If you are looking for an easy weeknight dinner recipe, then look no further than spaghetti carbonara. A traditional Roman pasta dish, spaghetti carbonara makes great use of staples that are usually already on hand, and it all comes together quickly. Read on for our guide, or skip straight to the spaghetti carbonara recipe.
“It may have a fancy name, but it’s literally just pasta, Parmesan cheese and eggs, and bacon,” says Jason Goldstein, a recipe developer, food blogger and “Food Network Star” finalist based out of New York. “And that is all it is.”
So if you have those ingredients, then you’re already set up to make one of the most delicious pasta dishes you’d order out at a restaurant right in your own kitchen. Whether you've made carbonara before or are looking to troubleshoot, we've got the tips and tricks to make the easiest, most delicious spaghetti carbonara recipe ever.
To make carbonara, Goldstein cooks a pound of spaghetti and reserves a quarter cup of the starchy pasta water. He then fries bacon, pancetta or guanciale (cured pork jowl) over low heat in a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a Dutch oven for several minutes. While the fat renders, he combines three eggs, a cup of grated Parmesan cheese and a teaspoon of black pepper in a bowl — this will become the spaghetti carbonara "sauce."
Traditional recipes call for mixing in the eggs directly into the pasta; in Roman trattorias or classic cookbooks you may even find the spaghetti carbonara brought piping hot to the table with a raw egg on top for each person to mix in themselves. Those are both excellent methods, but Goldstein's trick of pre-whisking the eggs along with the Parm makes this recipe nearly foolproof.
No. Many recipes and even restaurant versions of carbonara are made with heavy cream to make the dish extra decadent, but a true pasta carbonara should have no cream whatsoever. Instead, do as Goldstein does: add the spaghetti to the pan and quickly toss until every strand is coated in fat. Shut off the heat and add the egg mixture along with the reserved pasta water. Stir it all together for about a minute to create a rich and creamy sauce — no cream required. After plating, simply top with even more Parmesan.
It does (kind of). So you might be wondering is it safe to eat raw eggs in carbonara sauce? Spaghetti carbonara mixes raw eggs into hot pasta, but it is not the same as eating a raw egg. The residual heat of the spaghetti cooks the egg mixture. In fact, a recent study found that the heat from the cooked pasta was enough to kill any salmonella in the eggs. Still, some prefer to be cautious and advise young children, pregnant people or those with compromised immune systems to avoid dishes like this.
It depends how much pasta you are making and how rich you like your spaghetti carbonara. We like Goldstein's proportions of three eggs for one pound of pasta, but feel free to experiment with one more or less. Don't omit the pasta cooking water; this is what really helps create that skily smooth texture in the finished dish.
If you've ever made spaghetti carbonara before, then there is a decent chance that you have ended up with something more akin to scrambled eggs than a silky, creamy coating. This can happen if your pan is too hot or you don't stir fast enough. So make sure to remove the pasta from the heat, and to whisk the egg mixture vigorously so that it emulsifies and becomes silky rather than curdles.
Even though purists insist on sticking with just the core ingredients, there’s plenty of room to customize pasta carbonara to your personal taste. You can use spaghetti or bucatini, or play around with other pasta shapes. Use bacon, pancetta or guanciale depending on your preference and what you have available. You can add onion, shallots and/or garlic to the pork as it renders, and some recipes also call for peas. Carbonara is a recipe that every home cook should have in their arsenal, as it’s just one of many easy ways to put a home-cooked meal on the table.
1 pound spaghetti or bucatini
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound bacon, pancetta or guanciale, chopped
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Step 1: Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package instructions. Reserve at least 1/4 cup pasta water and drain.
Step 2: Meanwhile, in a large skillet over low heat, heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add the 1/2 pound chopped bacon for about 5 minutes, until cooked through and browned.
Step 3: While the bacon cooks, in a medium mixing bowl whisk together the 3 eggs, 1 cup grated Parmesan and 1 teaspoon pepper in a bowl. Set aside.
Step 4: Add cooked pasta to the hot bacon oil. Use tongs to toss until every strand of spaghetti is coated.
Step 5: Shut off the heat, pour in the egg and cheese mixture and 1/4 of reserved pasta water. Mix very quickly to combine and prevent eggs from scrambling for about 45 seconds, until a silky sauce forms and the pasta is thoroughly coated. Top with more Parmesan and enjoy.