week 8, part ii: mrs. duxbury goes to rome

There are two Mrs. Duxburys. One is a normal-sized Englishwoman whose job title is headteacher at St. George's School; she's the principal. When children are very bad, they are sent to Mrs. Duxbury's office; when they're very good, they are presented with a certificate signed by her. Alex received one for "being very helpful"; Sam's was for--and I quote verbatim--"careful and accurate measuring of a shoe with cubes" (?!). 

The other Mrs. Duxbury, we recently learned from Sam, is much smaller. She's about three inches tall and made out of plastic, manufactured by the German toy company Playmobil; she might be Native American, or an Alpine milkmaiden, it's tough to say. She has son who's a motorcycle-ambulance driver (I can't wrap my mind around out how a motorcycle ambulance is helpful to society, and might have to go visit a large German city, to see how it works), and a husband who's a motorcycle policeman. The three of them and their two motorcycles, along with a wooden step-stool and something that seems to be a dais, accompany Sam everywhere during our four days in Rome. Wherever we arrive, Sam asks, "Can I play?" Then he unzips his backpack and unloads the Duxburys. He stands up the Mrs. on her stool, behind her dais; sometimes he gives her a megaphone; sometimes he also arranges a tiny plastic painting on a tiny plastic easel, off to the side, beyond the motorcycles. 

Sam sets up this tableau in the Piazza San Pietro (bottom photo), while we await the pope for his Wednesday-morning blessing (we've come to see the interior of Saint Peter's, but, apparently, you can't do that on Wednesday mornings, so we hang around in the fantastic plaza, in a surreally a-religious soccer-match atmosphere). Sam sets it up in a trattoria in Trastevere, where the amatriciana is superb (middle), and on the Spanish Steps (top), where we rest after our unsuccessful quest to find a playground (if there are any playgrounds here, the Romans are certainly hiding them well). He sets it up inside the Colosseum, and at the foot of the Trevi Fountain; in the Piazza Farnese cafe where we breakfast, and in the wine bar near the Campo de Fiori where we have a glass of rosso with other celebrating Americans, Wednesday night. Mrs. Duxbury constantly supervises the boys, allowing us to finish our meals (sometimes not just one but two courses!) without having to flee in a flurry of antsiness. What more can you ask from a head teacher? 

a recipe from rome: bucatini alla carbonara

Unsurprisingly, the pasta in Rome is sublime. And it's not just the sauces that are superlative, it's the noodles themselves, whether dried or fresh, which are universally cooked less than I'm accustomed to for a run-of-the-mill al dente: firmer, chewier, more substantial in the mouth. This seems particularly true of my favorite noodle, the gloriously thick strands called bucatini; it's tough to go back to spaghetti after you've had bucatini. 

Bucatini seems particularly perfect for carbonara, which, I can't help thinking every time I see a plate of it, is the opposite of diet food: pasta with fatty chunks of pork and whole eggs and also additional egg yolk, not to mention cheese. I think the extra yolk might be gratuitous, and I've skipped it once or twice when I didn't have enough eggs on-hand. But it's ridiculous to skip it for dietary reasons; if you're making diet-conscious decisions, you're clearly eating something else. 

Olive oil
1/2 pound sliced guanciale, if you can find it, or use pancetta or other unsmoked lardons
Eggs and egg yolks (see below)
Freshly, coarsely ground black pepper
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Pecorino Romano, or both
1 pound bucatini or perciatelli

First things first: put a pot of salted water on to boil; the sauce preparation happens quickly. Heat a slick of oil in a very large saucepan over medium-low flame, then add whatever pork product you're using. Guanciale is the traditional choice, but I haven't found these pork cheeks here in Luxembourg (and they weren't terribly easy to come by in NYC either); on the other hand, as you may remember from past postings, it's practically easier here to find pre-cut lardons than bottled water; they're even available in gas stations. Anyway, when the fat has rendered and the pork is firm, turn off the heat, but leave everything in the pan.

In a very large bowl, beat 3 whole eggs with your choice of (a) 1 egg yolk, (b) 2 egg yolks, (c) a 4th whole egg, or (d) nothing. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and then grind a lot of black pepper into the mixture. When you're tired of grinding, take a rest, then grind some more pepper. This is what I learned in Rome: this dish is better with a lot of pepper. Then beat in a few tablespoons of grated cheese.

By this point, your water should be boiling and your pasta should be in it. When the pasta is on the shy side of al dente, drain. Add it to the pan with the oil and pork, and toss over low heat until the bucatini are coated.  Then pour all this into the beaten eggs, scraping out the pan. Mix quickly but thoroughly, toss in some more cheese, and mix some more. Serve with all due haste, in reasonably sized portions. 

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