Southern Angola, early nineties...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tagliatelli Carbonara

I had not enjoyed any time off for two years when I had the chance to spend some time in Cape Town. Coming from war torn Angola where just about everything except malaria was difficult to get, Cape Town was a revelation. Naturally, I behaved like a tourist and headed straight down to the Waterfront, a shamelessly touristy sort of place but definitely worth a visit. Right on the waterfront where the seals play and bask in the sun is the Hildebrand Restaurant. Not German cuisine as the name might suggest, but Italian. I have a particular fondness for oysters and I could go on at length about the quality of the oysters served by the Hildebrand, their freshness and succulence never in doubt but it was their Tagliatelli Carbonara that was truly memorable. Now I have eaten Italian pasta dishes all over the world but I had never enjoyed anything quite like this. The sauce was rich and just loose enough to properly coat the Tagliatelli. The meat was tender, the mushrooms full of flavour and the liberal use of fresh herbs was evident. I don’t speak Italian but I imagine, by the way it was delivered, the response to my request for the recipe was the Italian equivalent of, ‘Bugger off!’

I decided, therefore, that I would have a go myself and, after much trial and error, realised that actually, it was quite easy. It went down a treat with the lads and is still a firm favourite both with my family and my current crew. It freezes nicely so when I do make it, I make a huge batch and then divide the excess into man-sized portions which the night shift help themselves to from the freezer.

For this dish, you will require the following:

Smoked Ham (to be honest, you can use any kind of ham. Smoked ham has a stronger flavour, which really does add to the final taste experience but, in extremis, you could use bacon or even boiled ham. I have made it with sliced veal and chicken. In Angola, they sell what they call 'bacon' in chunks, about and inch or two wide and sealed in plastic bags which is strongly flavoured and a job to slice by hand so tough is it, but it works very well in this dish)
Mushrooms (take your pick. In Angola only tinned champignons are available, their flavour much less than fresh mushrooms so if you can get fresh, then it is worth the effort)
Garlic, two or three cloves chopped nice and small
Onions, four medium onions chopped fine
Green Pepper, one diced finely to add colour, texture and a bit of extra flavour.
Parsley (with stalks).
Italian herb seasoning. If you can get the fresh ingredients, so much the better. If not, buy it at your local supermarket in dried, pre mixed form. If you cannot find the mix, then make it yourself using 1 teaspoon Oregano; 1 teaspoon Marjoram; 1 teaspoon Thyme; 1 teaspoon Basil; 1 teaspoon Rosemary; 1 teaspoon Sage. This will give you more than you need for this dish
Bay leaf
Cheese (we can only get Dutch style Edam here, a bit bland to say the least but it works. If you can get a stronger cheese, like cheddar, then use that but adjust the quantity to taste, the sauce should have the pleasant hint of cheese only, it is not meant to be a cheese sauce)
Olive Oil

There are two parts to this dish, three if you count boiling the Tagliattelli. The first is the preparation of the sauce. The second, the preparation of the Carbonara, or meat ingredients, to flavour the sauce. Before dong anything, place a pot of at least a litre and a half of water on the boil.

Meat ingredients

In a heavy pan, sweat off the finely chopped onions, finely chopped parsley stems and garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Once the onions are nicely soft and golden, add the chopped smoked bacon and bay leaf and fry the lot until it is soft but not crisp. Add the chopped mushrooms and diced green pepper and two teaspoonfuls of Italian herb seasoning and allow the ingredients to warm through thoroughly. Take off the heat and place to one side.

Sauce base

In another heavy based pan, add about a third of a 250 gramme pack of butter and melt the butter down, being careful not to let it burn brown. Add three heaped tablespoons of flour and stir incorporating the flour and butter into a dough like lump. Break the lump up a bit with a wooden spoon and smear it against the sides of the pan to ensure a homogenous mix without burning it. Slide the pan on and off the heat as required to control the temperature.

Add a small amount of milk and gently incorporate the ingredients. The milk will sizzle and boil as it hits the pan and the butter and flour mixture will swell and go all sticky. Add a little more milk and gently mix it all together each time ensuring that you have a smooth paste before adding more milk. Keep doing this until the sauce has the consistency of a very thick cream. This should use about two thirds of a litre of milk. It is very important to ensure that the mixture is completely smooth before adding more liquid as it will go lumpy if you don’t. The process does not take long and is quite physical in the early stages. Add plenty of ground black pepper and a couple of pinches of salt.

Add the cheese gradually allowing it to melt into the sauce. Once it has warmed through, check the consistency. If it is too thick, add more milk as necessary. The sauce should have the consistency of a very thick soup. Check the seasoning again.

Pick out the bay leaf and add the meat ingredients to the sauce and stir to combine them all. Add a generous amount of chopped parsley leaves, stir, cover the pot with a lid and take off the heat.


Add two or three tablespoons of olive oil and a good pinch of salt to the boiling water and add the Tagliatelli. The dish always looks nice if you mix a packet of the normal, yellow pasta with the spinach coloured green pasta. It should take only about five to eight minutes to cook through to the al dente stage. Strain the liquid out and pour the Tagliatelli and the sauce into serving dishes. Garnish with a bit of chopped parsley.

1 comment:

Amarylis-HandMadeLover said...

I love your blogs. I cant wait to go to your restaurant...:-)Dont forget to invite. When you gonna open it?