Spaghetti Carbonara was one of the first meals I made where I diverged from my mother’s recipe. Growing up, my mom would make a delicious Spaghetti Carbonara full of crispy bacon bits and sautéed onions covered in a creamy sauce. It was not until college that I realized that though bacon is passable, an authentic Spaghetti Carbonara recipe never includes onions and the creaminess does not come from some generous pours of heavy cream.
I’ve been making Spaghetti Carbonara for a while now, but it was not until recently that Luke and I neared perfection on this recipe (neither of us being at all Italian, I don’t think we can ever claim full perfection). Our current version come mostly from Cal Peternell’s 12 Recipes, though we’ve mixed in some notes from Marcella Hazan as well. It is an unpretentious pasta in terms of ingredients, you’ll see the list below is nice and short, but it definitely requires attentive cooking. Moving quickly is critical. Don’t let your pasta sit out in the cold while you cook your guanciale. Incorporating the pasta water can be precarious, but when done correctly you will end up with a luscious, creamy sauce. Luke and I stand over our stovetop, one of us vigorously stirring and shaking the pasta, the other adding pasta water, one pour at a time, until the sauce is just right. It’s a bit obsessive, but a very worthy labor of love. The result is a pasta dinner that feels authentically Italian.
One more note – guanciale can be tough to find (we visit Di Bruno Bros. in Philadelphia, Eataly in New York). Pancetta is certainly fine, many Spaghetti Carbonara recipes don’t even list guanciale in their ingredients. But, if you do have a convenient Italian foods shop near you get guanciale! You can taste a difference and it is delicious.
- 1/2 pound guanciale or pancetta (good thick bacon will also work)
- 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano*
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan*
- freshly ground black pepper
- chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)
- 1 lb spaghetti
*you can also just use parmesan cheese instead of 2 types of cheese
- Fill a large pot with water, salt generously and bring to a boil. Before adding the pasta, make sure all your ingredients are prepped.
- In a small bowl, mix the eggs, cheese, dash of salt, and a grind or two of pepper. Cut the guanciale into cubes, about 1/2 inch inch wide.
- By this time, your water should be boiling. Before adding your pasta, warm a skillet over medium-low heat, add the olive oil and the guanciale. Now, add your pasta, making sure to stir as it cooks.
- Cook your guanciale until the fat renders and the pieces begin to crisp at the edges, less than 5 minutes. Turn off heat. If there’s a lot of extra fat in the pan, some can be discarded, but leave 3 TBS or so.
- By now your pasta should be finished or nearly finished. When the pasta is finished, reserve 1 cup of pasta water and drain. Move quickly. Add the pasta to the skillet and stir to coat in the pork fat. Then add about 1/4 cup pasta water (to start) and the egg mixture and mix vigorously. Continue to add more pasta water – don’t be afraid to add up to 3/4 cup. This will ensure a smooth sauce.
- Finish with a few cracks of ground pepper and a sprinkling of parsley. Serve with extra cheese.
Details: Serves 4-6, best eaten right away. Refrigerator pasta the next day is never as good as fresh, warm plate.