Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Doesn’t look like much does it? And, really, it’s not. Spaghetti alla carbonara is one of my default Angela-is-out-and-I-need-something-for-dinner meal. The critical path (why yes, I’m an engineer) on this dish is cooking the pasta so it isn’t really time or energy intensive. Plus, it tastes good in a comfort food sort of way.

I first tried this dish in Italy and fell in love with it in Rome. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant (I know it’s in a guidebook at home) but I do remember two things about it: it was by Pompey’s theater (which means it was in the Jewish ghetto) and that it opened for dinner at 7:30 PM. I know this second part because I showed up at 7:00 PM and was told that I would have to wait until 7:30 PM. So I waited and I was glad I did as I had the best spaghetti alla carbonara that I’ve ever had.

My version is not as good as that served in Rome. I’ve really had trouble finding a satisfactory recipe. Most recipes say that the pasta will cook the eggs in a bowl. And they’re wrong (possibly dangerously as the eggs don’t really cook). Some recipes say to add cream. Again, they’re wrong; the real dish doesn’t have cream. And serving it with a raw egg may be trendy (I think that’s how Mario Batali serves it at his restaurants) but it’s not particularly appetizing to me.

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My thoughts are that it should be creamy but that the eggs should make it creamy. The only way I’ve found to do that is to slowly cook the eggs with the pasta as if making a custard. Is it authentic? I have no idea (it’s probably not) but it tastes good to me and fulfills my memories of the dish.

The recipe is loosely based on one from a book I bought in Italy, All the Recipes, Pasta of Italian Cuisine. However, the technique of the recipe is pretty much my own creation and I’ve modified the ingredients list a bit. I’ve only ever used panchetta, but I’m sure it would be good with guanciale (more authentic) or even bacon (what’s not good with bacon?). Also, when the recipe says to stir constantly, do so or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs (which, while it may be good, is not spaghetti alla carbonara). Finally, the recipe as listed only serves 1 because Angela doesn’t like it. I’ve also found that the final step of cooking the egg and pasta together seems to work better when there’s less of it. The recipe could easily be multiplied to whatever number of portions you’d like (or depending how hungry you are; this isn’t a lot of food for one person).

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Spaghetti alla Carbonara

4 oz pasta
1 tbsp olive oil
1 oz panchetta, diced
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 egg and 1 egg yolk
4 tbsp Pecorino Romano cheese
salt and pepper

  1. Bring water to a boil, add salt, and cook the pasta. Under cook it by one minute.
  2. While the pasta cooks, in a sauce pan (preferably nonstick), add the olive oil and the garlic clove. Turn the heat to medium. When the oil is hot, add the panchetta and cook until it is browned but not completely cooked (the panchetta will cook for a minute after the heat is off).  Remove the garlic clove.  Turn off the heat.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk, 2 tbsp cheese, salt, and pepper to taste.
  4. When the pasta is finished cooking, strain it and add it to the sauce pan. Pour the egg mixture over the pasta. Prepare a serving bowl. While constantly stirring, turn the heat to medium and cook. When the egg mixture just begins to solidify on the bottom of the pan, turn off the heat and pour to pasta into the prepared serving dish.

Serves 1.

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    6 Responses to “Spaghetti alla Carbonara”


    1. 1 willhaynes October 4, 2007 at 11:33 pm

      I’ll have to try this. It sounds delicious.

    2. 2 innovatel December 19, 2007 at 3:30 pm

      I think it’s better “add salt” when the water boil. If you want, you can use the bowl to cover pot for one or two minutes. My friend do that … the first time I don’t understand … but after the lunch … I decided to try 😛

    3. 3 xpo January 6, 2008 at 3:53 am

      you could sort of make a hollandaise with the eggs but i doubt that would be authentic.

      cream with lemon zest is great too but the best is still just with raw egg yolk.

      served with raw egg yolk is delish. just make sure your pasta is very hot 🙂 salmonella isnt funny business .

    4. 4 Luigi April 9, 2009 at 4:48 pm

      It is spelled “pancetta”, not “panchetta”. If it were spelled like the latter, it would be pronounced incorrectly as “pan-KET-ta” instead of “pan-CHET-ta” (<-correct).

    5. 5 myrna November 20, 2010 at 5:39 pm

      I lived in Italy for many years – Carbonara was a staple. The Italians save some of the water from the boiled pasta and use as needed.

      The egg is mixed with the parmegiano and then heated (until cooked) with all the ingredients before mixing it with pasta. Saved water used to thin as desired. It tends to thicken as eaten so a little more water probably wouldn’t hurt.

    6. 6 Rick November 19, 2011 at 1:16 pm

      I had much the same problem you did in trying to get this dish just right — the way I’d had it in Rome. Then I found a YouTube video made by an Italian chef right in the restaurant’s kitchen. Success!

      Making perfect carbonara is still very much a feel thing, but after a few attempts (and no real failures), I now have this dish to the point where it comes out terrifically every time. One thing to remember: making it for one is a snap, for two is a bit more difficult, for four or more, you’re really asking for trouble. I spoke to a chef about this and his answer was to prep everything and make it in smaller batches that will cook better because the amount of ingredients I was using for four servings was cooling things down too much.

      Okay, here’s how to make The Real Carbonara: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sBxqVWbpDw

      Just for the record, pancetta just doesn’t cut it in this dish once you’ve had the real Roman version with guanciale. It’s worth the effort to find a source for it. It’s also a must for pasta all’ammatriciana.

      Buon appetito!


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