Scooping up a forkful of piping hot spaghetti alla carbonara, for a moment you’re transported to Rome. Creamy pecorino and smoky guanciale meld together in your mouth — it’s pure pasta bliss. Hailing from the Italian region of Lazio, which encompasses Rome, carbonara’s name likely derives from i carbonai: the name for the coal miners who camped out in Italy’s Appenine mountains.
From this no-fuss campfire recipe came today’s prized carbonara, on the menu in any Roman restaurant worth its salt. It’s been modified and dressed up many a time, but we still believe the classic carbonara delivers the best flavor. While guanciale (cured pork jowl) is the recommended ingredient for an authentic carbonara, it’s not always easy to track down. As a substitute, try bacon. You’ll still wind up with a rich, hearty pasta dish that it’s almost as satisfying as a trip to the Eternal City itself.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
(makes 4 servings)
- 4 ounces guanciale or bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces.
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 10 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino romano
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- a handful of fresh, flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1. In a large skillet, add oil and guanciale or bacon slices. Saute over medium heat until the edges of the meat turn golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Be careful not to let the meat get too crispy. Take the skillet off the burner, and put it to the side– make sure it stays warm.
2. Bring 5 quarts of water to boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat. When the water boils, add 3 tablespoons salt, then add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente.
3. While the pasta is cooking, break the eggs into a small bowl. Add in pecorino cheese and ground black pepper (we recommend being generous with the pepper! An extra grind or two will give the dish more flavor). Whisk gently until the mixture is smooth.
4. Drain the pasta. Reserve a cup of the cooking water and keep it warm. Place the pasta in the skillet with the guanciale or bacon over low heat. Toss quickly to mix well.
5. Hold the skillet just above the burner, and slowly pour the egg and cheese mixture into the pasta. Remove the skillet from the heat and mix quickly with two wooden spoons. If you have a warm spot, such as a food warmer or even an overhead pilot light, rest the pan there while you work.
6. Make sure to work quickly! Otherwise you risk the pasta getting cold and the eggs staying raw and runny. Ideally the heat of the pasta will cook the egg just enough, and the sauce should be creamy. If necessary, mix in a tiny bit of the reserved water to smooth things out.
7. Transfer to individual heated bowls or plates. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve immediately!
8. Buon appetito!
Recipe adapted from epicurious.