The Dorm Gourmet: Simple Spaghetti Carbonara in a Rice Cooker

Rice Cooker Spaghetti Carbonara

Carbonara recipes vary widely, but all share a short list of primary ingredients – a cream-based sauce with some form of cured pork, Romano and/or Parmesan cheese, eggs and pepper served over a thin pasta such as spaghetti, linguini or fettuccini.  Together they form a sublime dish.  Traditional recipes dictate a gentle coat of sauce, though many Italian-American versions will be sloppy messes.  Below is an unorthodox treatment, after all, these are rice cooker instructions.  I personally favor a hearty quantity of sauce.  If at all possible, use Pecorino Romano rather than Parmesan, otherwise you wind up with an Alfredo-like eggs and bacon sauce.  Not bad, but not the same.  Because of the use of raw eggs in the relatively low temperature of a rice cooker, I also recommend careful monitoring of their cooking at that stage in the process to prevent exposure to food borne illness.

The pasta is normally cooked in a separate stock pot and the pancetta or bacon is fried in a pan, but we will use the rice cooker’s “cook” setting to fry bacon first, set it aside and then prepare the pasta, set it aside, finish the sauce and mix all of the ingredients together at the end.

 Your rice cooker may occasionally switch from the cook setting to its warm setting, especially while trying to fry the bacon.  You may need to manually reset it to cook.  If you have access to a regular stove and/or microwave, by all means avail yourself of the convenience.  The point here is to show how it can be done with just the rice cooker, not to torture you. 

Pecorino Romano

The salty sheep's milk cheese Pecorino Romano gives this sauce its distinct taste
The salty sheep's milk cheese Pecorino Romano gives this sauce its distinct taste

Putting it all together

Tools You Will Need:

A 3-Cup or larger rice cooker with a “cook” setting, a steamer basket and lid*

  • Cook’s knife
  • Cutting board
  • Cheese grater
  • Measuring cup
  • Colander or strainer

*Rival “3-cup” rice cookers will actually hold more than 4 cups of water in addition to the 5 oz. of spaghetti.

Ingredients:

6 oz. Bacon

5 oz. Spaghetti, linguini or fettuccini

2 oz. Pecorino Romano or Parmesan-Reggiano (about ½ cup grated)

½ Cup of Heavy Cream (in a pinch you can use half and half)

2 Eggs, beaten

2 teaspoons salt

4 Cups of water

Fresh black pepper to taste

Splash of Olive Oil

*Pancetta is the traditional ingredient, but it is much more expensive and less broadly available.

Directions:

  1. Preheat rice cooker and chop bacon into Chiclet-sized pieces (approx. ¼ inch squares).
  2. Fry bacon (may need to reset “cook” on rice cooker). Remove bacon and set aside. Wipe out excess oil from the rice cooker.

Chop the bacon into Chiclet-sized pieces
Chop the bacon into Chiclet-sized pieces
Fry the bacon, remove and wipe out the excess oil.
Fry the bacon, remove and wipe out the excess oil.
Add water and salt & bring to a rapid boil.
Add water and salt & bring to a rapid boil.
Strain pasta into the steamer basket and splash with olive oil.
Strain pasta into the steamer basket and splash with olive oil.
Keep the pasta warm while heating the cream.
Keep the pasta warm while heating the cream.
Add the bacon bits, pepper, pasta and eggs. Cook until all of the egg protein has solidified.  Add the cheese as the last step.
Add the bacon bits, pepper, pasta and eggs. Cook until all of the egg protein has solidified. Add the cheese as the last step.

3. Add water and salt to the rice cooker and bring to boil.

4. Add the pasta to the rapidly boiling water. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water and set aside. Cook 5-6 minutes, strain into the steamer basket of the rice cooker and splash with a healthy amount of olive oil. The spaghetti should be more al dente than you might expect, but will complete cooking at a later stage.

5. Pour the cream into the rice cooker and set to cook. If you are using half and half, use ¾ cup. Stir and grind in pepper. Keep the spaghetti warm while waiting for the cream to heat by placing the steamer basket over the cream. You can leave it alone for, about 3 – 4 minutes.

6. As the cream steams, stir continuously until it has visibly thickened (1-2 more minutes). Add the spaghetti and cooked bacon bits to the sauce.

7. Add the beaten eggs and stir occasionally. Make sure all the egg matter solidifies. The sauce should be moist but not runny. Finally, pour in the cheese. You may wish to mix in the reserved pasta water a little at a time to thin the sauce and distribute the flavors.

This is one of my favorite dishes, sometimes I like to sauté a clove of garlic into the bacon or add red pepper flakes.  Be inventive and you can make this dish your own!

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