I pulled together a number of Carbonara recipes, and made this delicious dish last night. It was surprisingly easy!
You can substitute bacon for the pancetta and save a little money. There are a number of ways to enhance the dish, by adding various meats or veggies to the sauté, before folding in the noodles. Read other recipes, and be creative!
I find it helpful to gather and measure all ingredients before cooking.
Carbonara is an Italian pasta dish based on eggs, cheese (Romano or Parmesan), and bacon or pancetta, and black pepper.
- Spaghetti noodles
- Pancetta or bacon, uncooked, about 4 ounces; cut into 1/4″ cubes
- 1/4 of a medium onion, diced finely
- Garlic, 4-6 cloves, diced finely
- Olive oil, several tablespoons for multiple uses
- Pepper flakes to taste
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- Black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese or 3-cheese blend
For Maximum Success:
Your goal is to have the egg mixture ready, the spaghetti just done, and the sauté mixture ready at nearly the same time so that the last step can be done in quick succession. If the noodles are ready first, I recommend turning off the heat and leaving the noodles in the hot water on the stove; most people don’t mind their noodles a little softer than al dente; if you think your noodles will be too soft, move from the burner you used to a cold burner, but remember you want the noodles to remain near their boiling temperature.
You might prepare some garlic toast in advance, and pop in the broiler just before mixing the sauté, noodles, and egg mixture.
First, start the spaghetti. The important thing to note here is that you want the spaghetti to be “done” just about the time the pancetta or bacon sauté is finished, since the heat of the just-completed spaghetti is what will cook your egg/cream mixture.
In a large pot, put plenty of water, add a dash or two of salt, and a small drizzle of olive oil (helps keep noodles from sticking). Bring to a boil, then add spaghetti noodles. Adjust heat to bring back to gentle rolling boil, and continue to cook.
Keep in mind that eventually all ingredients, including the pasta and the egg/cream mixture, will be in the pan. Be sure to start with a pan large enough to accommodate the blending of all these ingredients.
Heat the large pan on medium heat, add 1-2 tablespoon olive oil and the pancetta or bacon. Toss lightly to crisp and render the fat. When the meat has started to brown, add the onion, garlic, and pepper flakes to taste, and sweat these stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent.
Note: if you are going to add other ingredients (other veggies, canned chicken, etc.), do that now. Everything should be up to medium heat before the combining step.
While the sauté mixture is simmering, make the egg/cream mixture.
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, cream, and parmesan into a creamy mixture. Bring a quarter cup of the boiling water from the pasta (just water, no pasta) and drizzle into the egg mixture, then whisk. Repeat with a second quarter cup, drizzling in then whisking. This helps bring the temperature of the egg up, so that it will remain creamy and not curdle or scramble when combined later.
Bring It All Together!
Perform these steps in order. You don’t have to be fast, but don’t delay or get distracted. Remember: the heat from the pasta will must cook the egg mixture.
If you are making garlic toast, you might pop it in the broiler first, just keep an eye on it if the following steps take you a few minutes. Don’t worry… after doing this once or twice, you’ll be an expert!
Reserve about a cup of the hot water. Drain the spaghetti, but while still hot and moist, transfer the pasta to the sauté pan, and toss briefly to combine the sauté with the noodles.
Immediately pour the egg mixture around the spaghetti/sauté mixture, and fold in to completely incorporate the two. It should be creamy, but if the resulting mixture is too thick, use a small amount of the reserved water to stir in gently until creamy again. Sprinkle with fresh ground black pepper to taste.
Check the bread!
Using a spaghetti ladle, transfer carbonara to dinner plates. Should make about 4 servings.
Most recipes recommend freshly grated parmesan cheese. Personally, I use a 3-cheese blend.