The Tale of Two Carbonaras

October 2nd, 2010

While in Atlanta we had dinner at Brio Tuscan Grille.  Although it is a chain restaurant, it has the feel of a traditional neighborhood restaurant.  The ambiance is enhanced by dark green walls adorned with a multitude of oil paintings that appear to have been collected over the years.  One of the reasons I wanted to have dinner there was because I was craving pasta; in particular pasta carbonara.  I remember having the best carbonara in a small Italian restaurant in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Instead of bacon, the creamy carbonara was studded with speck.  Speck is a juniper flavored Italian ham.  The dish was wonderful and I have had an obsession with carbonara ever since.

Now granted, I did not expect an Italian chain restaurant to have a carbonara to rival my favorite, but I was willing and anxious to give it a try.

Brio’s carbonara is called Garganelli Carbonara and it is made with wood-grilled chicken, bacon, parmigiano-reggianno and sauteed spinach.  Garganelli is the type of pasta, very much like penne pasta.  Carbonara is usually made with spaghetti, so this was new to me.  The addition of chicken and spinach is a great idea; more protein and a serving of vegetables.  So when I got home I attempted to duplicate the recipe.  I sauteed some bacon, removed it to drain, and added garlic and chicken to the skillet to brown.  I then added a package of thawed and squeezed chopped spinach. While the pasta was cooking,  I mixed eggs and Parmesan together.  I added the cooked pasta to the skillet and poured in the egg mixture and tossed to cook the eggs in the hot pasta.  I added a little pasta water to moisten it and poured it into the serving bowl and topped with the cooked bacon.
 It did not look as creamy as the Brio pasta and it did not taste as creamy as their pasta.  The type of pasta used had a lot to do with it.  The egg mixture and Parmesan clings much better to spaghetti than it does to large tubes of pasta in my opinion.  I did a little more research and found the recipe for Brio carbaonara.  They added an alfredo sauce to the mix.  So last night I rewarmed the pasta, made an alfredo sauce and mixed it in (with some leftover carrots).  Much better this time.

Even though it does not look as creamy as the original, it was moister than my first attempt.  With the addition of all that extra butter, it should be.  I compensate for all of that richness by eating less.  The next time I make this I will add the alfredo sauce while the pasta is fresh from the pot and I have a feeling I will be closer to  what Brio did.   This was a good experiment.  I like the concept and the flavors, but a classic carbonara will always be my favorite.

GARGANELLI CARBONARA  (ala Brio Tuscan Grille)

3 strips of bacon
1/2 pound of chicken tenders, cubed
1 clove of garlic
1 10 ounce package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, grated
2 eggs, beaten
Splash of white wine

Alfredo Sauce:
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup cream
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 pound penne pasta

Cook cubed bacon in a large saute pan until crisp.  Remove to drain.  Add cubed chicken and saute until no longer pink.  Add garlic and cook a minute more.  Add chopped spinach and cook until warmed through.

Meanwhile cook pasta according to package directions.

Beat together the eggs and Parmesan cheese.

Make the alfredo sauce.  Melt butter in a sauce pan.  Add the flour and stir together for a minute to let flour cook.  Slowly add the cream and whisk until thickened.  Add the cheese and continue cooking until cheese is incorporated.

Drain pasta and add to skillet.  Immediately add the egg mixture and toss to cook the eggs.  Add the alfredo sauce and stir to combine.  Pour pasta into a serving dish and sprinkle with bacon and extra Parmesan cheese if desired.

6 responses to “The Tale of Two Carbonaras”

  1. It sounds great Penny! I love the lobster bisque at Brio’s, and their Beef Carpaccio. They are both appetizers on their menu.

  2. I have never heard of Brio but it sounds wonderful. I think I’ll try this recipe!


  3. Rhondi says:

    Hi Penny
    I love spaghetti carbonara! The first time I had it was in a little hole on the wall restaurant in Rome just around the corner from the Trevi fountain. Maybe I’ll try the recipe you showed us.
    Hope you are having this great fall weather we have today.
    Hugs, Rhondi

  4. Pondside says:

    I’ll let you know how I do – I’m going to make this for the two of us this evening, as I just happen to have thawed chicken for tonight’s dinner. I have everything else, except the spinach, but that can be an afternoon errand on the way back from the garden centre.

  5. Donnie says:

    That looks so good and fairly easy to make. I’ll have to remember the Restaurant next time we go see Don’s mom in Kennesaw.

  6. Barbara says:

    Great experimenting and perseverance, Penny. And WE benefit! Love all carbonaras and your final dish looks wonderful.

© Penny Klett, Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen. All rights reserved.