Think of the best Italian pasta dishes, and your mind will likely race to spaghetti alla carbonara. This comforting, not exactly light dish took centuries in the making, before landing to the recipe we know today in the mid 20th century.
Although most will tell you that making a good carbonara sauce is easy, this isn’t necessarily the case – as with many other Italian recipes that only call for a few ingredients, you really need to master them to achieve perfection. To date, many – even in Italy – still get spaghetti alla carbonara completely wrong – adding unnecessary ingredients or overcooking the eggs.
Lucky for you, I have the best recipe for spaghetti alla carbonara. It may take you a few tries to reach perfection, but follow it religiously and you should achieve a good dish even on your first try!
How To Make Spaghetti Alla Carbonara
- 0.7 pound (320 grams) spaghetti
- 8 egg yolks
- 5 oz (150 grams) guanciale in one piece
- 2 cups (160 grams) grated pecorino romano cheese
- Black pepper
- Salt to boil the pasta
STEP 1 - PREPARE THE GUANCIALE
- Remove the pork rind from the guanciale, then cut it into slices about 1/4-inch (1 cm) thick and small cubes about 1/8-inch (1/2 cm) wide.
STEP 2 - GRATE THE CHEESE
- Grate the pecorino romano cheese in a separate bowl and set aside.
STEP 3 - SEPARATE THE EGGS
- Separate the egg yolks from the whites and set them aside.
- STEP 5 - COOK THE GUANCIALE
- Start boiling water for the pasta and add salt.
- In a large pan or skillet, add the guanciale cubes and let it brown on low heat for about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the fat melts.
STEP 6 - SEPARATE THE GUANCIALE FROM THE FAT
- Once the fat has melted, take out the guanciale and place it in a dish. Leave the fat aside.
STEP 7 - START COOKING THE PASTA
- Once the water boils, throw in the spaghetti, softly pushing them down with a fork. Stir occasionally.
STEP 8 - WHISK THE EGGS
- Whisk the egg yolks and add the grated pecorino, leaving some aside for decoration.
STEP 9 - ADD GUANCIALE FAT AND PEPPER TO THE EGG MIXTURE
- Add two spoons of the melted guanciale fat and some black pepper to the egg and cheese mixture and continue stirring.
STEP 10 - DRAIN THE PASTA AL DENTE
- Drain the spaghetti when al dente, keeping some water aside.
- Put the spaghetti on a large saucepan with the remaining fat and stir, adding some cooking water if needed.
- Set the pan aside on a cold surface and let it rest for one minute, then add the egg mixture, stirring quickly and vigorously.
- Place the pasta with the egg mixture on a dish, sprinkling more grated pecorino cheese, black pepper and finally adding the crispy guanciale.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 590Total Fat: 42gSaturated Fat: 18gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 21.4gCholesterol: 439mgSodium: 1895mgCarbohydrates: 27gFiber: 1.1gSugar: 1.8gProtein: 24g
Spaghetti Alla Carbonara Q&A
Can I use other kinds of pasta?
You sure can! Spaghetti is the preferred shape of pasta we typically use for a carbonara, but you can definitely opt for other shapes. I particularly recommend rigatoni.
Can I use bacon instead of guanciale?
Purists like myself will tell you not to do that. Guanciale and pancetta have different flavors – peppery and fatty the first; sweeter and milder the second. This means that the end result will be very different if you actually use pancetta. Having said so, there are some people here in Italy who, in spite of traditions, prefer opting for the milder taste of pancetta.
Can I add onions / garlic?
Absolutely not. The very distinctive taste of spaghetti alla carbonara is given by the perfect combination of a few, simple ingredients: guanciale, pecorino and egg yolk. The strong flavor or onions or – worse – garlic would completely change and in fact, ruin the taste.
I ran out of Pecorino. Can I use Parmigiano?
You shouldn’t. If you ran out of pecorino, perhaps you can quickly run to the store or simply prepare spaghetti alla carbonara some other time, when you have all the necessary ingredients. You see, the dish was invented in the region of Lazio, where the local cheese has always been pecorino romano – which tastes very different from parmigiano!
Can I use cream for the sauce?
Once again, this is a no-no. The secret for a creamy sauce is not in adding cream, butter or other ingredients, but in mixing the eggs at just the right temperature so that they don’t “cook.” For the same reason, never actually put the eggs on a direct heat source!!
Should I not use whole eggs?
The real spaghetti alla carbonara only call for egg yolk. You will have to separate the eggs for this recipe, and use the egg whites for another recipe.
Should I pasteurize the eggs?
There is no need – eggs will slightly cook and get pasteurized with the heat of the pasta as soon as you throw them in. But if you really want to be extra safe, this video here explains you how to pasteurize eggs. Remember you have to do in the same day you make your carbonara!
Can I add chili?
Carbonara only calls for freshly ground black pepper. There’s no need to add chili or anything else to make it spicy as it’s already full of flavor.
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