Pasta carbonara is an indulgent yet surprisingly simple recipe. Made with pancetta (or bacon) and plenty of Parmesan, this recipe takes only 30 minutes to prepare from start to finish!
What is Carbonara, Really?
Carbonara is one of Rome’s four classic pastas (cacio e pepe, amatriciana, and gricia are the others). There are a slew of theories about its possible origins, including:
It was invented by Italian carbonari (charcoal workers) who prepared the dish on their shovels over a fire.
The name refers to the ground black pepper in the dish that resembles flecks of coal (carbone means charcoal in Italian).
It was a marrying of traditions between American soldiers in Italy during World War II and their bacon and egg rations with the local pasta dishes.
What distinguishes carbonara from other pasta dishes is its technique of combining eggs, hard cheese, cured pork, and black pepper into a rich, silky sauce.
This recipe calls for raw eggs that are gently cooked by the hot sauce. If you prefer, you can use pasteurized eggs instead.
Tips to making the best pasta carbonara
The beauty of this dish is in its simplicity, yet it can take a little practice to get it just right.
Prepare ahead: Since this dish comes together so quickly, and timing is crucial, be sure to have all of your ingredients and equipment ready to go from the start.
Temper the eggs: Working quickly after draining the pasta is paramount to having success. To streamline things, have the beaten eggs at the ready in a bowl, and quickly whisk in a few tablespoons of reserved hot pasta cooking water to temper them. This makes them less likely to curdle once you toss them with the cooked pasta. Then toss the pasta with the tempered eggs in the still-warm cooking pot, which will help the mixture stay warm enough to melt the cheese.
Use high-quality cheese: Set down the processed cheese shaker! For this dish, it’s key to use real, high-quality Parmesan cheese. Trust us, this recipe is worth it. If you’re going to indulge, why not do it right?
How to Make Pasta Carbonara
- PREP TIME- 10 mins
- COOK TIME- 20 mins
- TOTAL TIME- 30 mins
- SERVINGS- 4 to 6 servings
Note: This recipe uses raw eggs, which are essentially cooked by tossing with hot pasta. They are not cooked to the point of scrambled though, just enough to thicken the eggs into a sauce.
The garlic is optional. It is not usually included in pasta carbonara, but it tastes great so we’ve included it. By the way, “guanciale”, or pork jowl, is traditionally used in this dish, so if you can get it, by all means use it.
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or unsalted butter
- 1/2 pound pancetta or thick cut bacon, diced
- 1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced, about 1 teaspoon (optional)
- 3 to 4 whole eggs
- 1 cup grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese
- 1 pound spaghetti (or bucatini or fettuccine)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Heat the pasta water:
Put a large pot of salted water on to boil (1 tablespoon salt for every 2 quarts of water.)
- Sauté the pancetta or bacon and garlic:
While the water is coming to a boil, heat the olive oil or butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the bacon or pancetta and cook slowly until crispy.
Add the garlic (if using) and cook another minute, then turn off the heat and put the pancetta and garlic into a large bowl.
- Beat the eggs and half of the cheese:
In a small bowl, beat the eggs and mix in about half of the cheese.
- Cook the pasta:
Once the water has reached a rolling boil, add the dry pasta, and cook, uncovered, at a rolling boil.
- Toss the pasta with pancetta or bacon:
When the pasta is al dente (still a little firm, not mushy), use tongs to move it to the bowl with the bacon and garlic. Let it be dripping wet. Reserve some of the pasta water.
Move the pasta from the pot to the bowl quickly, as you want the pasta to be hot. It’s the heat of the pasta that will heat the eggs sufficiently to create a creamy sauce.
Toss everything to combine, allowing the pasta to cool just enough so that it doesn’t make the eggs curdle when you mix them in. (That’s the tricky part.)
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