The best Spaghetti Carbonara

5 Jun

Tell the truth. Have you eaten more very good Spaghetti alla Carbonara in your lifetime, or more so-so?

That’s what I figured. If ever a dish proved that simple recipes are the most difficult to prepare, this one is it.

Carbonara is one of my top go-to meals, and so I figure it’s about time I shared it here. The recipe is from David Downie’s “Cooking the Roman Way.” It’s a reliable, honest, authentic Roman preparation, and I’ve been using it for several years now.

Best of all it isn’t at all so-so. Give it a shot, you’ll see.

You start out with a nice piece of pancetta (this is my homemade stuff), guanciale or even bacon if you prefer.

Dice it all up so’s to fry it in olive oil.

Mix together some grated Pecorino Romano cheese, a good hit of freshly ground pepper, three eggs, and an egg yolk.

Here’s the part that is most important (the full recipe is below). The egg and cheese mixture is added to the cooked pancetta, but only after the pan has been allowed to cool for three minutes.

You can see that the pan isn’t hot enough to cook the eggs, but it does allow for just enough of a head start on the cooking.

As soon as the pasta is cooked it’s added to the warm pan with all the other ingredients.

This is when the combination of the hot pasta and the already-warmed ingredients allows things to actually become cooked. (If it remains uncooked after stirring, turn on the heat and keep stirring, but only briefly; otherwise the eggs will scramble.)

Here’s how a proper Carbonara should look, as far as I’m concerned anyway.

And I’m concerned an awful lot.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Adapted from “Cooking the Roman Way” by David Downie

4 ounces pancetta, guanciale or bacon (I use a little more)
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 Tbsp freshly grated Pecorino Romano (I use twice that amount)
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt or coarse sea salt (I use regular salt)
1 lb. spaghetti
1 cup freshly grated cheese, half Parmigiano-Reggiano, half Pecorino Romano

Bring at least 5 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot.
Roughly chop the pancetta, guanciale or bacon. You should have about 3/4 of a cup. (I use about a cup.)
Heat the oil in a very large, high-sided frying pan over medium. Add the pork and stir, sautéing until crisp. Turn off the heat under the frying pan and let it cool for 3 minutes.
Separate one of the eggs. Put the yolk in a small mixing bowl and save the white for other uses. Crack the remaining 3 eggs into the mixing bowl and beat thoroughly, incorporating 2 heaping tablespoons of Pecorino Romano and an extremely generous pinch of black pepper. Pour the mixture into the warm frying pan and stir.
Add a pinch of salt to the boiling water (I use lots of salt to cook pasta, not just a pinch). Drop the pasta, stir and cover the pot. When the water returns to a boil remove the lid and cook, uncovered, until the pasta is barely al dente.
Drain the pasta and transfer it immediately to the frying pan with the egg mixture. Stir vigorously until thoroughly coated. Cover the frying pan and let stand for 1 minute.
Serve with a peppermill and a bowl of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano on the side.

11 Responses to “The best Spaghetti Carbonara”

  1. Claudia June 5, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

    I've always put the egg mixture onto the hot pasta to briefly cook the egg – will try this way. Now, can we go on a mission to stop people and restaurants form adding cream?

  2. Fred June 5, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

    So THAT's what to do with pancetta. This is starting to get interesting…..and yum.

  3. Mister Meatball June 5, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    C: Funny, I was gonna address the \”cream is wrong\” issue, but decided to leave it be. Yes, that would be a No on cream in a Carbonara.Fred: Don't tell me you ain't used the piece I gave you yet????

  4. Dante June 5, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

    That is the recipe I use with a couple of minor tweaks. When I can't get good Pancetta I use Nueske's Bacon which is not overly smoked. Also, I like to make this in my Le Crueset pot. It retains the heat great. Then I finish with a little bit of chopped fresh Parsley. I know it's not in the recipe, but, what can I tell you, I like it. Cream? Only if you live on a Farm…Feh!

  5. Mister Meatball June 5, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

    D: Parsley? Don't get me started. Wars have started over lesser details than that around here!

  6. Ciao Chow Linda June 7, 2012 at 1:20 am #

    Now that's the way to eat spaghetti alla carbonara.

  7. Thomas Henry Strenk June 7, 2012 at 6:58 pm #

    Cream of Mushroom Soup (be sure to use Campbell's) is a great shortcut and the mushrooms add an extra layer of flavor to the dish. In this case, you definitely should add some milk or cream to thin out the soup.

  8. Mister Meatball June 7, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    He (THS) does this to torture me, folks. Pay him no mind.And steer clear of the Campbell's. And the cream. Lest you be like him.

  9. Mary June 8, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    This is one of my favorite pasta dishes. I'll have to give your recipe a try. I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary

  10. Rachel Page May 14, 2015 at 3:53 am #

    This was wonderful! We wanted something quick and this was exactly that, and it tasted great. I am so glad I found your blog.


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    […] get this seemingly simple Roman classic right—a lot of them. When I did finally manage it (“The Best Spaghetti Carbonara“) I never looked […]

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