Learn how to make a traditional Spaghetti alla Carbonara. This authentic recipe is ready in less than 20 minutes and is made with 5 simple ingredients. This luxurious and creamy dish is made pasta, guanciale, eggs, Pecorino Romano, and freshly ground black pepper.
Silky spaghetti, crispy guanciale, in a creamy and cheesy sauce...do I have your attention now? Are you looking for a decadent dish to impress your family or friends? This is the pasta recipe of your dreams! Every bite is salty, smooth, luxurious, and super flavorful!
Once you learn how easy it is to make an authentic carbonara, you'll be making it all the time! I have friends and family in Italy that make this on the regular. And I mean, at least once once a week.
Carbonara is a “poor man’s pasta”. But when you make it with delicious guanciale (or pancetta-maybe even homemade pancetta)-you have something so rich and full of flavors. It’s a tricky dish to make because it could be too wet and runny or too dry. You want the texture to be creamy and not too saucy.
Why you'll love this traditional carbonara ?
- Takes less than 10 minutes to prep
- It is very flavorful
- Made with just a few ingredients, it comes together quickly, making it an ideal weeknight meal.
- The addition of bacon gives this dish an extra boost of smoky flavor a
- the Parmesan cheese adds a salty richness that will make your taste buds sing.
- The egg in this dish gives it a creamy texture that will keep you coming back for more.
The first thing you may be wondering:
Are eggs raw in carbonara?
The eggs are not raw in this dish. They cook as soon as they come into contact with the hot spaghetti. Once you stir the spaghetti and egg yolks together, they cook some more.
You want to achieve a creamy and not too thick sauce. It may take a few times practicing until you reach it’s luscious pasta perfection. You will be happy to keep practicing.
I learned tricks with my Italian husband and mother-in-law in Italy. Even my nephew in Italy has become the carbonara expert (and he was 15!). But I will tell you this: every Italian I know makes it slightly different.
Like nonna (my mom) says: Everyone has their carbonara method. And, it's true!
Can I use whole eggs in carbonara?
Some people use only egg yolks. Some people use whole eggs. I make my carbonara with only egg yolks. Jamie Oliver's recipe uses whole eggs. My best friend in Italy uses whole eggs.
The problem with also using the egg whites is that it could make the sauce curdle. You're using the starchy pasta water, so that is in essence replacing the egg whites.
How does an Italian nonna make carbonara?
Now try to get any recipe from my suocera...I challenge you to try! I do know that she does use cream in her egg yolk mixture. That may be her secret to the creamiest carbonara.
My mother-in-law Teresa’s house in Italy is full of food surprises. She has a cantina and a work room where she makes all her salame, pancetta, capicolla, and other cured meats when the months are cooler.
She has a professional slicer from the brand Lario. It's actually a professioinal brand and makes the most perfect slices of all her meats. Teresa not only cures meats, makes sausages, she also makes cheese in this cantina. I know, it's a magical place!
What are the origins of pasta carbonara?
Pasta Carbonara has origins in Rome, in the region of Lazio, Italy. Here are some theories on the origins of this iconic pasta dish.
- Some say Pasta Carbonara is named after the humble "carbonai", or charcoal burners. They would spend months working deep in the Apennines and would have to prep a meal over a fire. Carbone also means charcoal, which could be reference to the ground black pepper that gets served with the pasta.
- There is also the theory that carbonara came about with a American soldier's rations. The story goes that in 1944, the American soldiers were tired of their rations and brought their powdered eggs, bacon, and liquid cream to Roman cooks. Pasta carbonara is what this legend says came out of the soldier's. rations.
- But the earliest origin of the recipe goes back to 1839. The carbonara appears in in Ippolito Cavalcanti’s Neapolitan cookbook as "Pasta Cacio e Uova", which is literally pasta carbonara that we know if today.
What ingredients are in a carbonara sauce?
Made with just a handful of ingredients. The better the ingredients, the more delicious your pasta will be. It is a simple recipe, so splurge on the cheese. Here is all you'll need for this incredible pasta recipe:
- Pecorino Romano cheese- Invest in a really great quality, aged Pecorino Romano. I do not recommend subbing with any thing called "parmesan", as that is not even a real Parmigiano-Reggiano.
- Eggs: Find the best quality eggs. There are so many brands now that even have the most yellow yolks like those that I can find in Italy. Those eggs cost a bit more, but the sauce will have an even more creamy texture will be even using the best eggs.
- Pepper: Fresh coarsely ground pepper has a richer flavor than pre-ground pepper. You will notice a big flavor difference. Adjust the amount of grinds to your taste.
- Salt: I use coarse sea salt to salt the pasta water. Kosher salt works, as well. The guanciale (or pancetta) + the cheese is salty. So you shouldn't have to add salt to the sauce.
- Cream – Optional. Traditional carbonara does not use any cream. You could add a bit of milk, or half and half, or omit it all together. My Italian mother-in-law does use a touch of cream. I use it sometimes. And sometimes I just add a bit more pasta water. It's up to you!
The golden rule to making any sort of pasta dish is to make sure you cook the pasta to al dente (to the tooth). So it cooks up a little firm to the bite. Mushy overcooked pasta is a no-no.
No, there is no need to worry that your spaghetti carbonara will taste too much like eggs. Since there is the crispy pancetta and the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, it will taste rich, savory, and salty (not too salty).
Typically guanciale is used in Italy to make carbonara. Also, pancetta or pancetta affumicata. In the States, bacon is used as a substitute.
What pasta is the best pasta for carbonara?
The best pasta for carbonara should be a long pasta and I do not mean a long thin pasta (no angel hair pasta for this recipe!).
These are some pastas types that you could use for carbonara:
- Spaghetti: That's what I used for the recipe today. It's easy to find in most markets and holds up to the rich carbonara sauce.
- Bucatini: Long like spaghetti, yet a bit thicker, which makes it a bit more chewy. I sometimes can find bucatini and will make the carbonara with that. If you can find it, use it!
- Spaghetti alla chitarra: An egg pasta from Abruzzo, Italy. You may see it called maccheroni alla chitarra. It is 2–3 mm thick.
- Ciriole: For an even thicker version of the chitarra, Is the thicker version of chitarra, approximately double the thickness of spaghetti.
How To Make Creamy Carbonara
Once you gather up all your ingredients, get going on making this delicious pasta:
- Prepare the pasta: Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water. Cook the pasta until it's al dente (follow the pasta package directions for the correct time).
- Crisp the pancetta: Meanwhile, crisp up the pancetta (or guanciale). Add the pancetta to a large skillet and saute over medium-low heat until brown and crispy. When it's ready, turn off the heat and move the skillet to another burner (do not drain that yummy fat).
- Make the sauce: While you're cooking the guanciale (or pancetta), make the sauce. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, pecorino (or Parmigiano-Reggiano). When it is combined, it is ready.
- Finish the carbonara: Drain the pasta (reserving 1 cup of the starchy pasta water). Add the pasta immediately to the skillet with the guanciale (or pancetta). Start stirring, adding the pasta water a little at a time. Keep stirring and tossing, adding pasta water until it's nice and creamy. Once you've eached a silky sauce, it is ready. Keep loosening the pasta with splashes of the starchy pasta water until you have a silky sauce. Most important is to make sure the skillet isn't too hot (or you'll get scrambled eggs!). Serve hot (and with more cheese, if you want)!
Guanciale, pancetta, or bacon in a carbonara?
Let's go over which pork is best for an authentic carbonara. It's not easy to find guanciale and it's totally fine to substitute it with thick-cut bacon or pancetta.
- Guanciale: this is an Italian cured pork cheek (which makes it a type of bacon). It is the ideal and most authentic choice for your carbonara. It is super fatty, full of flavor, and salty. Also, the flavorings used to cure guanciale make the sauce even more flavorful. I have had my suocera's (mother-in-law in Italy) homemade guanciale (in Italy) so many times for a carbonara, that I'm a little spoiled.
- Pancetta: since it's salt-cured, it will have a more pronounced pork flavor than bacon. It tends to be less crispy than guanciale. But it's not a problem if that's all you can get to make the carbonara. Try to find the pancetta that is already diced up. Be sure NOT to buy thin slices of pancetta. Buy a chunk if you can't find it already diced up.
- Bacon: Thick cut American bacon will stay crispy when you cook it up. It has a sweet and smoky flavor. Not the same as guanciale or pancetta, but it could be a good substitute.
Do I completely drain the pasta?
I have seen so many carbonara recipes online. Jamie Oliver (who makes incredible Italian food), does say to take the pasta out of the water with thongs and add it to the skillet.
That is too fussy of a step for me! I'm always rushing when I'm making pasta for my hungry people. I prefer to remove some of the pasta water (right before the pasta is al dente)and add it to a measuring cup (or a glass bowl).
Then I drain the pasta in the colander and keep the pasta a little wet with the pasta water and add it right to the skillet.
With other pasta recipes, I would drain and shake it in the colander. For this recipe, leaving the pasta drained slightly wet only helps to make your sauce even more creamy. The starchy pasta water is your best friend in a carbonara recipe.
How to stop eggs from scrambling in a carbonara?
In order to stop the eggs from scrambling, you have to take the skillet off of the heat a couple minutes before you add the pasta.
If the skillet is on a hot burner, the eggs will start to scramble.
Also, you need to keep combining the pasta with the egg mixture and the starchy pasta water.
You'll end up with a lovely and creamy sauce as the eggs cook with the residual heat (no scrambling). So remember, keep combining and moving the pasta with the sauce and it will be glossy and perfect.
Top tips for making the best carbonara
- Trim the guanciale or pancetta: be sure to peel off any plastic on the guanciale or pancetta outside. Trim off the toughest layer before you chop it off. You may find a pre-packaged chopped pancetta (I've never found guanciale already chopped up), so you won't need to do any thing to that.
- Take the skillet of the heat: Before you combine the pasta with the egg sauce, let the skillet cool down a bit. Turn off the heat as soon as you cook the guanciale (or pancetta). Otherwise, the egg yolks will scramble when you add it in.
- No salt in the sauce: the cured meats are soooo salty as they are (as is the cheese!). So no need to salt that sauce. BUT, you must salt the pasta water. .
- Other pasta types: It's fine to use whatever pasta you have on hand. Long pasta is ideal, but you could even make it with a short pasta (if that's all you have in your pantry)...it will still be delicious!
- Save some pasta water: You could ladle out some of the the pasta water into a measuring cup. It will be used to make the sauce.
- Make sure to use quality ingredients to achieve the best tasting pasta
How much salt do I use to cook dry pasta?
It is truly essential to salt the pasta water. Boil 3-4 quarts of water for a pound of pasta, and you'll need 1- 1-½ tablespoons of salt (I use coarse sea salt). The salted pasta water makes sure the recipe does not taste bland.
Can you make this pasta recipe gluten-free?
Yes, you could! Use your favorite gluten-free pasta brand.
How to store leftover carbonara?
Store in an airtight container for up to 3 – 4 days. Simply reheat the pasta in a saute' pan on medium heat. Loosen up the sauce with a little bit of water.
Can you freeze pasta carbonara?
No, I would not recommend freezing a carbonara. The egg base sauce will separate when you defrost and reheat.
Cook this pasta dish for a date and your date may fall in love with you. You may even get a marriage proposal.
No, authentic carbonara does not have cream. This traditional carbonara recipe is made with just a few ingredients - bacon, Parmesan cheese, and eggs. The egg yolks create a silky sauce that perfectly coats the pasta in a creamy coating without adding any additional cream or milk.
The difference between modern carbonara and classic carbonara lies primarily in the ingredients. Classic carbonara is made with just bacon, Parmesan cheese, and eggs while modern carbonara often includes additional ingredients such as garlic, onion, cream or milk, parsley, and sometimes even peas.
The traditional meat used in carbonara is guanciale
Guanciale is a cured Italian pork cheek. If guanciale isn't available, pancetta or bacon can be used as an alternative. The smoky flavor from the meat helps to balance out the rich and creamy elements of this dish.
The best type of pasta for making carbonara is a long, thin pasta such as spaghetti or spaghettini. The long shape helps to create a more even coating of sauce around each strand of pasta. This traditional carbonara recipe is simple and delicious, and sure to become one of your favorite Italian dishes.
Some other pasta recipes to enjoy:
- Easy Pasta Puttanesca Recipe
- Slow Cooked Beef Short Ribs Pasta Sauce
- Sicilian Pasta with Cauliflower
- Sicilian Pasta with Ground Chicken
Did you make this? Please RATE THE RECIPE below:)
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
- 3 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 ounces thickly sliced guanciale or pancetta cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons coarse salt or kosher salt, for the pasta water
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 5 large egg yolks well beaten
- 4 Tablespoons milk optional
- ¾ cup grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
- ½ cup of boiling pasta water (1/2 cup or more reserved from the cooked pasta)
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Boil water in a a large pot and add the salt. When the water comes to a boil, add the spaghetti. Stir frequently and cook until it is al dente. While the pasta is cooking, cook the guanciale (or pancetta). Drain, reserving the 1/2 cup of pasta water.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until it ripples. Add the guanciale (or pancetta )and cook, stirring often, until crisp. Set the pan aside. Beat the eggs with the cheese and set aside.
- While the guanciale (or pancetta) is cooking, prep the egg yolks. Beat the eggs with the cheese and set aside.
- When the pasta is al dente, drain it (be sure to not drain all of the pasta water out...keep the pasta a little wet). Add the pasta to the pan with the pancetta, then toss in it together using a thong or a wooden spoon.
- Add some freshly ground pepper to taste and stir until thoroughly mixed.
- Pour in the egg mixture and use thongs or a wooden spoon to combine together. Start pouring in the reserved starchy pasta water. Start with a 1/2 cup and stir to loosen up the pasta and make a creamy sauce. Add a bit more if it isn't loose and creamy enough. When it glistens and is silky smooth, it's ready.
- Sprinkle generously with pepper and serve at once. If you can’t get enough of cheese, sprinkle some more on! Buon Appetito!
Please keep in mind that the nutritional information presented below is an approximation and may vary depending on the exact ingredients used.