe of Brioche Bread French Toast. Zaiba makes it so good that it hardly needs any syrup. I ate it many times at their house and vouch for it as well. Anything David or Zaiba make turns out to be really tasty. Fun people and great cooks!

Mihai Tetel

March 30, 2020 at 06:47 AM · ...but is the Ciorba (..."is NOT Ciorba, Mister!") too salty???

Between that Hungarian Restaurant in Canada, Kamu Kamu juice in Bolivia, and roasted chestnuts while stalking Jordi Savall in a leather-goods store in Paris, we could tell some tales, Mihai!

Stay well, and come back for a visit anytime, dear friend! Zaiba will happily make her Grand Marnier brioche French Toast in your honor!??

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