entertaining by 40

in the kitchen with: your best spaghetti alla carbonara recipe


There are tons of dishes I have learned to make well over the years.  I’ll never ever win a Masterchef competition, but I am pretty good at following a recipe and producing a desirable outcome.  When at first I don’t succeed, I try and try til I get it right.  Remember those rum babas by Clotilde Dusoulier we featured on this column?  It took me seven tries to produce what you saw in the images.  Andi Kovel’s Puffer Cake?  Four tries.  Kate Flaim’s absorption pasta?  Three tries.   I really like to test the recipes we publish to make sure that we can help you troubleshoot if you have questions, and to make sure that an average-skilled home cook (like me) can obtain great results.  And here we are this week with another recipe.  One that I was taught to make when I was in graduate school, and it seemed so easy…  Yet, it is something I’ve never perfected:  spaghetti alla carbonara.  I do not believe there is a definitive recipe for this classic Roman pasta dish, however there are definitive ingredients…almost.  I think we can all agree on eggs (but how many whole eggs, how many yolks?), freshly ground black pepper, and pasta (but what shape?)…  And then it goes either hog jowl or pancetta, and either all Pecorino Romano cheese or a mix of Parmesan and Pecorino (but Parmesan isn’t Roman, so if we are to make an educated guess about the historical origin of the dish…we have to opt for all Pecorino Romano)   No onion, no cream, no peas, and even if a Roman once told me to put garlic in there…  please, no garlic. Well…  you see where this is going.

This week, I had my husband stick his nose into the kitchen and tell me what he thought of the consistency of what I’d made.  Sometimes you get a carbonara in a restaurant and it’s very chunky and cheesy, sometimes it’s quite sleek…  We opted for the sleek for our Easter lunch, with a bottle of Barbera d’Asti from the Bloody Gary cocktail on Behind the Bar today.   But Instead of featuring a recipe by one person, I’m throwing the doors open to everyone who has a carbonara recipe to let us know, starting first and foremost with your foolproof technique, because I know for sure that mine is neither classic nor perfect!  Do you use only yolks?  Do you allow pancetta?  Of course there are options using zucchine, and other vegetables or meats in place of the pancetta/jowl, but today let’s just talk about the classic recipe– and what proportions and technique you use to make the best version ever!  Or tell us where the best one was you ever ate.  -Kristina

Tell us how you like your carbonara after the jump!

 

Kristina’s Fifth Attempt at Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

Serves 4 people

  • 3 thick slices of pancetta or hog jowl, cut in cubes or strips, as you prefer
  • 2 whole eggs, 1 yolk
  • 1+1/4 cup of grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Fresh black pepper, to taste
  • 350g (3/4 pound) spaghetti

 

While the pasta cooks, fry the pancetta to desired crispness and set aside. ( I prefer larger chewy cubes but hubs prefers smaller crispy cubes. ) Grate the cheese into a large bowl.  Crack your eggs, separating the yolk from the third egg and pour them into the bowl with the grated cheese and whisk together until it forms a paste. (This is the biggest chance for a pitfall– risk of adding too much liquid!)

When the pasta is done, drain it quickly and put it, using tongs or a fork, into the bowl where you have the egg and cheese paste. Toss thoroughly until all the pasta is coated well.  Toss some more, adding the pancetta, and black pepper.  Serve with a bit more cheese grated over the top.

Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t!  This time, it worked out for me!

Why I love this recipe

I eat spaghetti alla carbonara once a year, when I want to splurge.  It is Rome on a plate to me, more than any other dish.  The version in the picture doesn’t seem to be very eggy or cheesy, but it was just right for us, and did not leave too much egg on the plate.

 

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40 Comments

Sincerely Sammie

Ummm…this looks DELICIOUS! I LOVE pasta so I’ll definitely have to give this recipe a try. Have a wonderful weekend!

E E Faris

My son keeps a high sided cast iron skillet in a very low heat oven. When it’s time to combine the eggs and the pasta he does it in this even, low heat pan. It helps the egg cook and blend with being scrambled.

Maria

This is my favorite recipe for spaghetti alla carbonara. I actually prefer to use angel hair but mainly because I don’t like the thickness of spaghetti…probably some major faux pas but whatever. I really like the creaminess that the milk and cream bring to it.

1 large onion, cut into thin strips (half moons)
1/2 pound bacon, cut into 1/4in pcs
1 clove garlic pressed
1 (16 ounce) package angel hair pasta
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup 2% or Skim milk
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cream, milk and shredded Parmesan and set aside at room temperature.

Heat large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in bacon, and cook until bacon is evenly browned. Remove bacon with slotted spoon and set aside. You need ~ 1 tablespoon bacon fat. Depending on how much fat is rendered, either keep in pan or pour off and measure out 1 tablespoon.

Over medium heat, stir in onion and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and slightly browned. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain pasta, then return it to the pot.

Pour the bacon and onions over the pasta, then stir in the cream mixture. The mixture will thicken up as it cools, so make it a tad looser than you’d like. Season with salt and pepper.

Christine

I have a very unauthentic recipe, but it works well for me. Also I do most of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s so the ingredients are mostly from there.

Half a bag of trader joe’s penne pasta
Half a package of trader joe’s sweet hot chicken sausage
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup skim milk
2 handfulls trader joe’s quatro fromagio shredded cheese
1 bunch fresh italian parsley
pinch of red pepper flakes, dried oregano, dried basil, dried thyme
salt & pepper

While pasta is cooking, take chicken sausage out of casings and cook, breaking into pieces. Whisk egg yolks with milk, 1 handful of cheese, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and other dried herbs. When pasta is just about cooked, add one ladle full of hot pasta water to the egg/milk/cheese mixture to temper it and whisk. Add cooked pasta to sausage and turn heat to very low. Pour egg/milk/cheese mixture to pasta and sausage, stir constantly until thickened. Add another handful of cheese and stir until melted. Add chopped italian parsley and serve immediately.

Sarah O

When I was working at Los Alamos National Lab one summer, my office-mate, who was an Italian, offered to come over and cook spaghetti carbonara. When he arrived he said “well, I couldn’t find ham, so I got hot dogs. And I couldn’t find heavy cream, so I got ranch dressing.” He proceeded to cook up the pasta, then throw in the uncooked hotdogs (chopped up a bit) and poured on the ranch dressing. It was the most repulsive thing I’ve eaten (and I’ve eaten worms…), but he thought it was great. Italian mama’s boys…

Have never been able to bring myself to even thinking about eating carbonara since.

Nicole

I make a southwest version of Carbonara:

Choriso, pan fried and sliced
Queso Fresco
Cilantro
3 eggs
1-2 Tbl Half and Half
Salt Pepper
Pasta (I prefer Orecchiette or Penne for this)

Pan fry and slice choriso, crumble queso fresco, roughly chop cilantro and set aside. Boil noodles as directed. As the noodles are cooking combine eggs, half and half, salt and pepper. When the noodles are done, drain and return to the pan. Wait one minute to allow to cool, then quickly stir in the egg mixture. Then stir in the queso, choriso, and part of the cilantro. Serve and garnish with the rest of the cilantro.

Stephen K.

I admire your pursuit of the original components but I for one am mainly interested in the taste. I’ll have to test out a few recipes. Thanks for the inspiration.

Claire M

I’ve made carbonara since I was a teenager and refined my recipe along the way. Now I use guanciale if I can get it, always farm eggs (one whole, two yolks), LOTS of black pepper, definitely garlic, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Most importantly: al dente pasta. After a spring trip the the farmers market we added snow peas and a freshly shaved truffle – surprisingly wonderful.

lakshmi

Has D*S ever done a vegetarian series? I know we veggies can just subtract the meat and so on, but it throws off the balance of the recipe. I’m sure lots of readers are vegetarians. The great thing about vegetarian food is that omnivores can partake equally!

Desiree

My two secrets- pan fry the pancetta low and slow as one piece then crumble into bits. Reserve the pancetta fat and fry one egg per portion sunny side up in fat. Top bowl of pasta with egg! Unbelievable.

Kaitlin Lord

thinly sliced kale and red pepper flakes add earthy + spicy elements!

Laura

This is my humble opinion as Italian here…..Carbonara can’t be called carbonara without pancetta, and something with zucchini can’t be called carbonara, but something else. There is a reason sauces are given a name, like puttanesca, arrabbiata, and so on. The name derives from carbone, coal, because the recipe calls for a lot of freshly grated black pepper. No garlic nor cream please!

My slightly modified version….I sometimes sautee an onion, add the cooked pancetta without its fat. I have also used some white wine before adding the pancetta to the pan. I only use parmesan as the pecorino romano I find in the US is not really good. I only use eggs, not yolks.

Buon Appetito!

Altair

This recipe is perfect! Cabonara should NOT have cream or any version of cream in it, so it’s nice to see a true, classic recipe. I learned it doing the parmesan and egg separately, but I like the idea of combining it. Will need to try this! Also considering making this with D’artagnan duck bacon… Not classic, but could be delicious!

Fiona

While I am sure all my most memorable restaurant carbonaras were memorable for their creaminess – at home I prefer not to keep that ingredient close to hand. My favorite recipe ((seemingly similar in proportion to yours) is Nigella Lawson’s from How to Cook (the chapter “cooking for one”). She adds vermouth or white wine. My biggest mistake making carbonara at home is thinking I can use up any bacon in the fridge – it needs a really good quality pancetta to be memorable right.

Katy

Oh I hate it when it arrives laden with cream! There was a BBC Good Food magazine writer did a series of ‘The Best’ recipes where she thoroughly researched the origins of some of the nation’s favourite dishes, and then published the ‘best of’ recipe from all she had gleaned. The inclusion of garlic turned into a bit of a cat fight between a few Italian mamas that she interviewed, but here’s what she came up with (it flirts with the garlic!) and as I recall, it passed muster with the Italian mamas she served it up to!

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1052/ultimate-spaghetti-carbonara

Anong

When I was going to artschool in Santa Fe NM (IAIA represent!!) my husband and I were 21 and hungry! We took hot boiled noodles added butter and cracked two or three eggs into the pot, a mad scramble, and some green chile….magic!

Liesl Morris

When I’m lazy, I just use 2 whole eggs. Ideally, I add an extra yolk. Mixing the cheese with the eggs is essential, and it’s Pecorino Romano all the way. Lots of pepper, usually peas in addition to pancetta (or just plain old bacon on a weeknight). I add squash blossoms to garnish when I’m feeling fancy. They remind me of Rome.

Aveen

The way I make it is very similar to your method, although I tend to use one whole egg and two yolks. I will use a decent smoked bacon if I haven’t got any pancetta, and grana padano or pecorino if I have no parmesan (although this is rare, we always have parmesan). I hate hate hate when people throw in peas or mushrooms or other stuff, and am a firm believer that carbonara does not have cream.

Rong

That is a legendary vintage fork. The food looks amazing, but that fork is just stunning.

valeria

how many eggs? one for two people. no yolks! and pepper…a lot of pepper…
Saluti dall’Italia!

Christina

My TnT Cabonara recipe: (per person)
Fry 50g panchetta or bacon cut into cubes in a bit of olive oil, when crispy, pour a sloush of white wine over them and let it reduce to half.
In a bowl mix 1 egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of freshly grinded parmesan (and perhaps a bit of parsley), freshly grinded pepper and salt. I use a fork for that. The consistency should be pasty.
Meanwhile cook 125g spaghetti.
Add the hot spaghetti to the bowl and mix it all thoroughly. Add the bacon mixture. Yummi!

Saskia

Yours looks fabulous! We love our carbonara too, although it’s most definitely not one for purists. It works perfectly every time. I almost always have ½ a tub of light cream in the freezer (bizarrely almost every recipe I make calls for ½ a tub)! I do feel that a small amount of cream makes the carbonara less dry and scrambled-egg like. My recipe is at the very bottom of this post: http://wp.me/p22sK1-bo

LB

I use the method/recipe you have here, more or less–though with two modifications. One, my italian mother in law taught me that part of what makes carbonara silky is the starch from the pasta water. One trick is to use less cooking water when you boil the pasta to concentrate the starches, and then to use a splash of this water to thin the sauce and help it coat everything. It helps the eggs cook but also keeps them silky and loose instead of all clumpy. Two, it’s not traditional, but when I’m frying the pancetta, I like to throw in a few sprigs of rosemary, just for the oils. You can toss these before the final plated version, but it adds a little flavor that I love. Also, I usually warm up the bowl I’m going to mix/serve everything in with boiling water while I’m cooking everything else. Discard the water, add the pancetta, the pasta, then the cheese/egg mix and stir all at the last minute, and the warm bowl keeps things at the right temperature.

Lisa

I second what LB said – the key is adding the pasta water… I will also try her suggestion of rosemary sprig flavoring I can already imagine the flavour.

Joerg Niemann

I wonder why no one uses sour cream? Isn’t that Carbonara anymore? For me it is and I love it. Sour cream and spaghetti seasoned with salt and lots of pepper.

Ally

1 lb spaghetti with salt added to water right when it starts boiling, not before. 3-4 eggs mixed with a cup of
parm/romano cheese. Add some reserved pasta water to the skillet the pancetta was cooked it then add pasta to coat and cook off excess liquid then off of heat add egg mixture and stir to coat adding more pasta water is starts to thicken. After, season with a hearty amount of pepper. I made it this way with mushrooms substituted for pancetta for veg friends too. I think the trick is mixing everything up in the skillet with the excess fat/juice adding more flavor.

pia

If you love the sour cream in the carbonara, godd for you.
But it’s not a carbonara anymore ;-)

Original Carbonara = pasta +[bacon + (eggs + parmigiano reggiano cheese + pepper powder)].
No onion. No garlic.

source = i’m italian!

Veggie carbonara (not a carbonara anyway (-;): you can replace bacon with fried aubergines, or mushrooms, or even fried sliced red and yellow peppers

E buon appetito!

Gaia

To avoid the frittata-like result in your carbonara, make sure to add some cold water or white wine in the egg/pecorino mix! it always works :)

Mari @ Oh, Sweet & Savory

I *love* carbonara. Thanks for sharing the recipe, and thanks to the readers for their great tips! I agree with some of the other commenters — adding the pasta water is a key step. Can’t wait to try this recipe!

Soledad

Yesterday my husband and I went to a very good Italian restaurant, and he had the carbonara. It was great. Since it was brunch, they served it with a pouched egg – we thought it was genius!

BUT (yes, this is a huge but) it had cream in it!! Why, oh why would you do that? And it wasn’t even announced on the menu. If I had been the one having that plate, I would’ve had to return it, because cream kills me.

Now, I want to go back and ask for the same plate, without the cream. I’m sure it will be delicious, and hopefully the chef will give it a second thought…

Jenny

Ruth Reichel’s carbonara that she published in Garlic and Sapphires is my number one. And such a fast, easy meal when you’re in a rush.

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