Creamy Spaghetti alla Carbonara is a classic Italian pasta dish that is beautifully simplistic and savory.
Carbonara has been on my culinary bucket list of “classic dishes I have to try to make” for as long as I can remember. I just had to set aside some time to do some research before jumping in. With such an iconic dish, this wasn’t something I was just going to make up on a whim. There is a specific technique with the timing of it all coming together and before I ever try and come up with any sort of spin on this, I had to really learn the ins and outs of the classic recipe first. All I can say is – wow. Talk about a savory dish. It is so simple, yet just perfectly creamy and lick-the-bowl-clean delicious. You guys need to give this a try and check it off your list as well.
I have poured over, well I don’t know how many, articles and different classic recipes of spaghetti alla carbonara. After absorbing it all, I tried a couple variations of the recipe and this is the one that I absolutely loved the most. So, what is spaghetti alla carbonara? It is a classic Italian dish that highlights three main ingredients – eggs, pasta and cheese. The creaminess of the dish comes almost entirely from your eggs (and cheese). There is some disagreement as to whether there should be cream in carbonara – it doesn’t really appear to be much of a competition – no cream seems to be the clear winner. Also, no peas. Just don’t do it. Stick to the few ingredients this recipe calls for, but get the absolute best quality you can. Especially those eggs. The fresher they are the better your dish will end up tasting. (Questions on what kind of eggs are the best? Check out my discussion about this very topic HERE!).
The tricky part of this recipe is to ensure that you are adding your eggs in a way that allows them to be hot enough to cook, but not scramble, and to ensure the egg-sauce stays creamy and not congealed.
Here are some tips I picked up along the way:
- Use the best, highest quality ingredients you possibly can.
- If possible, use warm bowls to serve your pasta in.
- Take your eggs out of the fridge and let them come to room temp before using.
- Make sure you reserve a generous amount of the pasta water – you will need it.
- Use the least amount of water necessary to cook your pasta – the resulting pasta water will be that much more flavorful.
- While the most classic carbonara recipes call for guanciale (cured pork cheek), using pancetta seems to be the next best alternative or bacon.
- Remove your pasta from direct heat right as you add your egg/cheese mixture. The pan will retain enough heat to cook your eggs, but they won’t scramble. Just keep stirring the pasta continuously, adding the reserved pasta water as needed to retain creaminess and avoid congealing.
- Bring extra freshly grated cheese to the table.
- Serve immediately!
I have to say, I was nervous I would over cook my eggs, but in one felt swoop I add the eggs, took the pan off the burner and then kept stirring and adding small amounts of reserved pasta water to keep the creaminess. It was easy and the end result was creamy, savory, blissful carbonara.
I hope you guys give it a try! And I hope you like the photos. I had a little fun and did two photo shoots – one is more of a deconstructed carbonara showcasing the ingredients and the other is the actual finished product. I don’t know why, but I just had it in my head that I wanted to take that “nest” picture – I love the way the egg yolk pops out….
- ½ lb dried spaghetti
- 4oz pancetta (roughly chopped)
- 2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg (as fresh as possible, organic/free-range if possible)
- ½ cup freshly grated pecorino cheese/Parmigiano-Reggiano (feel free to use one or the other or even a combination of the two)
- ⅛ Teaspoon ground black pepper
- ⅛ Teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- pinch of salt
- In small bowl, add egg, parmesan cheese and ground black pepper.
- In large pot, add just enough water to cover pasta.
- Add about a 3-4 Teaspoons kosher salt.
- Bring water to boil and add pasta - cook al dente.
- While pasta is cooking, place chopped pancetta in large skillet (that is big enough to hold your pasta too) and bring to medium heat.
- Cook pancetta, stirring somewhat constantly, until the fat renders itself and the pancetta becomes somewhat crispy (this should take almost as long as it takes for your pasta to cook - but if your pancetta gets done first, just remove from heat for a minute).
- Add your red pepper flakes (if desired) to the pancetta and let cook another minute.
- Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water and set aside.
- Drain the rest of the pasta and then pour it into the pan with the pancetta.
- Bring back to medium heat and stir constantly - add a splash of the pasta water (about a Tablespoon) and stir some more, ensuring the pasta is good and hot and coated with the rendered pancetta fat.
- Pour in egg/cheese mixture and immediately remove from direct heat.
- Stir constantly ensuring the egg coats every noodle.
- If egg gets thick, add additional pasta water to emulsify the egg and to keep a creamy consistency. (I ended up using the entire ½ cup pasta water)
- Taste and add a pinch of salt and any additional fresh ground pepper to taste (I added about ⅛ Teaspoon to mine and it was perfect, but it might depend upon how salty your pancetta is or your bacon if that is what you are using).
- Garnish with additional chunks or freshly grated cheese and parsley, if desired.
- *consume uncooked or undercooked eggs at your own discretion.