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3 classic pasta dishes for the holidays: Carbonara, amatriciana and pesto

Celebrate the classics with homemade amatriciana, pesto and carbonara.
/ Source: TODAY

Chef Missy Robbins is joining TODAY to share a few of her favorite classic Italian pasta recipes from her cookbook, "Pasta: The Spirit and Craft of Italy's Greatest Food, with Recipes." She shows us how to make spaghetti alla carbonara, bucatini all'amatriciana and ricotta gnocchi with broccoli pesto.

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I learned to make carbonara at my first job in Emilia-Romagna. In retrospect, that makes no sense. Even though there is some debate around its origin, there is no debate that today carbonara is a dish of Lazio through and through — Rome to the bone, as one might say. It's also true that there are many different ways to make it: Pancetta or guanciale? Spaghetti or rigatoni? Whole eggs or egg yolks? Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino or both? Regardless of how you answer, there is no arguing that carbonara satisfies in its own, almost mystical way. After cooking, the pasta goes right into that bowl and gets gently tossed to marry. Finally, don't skimp on the black pepper — add a hefty amount and then add some more.

The most fervent debate about amatriciana comes down to the use, or not, of onions and garlic. In Amatrice, the dish is unadorned: tomatoes, pecorino cheese, guanciale … maybe chile flakes. That's it. But like most dishes that have become part of the Roman canon (carbonara, cacio e pepe) and have thus made their way around the globe, this one invites attempts at improvement. Neither onions nor garlic make their way into my interpretation of the dish, despite the fact that the amatriciana I fell in love with leaned so heavily on the former. My version is more traditional, and not out of reverence. To me, the genius of amatriciana lies in the combination of tomato, Pecorino and guanciale (plus chile flakes, always).

Back in 2015, while I was on Weight Watchers, I was obsessed with developing a pesto that had less oil and more nutritional value and still satisfied my craving for the original. Although the dish has admittedly strayed from its original health-conscious intent, it still ticks the nutritional-value box, and being far from a broccoli lover, it gets me to, well, finish my broccoli. The texture should mirror the same rich, silky quality you get from Genovese pesto, but it has a sweetness, both from the pistachios and the broccoli; a slight spiciness, thanks to the inclusion of broccoli rabe leaves; and a vegetal quality that, paired with pillowy ricotta gnocchi, I find both unexpected and downright irresistible.

If you like those traditional pasta recipes, you should also try these:

Pasta Puttanesca

Pasta Puttanesca

Michael White