Carbonara is a classic Italian pasta dish that is loved in every Italian household. With its origins shrouded in history, this recipe offers a taste of Italy’s rich culinary heritage, featuring guanciale, velvety eggs, and a sprinkle of Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano.
Why You’ll Love Carbonara:
Carbonara is pure comfort on a plate, boasting a creamy sauce, Guanciale (or pancetta), and a hint of spicy cracked black pepper—all within minutes of preparation. It’s a delightful Italian classic that promises to satisfy your cravings with every bite.
Preparation of Carbonara:
To prepare Carbonara, start with fresh and authentic ingredients—cube the Guanciale or bacon into small, bite-sized pieces. In a separate bowl, whisk together two egg yolks and one whole egg for a creamy texture. Grate your choice of cheese, Pecorino Romano is traditional but you can also use Parmigiano Reggiano (my preference) plus freshly cracked black pepper to taste. Remember to have a ladle of starchy pasta water ready; it’s the secret to binding the sauce perfectly. Cook your favorite pasta. Traditionally, spaghetti is used, but you can experiment with different shapes or types. Begin by boiling the pasta until al dente, following the package instructions.
While the pasta cooks, crisp up the cubed Guanciale or bacon in a separate pan until it’s golden brown and crispy. Remove it from the heat, but keep the rendered fat in the pan. In a bowl, combine the whisked eggs with the grated cheese and black pepper to form the base of your creamy sauce. When the pasta is done, reserve a ladle of the starchy pasta water before draining it. Immediately return the hot, drained pasta to the pan off the heat with the rendered fat and guanciale. Pour the egg and cheese mixture over the pasta and toss everything together vigorously.
The heat from the pasta and the pan will gently cook the eggs, creating a silky, creamy sauce. If needed, add the reserved pasta water a little at a time to achieve your desired consistency. Plate the Carbonara immediately, garnishing it with extra grated cheese and a generous sprinkle of black pepper to elevate the flavors. Serve it piping hot and enjoy every bite of your authentic Italian Carbonara. Buon appetito!
What is Guanciale:
Guanciale is a type of cured pork derived from the pig’s cheek jowl, distinct from pancetta, which originates from the belly. Due to its origin, guanciale has a higher fat content, a crucial element for dishes like Spaghetti Carbonara and Bucatini all’Amatriciana. In case guanciale is unavailable, pancetta or regular bacon serves as an excellent alternative. Personally, I appreciate the versatility of regular bacon, especially when guanciale is not readily accessible.
History of Carbonara:
The origins of Carbonara, a beloved Italian pasta dish, remain cloaked in uncertainty. While it’s often linked to the Lazio region, its roots are hazy. Carbonara is part of a family of pasta dishes featuring bacon, cheese, and pepper, similar to “pasta alla Gricia.”
The name “Carbonara” has several disputed origins, including ties to charcoal workers, secret societies, and urban legends. Its first documented appearance was in 1950, enjoyed by American officers in post-World War II Rome.
One theory credits a young Italian army cook for inventing Carbonara in 1944, capitalizing on an abundance of bacon, cream, cheese, and powdered egg yolks. Food historians suggest that Carbonara might have traversed the Atlantic, cementing its unique connection between Italy and the United States.
Regardless of its origins, Carbonara’s delectable allure remains timeless, making it a cherished classic in Italian and international cuisine alike.
Variations and Substitutions:
You can make a vegetarian Carbonara with meatless alternatives or elevate it with the earthy richness of mushrooms. Experiment with different cheeses, and pasta shapes, or even add fresh herbs for a personalized touch. Whether you’re adjusting for dietary preferences or seeking to infuse new flavors, Carbonara is an adaptable canvas for culinary creativity.
- If you can’t find Guanciale, you can use pancetta or regular bacon.
- Omit the guanciale completely for a Vegetarian version of this dish.
- While Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano are the go-to cheeses, you can experiment with other hard cheeses like Asiago for a unique twist on flavor.
- If you’re gluten-free, feel free to try this recipe with any gluten-free pasta of choice.
Best Served With:
Carbonara is a hearty pasta dish, so it pairs well with a variety of sides to create a well-rounded meal.
- A fresh, crisp salad with a light vinaigrette or lemon-based dressing provides a refreshing contrast to the rich and creamy Carbonara.
- A side of toasted baguette slices or my cheesy roasted garlic bread would add a crunch and garlicky flavor that complements the dish.
- Roasted asparagus, broccoli, or cherry tomatoes can add a burst of flavor to your meal.
If you love Carbonara, you’ll love some of my other favorite pasta recipes here:
- This Pasta Limone is one of my favorite pasta dishes.
- This creamy and easy hidden veggie pasta sauce is a total gamechanger. Kids and adults will never know that there are 5 to 6 hidden veggies in here.
- My creamy broccoli ricotta pasta is one of my favorite ways to consume a hardy serving of vegetables. Here, broccoli, spinach, and onions are blended with ricotta into a silky smooth, creamy sauce.
Most Common Questions:
You can use either Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano, depending on your preference. Pecorino Romano offers a sharper, saltier taste, while Parmigiano Reggiano has a milder, nuttier flavor.
Yes, you can substitute bacon for guanciale. While guanciale is traditional and has a distinct flavor, bacon works well and adds its smoky essence to the dish.
To prevent the eggs from scrambling, it’s crucial to remove the pan from direct heat before adding the egg and cheese mixture to the pasta. Then, toss everything together vigorously to create a creamy, silky sauce.
Yes! While spaghetti is traditional, you can use various pasta shapes or types like fettuccine, rigatoni, or bucatini to create unique variations of Carbonara.
Reserving pasta water is essential because it contains starch, which helps bind the sauce. Start by adding a small amount and increase gradually if needed to achieve your desired sauce consistency.
Carbonara pairs nicely with crisp white wines such as Pinot Grigio or light red wines like Chianti. The acidity and flavors of these wines complement the dish.
I do not recommend reheating Carbonara as it’s best served out of the pan. If you are left with leftovers, you can try this method:
Use low heat and add a splash of cream or milk while stirring to help re-emulsify the sauce and prevent separation. Other times I save the starchy pasta water and add a splash and stir on low heat until the sauce is warm.
- 1 12-inch pan
- 80 grams Guanciale (cubed small about 1/2 cup)
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 whole egg
- 50 grams Pecorino Romano cheese (1/2 cup)
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 175 grams Spaghetti (or pasta of choice)
- small ladle starchy pasta water (to preference)
- salt for the boiling pasta water
- extra cheese when serving
- In a large pot, boil the water for the pasta. Once the water is at a roaring boil, add a generous pinch of salt.
- Cook your favorite pasta. Traditionally, spaghetti is used, but you can experiment with different shapes or types. Boil the pasta in salted water until it reaches al dente, following the package instructions.
- In a bowl, whisk together two egg yolks and one whole egg. Add in the Pecorino cheese, black pepper and stir. Set it aside
- Cube the Guanciale (pancetta or bacon) into small, bite-sized pieces. Add it to a pan and crisp up the cubed Guanciale on medium heat until desired doneness. I like it on the crunchy side but it's up to you. Remove it from the heat, but keep the rendered fat in the pan.
- When the pasta is done, reserve a ladle of the starchy pasta water before draining it.
- NOTE: How much pasta water you add to the sauce will depend on how thick/thin you like it. Add a little at a time until desired consistency.
- Immediately return the hot, drained pasta to the pan with the Guanciale. Pour the egg and cheese mixture over the pasta and toss everything together vigorously off the heat. I like to toss it with tongs and move it around in a circular motion.
- The heat from the pasta and the pan will gently cook the eggs, creating a silky, creamy sauce.
- If needed, add the reserved pasta water a little at a time to achieve your desired consistency.
- Plate the Carbonara immediately, garnishing it with extra grated cheese and a generous sprinkle of black pepper to elevate the flavors.
- Serve it piping hot and enjoy every bite of your authentic Italian Carbonara. Buon appetito!