Spaghetti or pasta Carbonara is the ultimate fast and simple Italian pasta and one of the most famous Roman pasta dishes. Did you know that it can be made in less than 15 minutes with only four ingredients? The key to this amazing carbonara pasta is an ingenious tip with the eggs that will ensure that your creamy sauce always comes together perfectly!
Carbonara is part of Cucina Romana or Roman Cuisine and there are many stories about where it originates from, from that it was invented at a restaurant called La Carbonara in the Campo d’Fiori in Rome to the black pepper resembling coal flecks (Carbonara means "coal miner's style"). What we do know is that the term Pasta alla Carbonara started appearing in the 1940's and 1950's.
However it is highly likely that it was invented before this time. There are many pasta dishes that involve eggs, cheese with guanciale. For example Pasta alla Gricia, another Roman pasta dish is made with cheese and guanciale while Carbonara is the richer cousin of this adding eggs.
This dish goes to show how Italians are so clever with few ingredients. Pizza is another example of an inexpensive to make but delicious item that uses few ingredients.
I was watching my Italian chef friend Monica make Spaghetti Carbonara on her IG stories and stopped short when I saw her whipping the eggs until they became like a zabaglione and that intrigued me. Then when it came to adding the pasta to the sauce she said "Let some of the pasta water come along for the ride" and I was completely tickled by her turn of phrase and knew exactly what she meant. I knew that I had to try her version of carbonara and having had her other dishes, I knew it would be damn perfect.
Pasta Carbonara is an easy pasta with just 4 ingredients: eggs, pecorino cheese, pasta and guanciale.
What is Guanciale? pronounced "WAHN-chall-eh" it is a cousin to bacon or pancetta that comes from the central Italian regions of Lazio and Umbria. The name comes from the Italian word "guancia" for cheek. Guanciale is made using the pork jowl or cheek that is cured for up to three months. For comparison, bacon and pancetta are made using pork belly (the difference between those two is that bacon is smoked while pancetta is dry salt cured).
You can find guanciale at Italian specialty stores in predominantly Italian areas or Salumi Australia delivers within Metropolitan Sydney for a flat rate of $25. To cut the guanciale, use the sharpest knife you have. It can be hard to cut as there is a lot of fat so don't rush it and take your time to slice it carefully.
Don't be afraid of fat with this recipe-it's rich. I know people that won't eat fat and trim the fat off bacon. This dish is not for them. Make this tomato based caprese pasta; frugal fish bone pasta; Spicy Pasta Puttanesca or this wonderful One Pot Pasta instead if you want a lower fat pasta.
Can't find guanciale? In a pinch, you can use pancetta, bacon or even speck, the latter two are smoked however which will give additional flavour to your pasta.
Is There Cream in Carbonara? No. This is a creamy sauce but no cream is used. You get the creamy sauce from egg yolks that cook when the hot pasta is added. As Monica says, the key is to emulsify the egg yolks so that they wouldn't be slimy. I promise that you won't need to add cream. Don't use cream. You don't need it, trust me. Plus it dilutes the flavour.
Will the eggs cook? While the eggs partially cook in a carbonara sauce they don't cook completely (otherwise they'd be scrambled) and are undercooked but not raw so please use fresh eggs only.
Other pastas: use any long pasta. As you can see I used a bucatini because the last time I went to the supermarket they only had gluten free spaghetti!
Pecorino vs parmesan? Pecorino is a sheep's milk cheese while parmesan (parmigiano reggiano) is a cow's milk cheese. Pecorino is tangier and saltier in flavour while Parmigiana is nuttier and is almost sweeter when aged. Pecorino is used in Rome while Parmesan is from Northern Italy although the latter has become more widespread throughout the world and is easier to find. Want to visit a Parmigiano factory? Take a look at this post where I visited a Parmigiana Reggiono factory in Parma in the Emilia Romagna region.
Don't add too much cheese. You may be tempted because cheese is amazing but keep the quantity as below and it will coat the pasta well. You can always add cheese on the final plate.
Additional Pasta Carbonara Tips: the only salt you'll need is in the pasta water. It ends up perfectly salty and seasoned with the cheese and guanciale. Also don't skip the freshly ground black pepper. It brings it all together beautifully! This dish is also best started once you have the cheese grated and the guanciale chopped. Also lastly and very importantly, make this just before you're about to eat it. The sauce absorbs into the pasta and it becomes dry if you leave it for too long.
Last weekend we went to Monica and Marco's house for dinner. Not all of my friends are ready to eat out yet which I totally understand. They are fantastic hosts and we started out dinner with potato dips with a dip of sour cream and chives and caviar. Monica quipped, "This is why I'll never be rich."
Then she made a wonderful yuzukosho ocean trout fillet with roasted sweet potatoes and salad. I made the dessert, it was a carrot cake with browned butter cream cheese frosting (recipe to come). We drank some of Marco's home made beer - it's not scary or experimental as it sounds as he's a brewer at one of Sydney's best breweries.
At the end of the evening when we were saying goodbye we accidentally hugged. It felt strange to be hugging someone other than your husband and at the same time so familiar and comforting. Sort of like this spaghetti carbonara!
So tell me Dear Reader, have you accidentally hugged someone recently? Do you like spaghetti carbonara? Do you make it with cream?
DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? Share your creations by tagging @notquitenigella on Instagram with the hashtag #notquitenigella
The BEST Spaghetti Pasta Carbonara
Rated 5.0 out of 5 by 5 readers
An recipe by Lorraine Elliott, adapted from Monica Luppi, originally from EGGS restaurant in Rome
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Serves 4 (generously)
- 500g/1.1lbs spaghetti or bucatini
- 200g/7ozs. guanciale (or pancetta or bacon), cut into small pieces (see below)
- 3 egg yolks and 2 egg (use fresh eggs)
- 100g/3.4ozs finely grated pecorino plus extra shaved cheese to serve (you can also use parmesan)
- Black pepper
Step 1 - First add guanciale cubes to a cold pan and then heat on low and cook the guanciale rendering out all the fat-it will take about 10 minutes. Place the pasta onto cook in plenty of boiling water adding a tablespoon of salt to the water. This is all the salt you will need.
Step 2 - Whisk the egg yolks and egg in a bowl with a balloon whisk until you get a foamy texture, like a zabaglione. Add the pecorino cheese in 2 or 3 lots whisking it in until it emulsifies. Add half of the fried guanciale and all of the guanciale fat to the egg yolk sauce and whisk until emulsified.
Step 3 - When the pasta is cooked, pick it up from the water with tongs "taking along some of the water along for the ride" (how much does this line delight me?). Swirl it in the sauce in the bowl until it is all well coated for a minute or so. Place on a serving plate and top each plate with extra guanciale and cheese on the side.