Recipe Box: Spaghetti alla Carbonara (2024)

Although this dish on might be tasty, it has nothing to do with the Italian technique of risotto. It looks like pilaf.

There are a few Italian dishes that are so simple but that require such attention and care that they are only at their best when they are made at home or in the fanciest, most expensive restaurants. Risotto is one of them. In order to make a perfect risotto, you really need to start it 20 minutes before you intend to serve it. Although you don’t have to stir it constantly, you do have to stir it often. You also have to dedicate an entire burner to the process. Then you have to eat it almost immediately. Most restaurant can’t afford to produce and serve a dish in this manner. And if they do, they have to charge a fortune for it. You are better off making risotto at home.

Spaghetti alla carbonara is another dish that’s usually better in the hands of an experienced home cook. Though simple, the temperatures have to be just right: too cool and the eggs will be runny, too hot and they will curdle. Like risotto, carbonara also has to be eaten as soon as it is ready. If it sits, it clumps; if it’s reheated, the eggs scramble.What’s more, most restaurants doctor the recipe with cream or cream sauce, both aberrations of the original Roman speciality.

Guanciale is cured, seasoned, and air-dried pig's jowl. Traditionally, it is not smoked. Photo by Kyle Phillips.

In addition to only using eggs too make a true carbonara, you should also use guanciale, or cured pork jowl, a Roman specialty. Guanciale is becoming more common as the charcuterie craze takes hold across America, but often guanciale made outside Italy is cured and smoked. It is not traditionally smoked. If you can’t find true guanciale, pancetta or unsmoked country bacon are my preference. And then, when all else fails, just use your favorite smoked bacon, which, it should be noted, makes a mighty delicious carbonara. no matter how inauthentic.

What follows is my favorite recipe at the moment for spaghetti alla carbonara. It is based on advice from two friends, Oretta Zanini de Vitaand Maureen B. Fant, whose recent collaboration on the Encyclopedia of Pasta, just won a James Beard Foundation Book Award for Reference and Scholarship. My technique has been changed slightly from the recipe I published in my own book, Kitchen Sense, but that recipe (page 253), makes a delicious carbonara, as well.

A fine example of traditional Roman spaghetti alla carbonara.

With so few ingredients, like most Italian dishes, spaghetti alla carbonara behooves you to use the best ingredients you can find. I made it for dinner the other night with a beautiful, fine Italian pasta made from kamut, an ancient variety of hard wheat that some Italian chef friends prefer to durum wheat. Any top quality, imported Italian pasta will do. Ronzoni won’t. Choose your pork product carefully (see above), but also your eggs (farm fresh is best), and your cheeses. Imported Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano will improve the final product. So will exquisite extra virgin olive oil and cultured European butter—these days my favorite comes from the same region in Parma that makes the king of cheeses.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Serves 4 to 6

Kosher Salt

1 pound (450g) fine, imported Italian spaghetti

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

6 ounces guanciale, pancetta, country bacon, or smoked bacon, cut into strips (lardons) about 1/2-inch wide

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 large eggs

1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano, plus additional for garnish

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Freshly ground black pepper

Bring about 5 quarts of water to a rapid boil with a scant 1/4 cup of kosher salt. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, 8 to 9 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the guanciale and cook slowly until the fat renders and the meat browns, 6 to 7 minutes. I keep the pan over a very low flame to keep the pan hot and keep the meat roasting until I need it.

In a large, ceramic mixing bowl (for better insulation), beat the eggs until fluffy. Add both cheeses, 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper.

When the spaghetti is just about cooked, add the butter to the sauté pan with the guanciale and cook until the milk solids begin to brown. Using a ladle, beat 3/4 cup of the boiling pasta water into the eggs and add about 1/4 cup of the same water to the pan. Drain the pasta, do not rinse, and add it to the pan. Turn up the heat under the frying pan so the water boils rapidly. Using tongs, toss the spaghetti with the guanciale until the noodles are coated with the fat. Transfer the pasta to the bowl with the egg mixture and continue tossing with the tongs until the eggs begin to thicken and the cheese begins to melt so that the sauce clings to the noodles.

Divide the noodles and the guanciale evenly into warm bowls, top with additional grated Pecorino Romano and a grind or two of black pepper and serve immediately.

Recipe Box: Spaghetti alla Carbonara (2024)


What is the trick about carbonara sauce? ›

There might be light variations in the quantities and preparation steps, but the real Carbonara has only 6 simple ingredients: water, pasta, guanciale, eggs, pecorino, pepe. Here's my recipe! well, the first and only trick is related to the ingredients: always use high quality Guanciale and Pecorino and fresh eggs.

What is the golden rule of cooking a carbonara? ›

The golden rule to silky carbonara is to whisk your egg whites so that they're completely incorporated with the egg yolks. This will create a smooth, velvety sauce. As like any pasta dish, including carbonara, cook the pasta perfectly al dente so that it's soft but still firm, with some bite.

When making carbonara do you use the whole egg? ›

Traditional carbonara sauce is made with whole eggs, not just the yolks. However, some recipes do call for just yolks. In the traditional recipe, the eggs are beaten together with grated Pecorino Romano cheese, black pepper, and sometimes a bit of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

What not to put in carbonara? ›

What not to put in Spaghetti Carbonara? Don't put garlic, cream, milk or butter. It is not needed. It is fine if you want to make a dish with those ingredients, but if you want to learn how to make this dish correctly, use only pecorino, eggs/egg yolks, black pepper, guanciale, and pasta water.

How do you make store bought carbonara sauce taste better? ›

Spice It Up. Adding fresh herbs to your canned pasta sauce makes it taste like it came straight from the garden. While the pre-made sauce may already include some herbs, adding your own will help enhance those flavors. Tossing in strips of basil, a sprig of thyme or some oregano can take your sauce to the next level.

What makes carbonara sauce thicker? ›

Traditional carbonara doesn't have any cream: it's thickened with fresh-grated cheese and raw egg. Any cream sauce can be thickened by simmering it for a while, if you're using actual cream. If you're using milk or sour cream, you'll need a starch stabilizer, like roux, beurre manie, cornstarch, potato starch, etc.

What are the ingredients of classic pasta carbonara? ›

Carbonara is made with guanciale (cured pork), eggs, Pecorino Romano cheese, spaghetti pasta, and lots of black pepper. Italians don't add extra ingredients like cream, milk, garlic, or onions. Try this recipe if you want to make an authentic, creamy carbonara that comes straight from Italy, where I live.

What is real carbonara sauce made of? ›

The ingredients are the classic ones: aged guanciale, egg yolks, Pecorino cheese (with the addition of Grana Padano to balance the saltiness), and freshly ground black pepper.

Should there be garlic in carbonara? ›

Must-have ingredients

that there are only five ingredients: pasta, pork cheek, eggs, cheese and pepper. That's it. A real carbonara does not contain onion, garlic, or cream.

Why no garlic in carbonara? ›

Because in the traditional recipe there is no garlic, if you add it you will lower quality of a very good food. Why is there no garlic in carbonara? Because it's an Italian dish, not an Italian-American dish, and Italian cooking does not use garlic as heavily as Italian-American cuisine.

Should carbonara have cream in it? ›

Should carbonara have cream? Typically carbonara sauce is only made of eggs, bacon, parmesan, olive oil, seasoning, and sometimes, vegetables. As for cream, Italians will tell you that is a big no no.

What kind of cheese is good in carbonara? ›

Pecorino Romano: This aged sheep's cheese is always traditionally used in the Roman pastas, and its salty, grassy, earthy flavor is absolutely delicious in carbonara. That said, if Pecorino is unavailable at your local grocery store, you can use Parmesan as a non-traditional substitute.

How do you keep carbonara from scrambling? ›

Using a large mixing bowl and setting it over the boiling pasta water to create a makeshift double boiler helps prevent you from accidentally scrambling the eggs.

How do you beat eggs in carbonara? ›

Prep the egg mixture.

In a measuring cup, combine the full egg, the separated egg yolks, the cracked pepper, and the pecorino cheese and whisk into a gritty slurry. Because the eggs and cheese are now mixed together, they will both emulsify on contact with the starchy water, creating a smooth sauce.

How do I make sure my carbonara doesn't scramble? ›

Using a large mixing bowl and setting it over the boiling pasta water to create a makeshift double boiler helps prevent you from accidentally scrambling the eggs.

How does Gordon Ramsay make carbonara sauce? ›

Gordon Ramsay Carbonara Recipe - TheFoodXP
  1. Meat. • 80 g Streaky bacon.
  2. Produce. • 2 cloves Garlic. • 2 Mushrooms. ...
  3. Refrigerated. • 2 Egg yolks.
  4. Canned Goods. • 1 Chili.
  5. Pasta & Grains. • 125 g Spaghetti, Dried.
  6. Baking & Spices. • 1 Salt and black pepper.
  7. Oils & Vinegars. • 1 tbsp Olive oil.
  8. Dairy. • 1 1/2 tbsp Creme fraiche.

How do you make carbonara sauce not curdle? ›

Add a few ladles of pasta water and stir until the mixture begins to resemble a sauce. Take another ladle of the pasta water and add it to the egg bowl, whisking it all together. THIS MAKES IT POSSIBLE FOR YOU TO COOK THE EGG WITHOUT SCRAMBLING IT.

Why is my carbonara not creamy enough? ›

For an extra creamy sauce, it's best to use mostly egg yolks. The egg whites tend to make carbonara watery, but too many egg yolks can make the sauce too custardy. The solution? Five egg yolks and one whole egg.

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