The BEST Pasta Carbonara Recipe!


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My favorite recipe for authentic Italian pasta carbonara that’s easy to make, full of the richest flavors, and made with four basic ingredients.

Pasta Carbonara

A few months ago while I was in Valencia doing a two-week Spanish language intensive, I became good buddies with my fellow classmate, Alessio, who proudly hailed from Rome.  He and I instantly connected over a shared obsession with his hometown’s famous cuisine (he was so delighted that I was a fan!) and had a blast chatting each day about our favorite dishes, and tips for how to authentically make them, and where in Rome to find the best so-and-so.  But the joke amongst our classmates was that not a single day could pass without one of us somehow bringing the group conversation back around to one Roman dish in particular…

pasta alla carbonara. ♡

Now, lol, I may have gravely disappointed Alessio when he asked my opinion about pineapple on pizza.  (“Have to admit — I love it.” / “Noooooo, Ali — no pineapple on pizza ever!”)  But I did earn a bit of Roman cuisine street cred when he asked how I make my carbonara.  (“Eggs, pasta, guanciale and Pecorino Romano — no cream.” / “Yesss, that is correct!”)

According to Alessio, the greatest tragedy of this Roman dish being exported around the world has been the addition of cream.  It’s often used as shortcut to make the sauce extra creamy, but it is actually completely unnecessary.  When made properly, the eggs in carbonara should melt with the starchy water and cheese to create a creamy, silky, luxurious sauce all on their own.  Then when combined with chewy al dente pasta, lots of guanciale (or bacon), and a generous crack of black pepper — I mean, does Italian comfort food get any better than this?!

I think not.  We’d better make some.

Frying Guanciale for Pasta Carbonara

Pasta Carbonara Ingredients:

Alright, before we get to the recipe listed below, here are a few quick notes about the ingredients you will need.  Since authentic carbonara is traditionally made with just four basic ingredients — pasta, eggs, cheese and bacon — it’s worth it to invest in quality so that each will shine.  You will need:

  • Pasta: I really love to use thick pasta in carbonara, such as spaghetti, bucatini or rigatoni.  That said, though, just about any pasta shape will work for this dish, so I say use whatever you have on hand.
  • Eggs: Alessio insists that the egg ratio for carbonara should always be double the amount of yolks as whole eggs.  So for a pound of pasta, we will use 2 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks.
  • Cheese: Pecorino Romano — a hard, salty, sheep’s cheese — is traditionally used in carbonara.  But I often substitute Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese, which also works well and tastes similar.  As always though, when using cheese in a sauce, it’s very important that you buy a block of cheese and grate it by hand before adding it to the recipe.  Otherwise, pre-grated cheese has a tendency to clump and not melt well.
  • Guanciale: Guanciale — Italian cured pork cheek — is the type of bacon traditionally used in this dish.  It is quite salty and flavorful, and also quite fatty, which melts down to form the oil for the sauce.  That said, though, if your grocery local store does not carry guanciale, you are welcome to sub in diced pancetta or a thick-cut bacon instead.
  • Sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper: It’s also super-important to be sure that your pasta water is liberally salted for this recipe, as it is the only time we will be adding salt to the dish.  Then feel free to add as much or as little freshly-cracked black pepper as you prefer, to taste.

Large pot of spaghetti carbonara

How To Make Carbonara:

Once you’ve become a bit practiced at making carbonara, the process can move quite quickly if you are multitasking the pasta/bacon/egg sauce along the way.  But if this is your first time making carbonara, I would recommend reading the directions extra-carefully and taking your time so that you do not accidentally overcook any of those elements along the way.

Here’s a quick overview of how to make carbonara (full recipe below):

  1. Heat the pasta water. Main note here — don’t forget to generously salt that pasta water!
  2. Whisk together the egg mixture. I find it’s easiest to do this in a measuring cup so that you can easily pour the mixture into the pasta later.  We’ll just whisk eggs, egg yolks, grated cheese, plus a few twists of freshly-cracked black pepper together until combined.
  3. Cook the guanciale. Brown the guanciale in a large sauté pan (large enough to hold all of the pasta) until it reaches your desired level of crispiness.  Then use a slotted spoon to transfer the guanciale to a separate plate, leaving behind a few tablespoons of grease, and remove the pan from the heat.
  4. Cook the pasta. You want to cook the pasta until it is just 1 minute shy of al dente.  Midway through, use a measuring cup to carefully scoop out about 1 cup of the starchy pasta water.  Then while vigorously whisking the egg mixture with one hand, very slowly drizzle the hot water into the eggs with your other hand until the water is incorporated.  (Be sure to constantly whisk the eggs, or else they will scramble!)
  5. Toss the pasta. Once the pasta is nearly al dente and ready to go, use tongs or a spider spoon to transfer the pasta immediately from the stockpot to the large sauté pan with the bacon grease.  Place the sauté pan over medium heat, add an additional 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water to the pasta, then toss, toss, toss the pasta for 1 minute until it is al dente.
  6. Add in the eggs and guanciale. Then, using one hand to continue tossing the pasta, use your other hand to slowly drizzle the egg mixture into the pasta and toss until combined.  (Do not add the eggs too quickly or they will scramble!)  Continue tossing until the eggs form a glossy sauce that coats all of the pasta, adding in extra scoops of starchy pasta water if needed to thin out the sauce.  Add the guanciale and toss to combine.
  7. Serve. Serve immediately, garnished with an extra crack of black pepper (plus extra grated cheese, if desired).

Spaghetti Carbonara in Serving Bowl with Parmesan

More Italian Pasta Recipes:

Looking for more classic Italian pasta recipes?  Here are a few of my faves!

Pasta Alla Carbonara in Bowl

Print



Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (or 500 grams) thick spaghetti (or your preferred pasta shape)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 2 ounces (60 g) freshly-grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper
  • 7 ounces (200 g) diced guanciale (or pancetta or thick-cut bacon)

Instructions

  1. Heat the pasta water. Heat a large stockpot of generously-salted water until boiling.
  2. Whisk together the egg mixture. In a measuring cup or medium mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, grated cheese, plus a few twists of freshly-cracked black pepper until combined.  Set aside for later.
  3. Cook the guanciale. Meanwhile, cook the guanciale (or pancetta/bacon) in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until browned and slightly-crispy, about 7 minutes.  Remove pan from the heat, use a slotted spoon to transfer the guanciale to a clean plate (leaving the leftover grease in the pan) and set both aside for later.
  4. Cook the pasta. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until 1 minute shy of al dente.  Midway through, use a measuring cup to carefully scoop out about 1 cup of the starchy pasta water.  Then while vigorously whisking the egg mixture with one hand, very slowly drizzle the hot water into the eggs with your other hand until the water is incorporated.  (Be sure to constantly whisk the eggs, or else they will scramble!)
  5. Toss the pasta. Once the pasta is nearly al dente and ready to go, use tongs or a spider spoon to transfer the pasta immediately from the stockpot to the large sauté pan with the bacon grease.  Place the sauté pan over medium heat, add an additional 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water to the pasta, then toss, toss, toss the pasta for 1 minute until it is al dente.
  6. Add in the eggs and guanciale. Then, using one hand to continue tossing the pasta, use your other hand to slowly drizzle the egg mixture into the pasta and toss until combined.  (Do not add the eggs too quickly or they will scramble!)  Continue tossing until the eggs form a glossy sauce that coats all of the pasta, adding in extra scoops of starchy pasta water if needed to thin out the sauce.  Add the guanciale and toss to combine.
  7. Serve. Serve immediately, garnished with an extra crack of black pepper (plus extra grated cheese, if desired).


Notes

Recipe edits: Recipe updated in July 2020.



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