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Spaghetti alla Carbonara Recipe | How to Make Authentic Italian Carbonara Pasta

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

Pasta alla Carbonara is a classic Italian dish that has gained popularity all around the world. The dish is famous for its smooth and creamy texture, with a rich and flavorful sauce made from eggs, pecorino cheese, guanciale and black pepper. Notice how there was no mention of cream, peas, mushrooms or any other ingredient? That’s right, the addition of anything else might make a nice plate of pasta, but it certainly will not be a real carbonara.


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Spaghetti alla Carbonara Recipe | How to Make Authentic Italian Carbonara Pasta


Why Are Italians So Mad About Carbonara?


If you’ve ever experienced the wrath of an Italian (especially a Roman) who witnesses a carbonara made with peas, cream, or any other “innovative” touch, you might reasonably wonder what the deal is with this dish. The truth is that carbonara is far from the only recipe Italians are defensive of, it just happens to be one of the most popular and noticeable!


Pasta alla Carbonara is one of those super simple and highly regional dishes that develops a significant cultural importance to the people who invented it. Chances are, you’re familiar with some similar dishes from your own culture. Anyone who has been to Philadelphia knows how zealous that city is when it comes to cheesesteaks. Have you ever tried to tell a Londoner that fish & chips deserves a healthy dose of mustard? And good luck telling someone from North Carolina that beef is the superior BBQ meat.


No one in Italy has a problem with someone making a creamy pasta with peas. In fact, similar dishes already exists in Italy! But any attempt to call a different pasta by the name of “carbonara” is liable to incite a furor in Italy.


The History of Carbonara Pasta


The protectiveness surrounding the carbonara might lead one to think that the recipe is written in stone and hasn’t changed since its inception, but that’s far from the truth! The recorded history of the dish is actually quite recent, and the pasta underwent a ton of changes over the years. Even some of the “carbonara sins” of today were once normal aspects of the preparation. Bacon, scrambled eggs, different cheeses, even cream were all tried in the past.


Much of the history of this dish is shrouded in mystery. No one even really knows where the name “carbonara” comes from! We do know of several different recipes written throughout the decades, though. If you’re interested in learning more, we made a whole video exploring the topic!


The carbonara of today is only the most recent version, and will almost certainly change in the future. But it’s up to the people of Rome to decide how their signature pasta is made.



Ingredients Needed to Make Carbonara


Like all simple recipes, the ingredients are of the utmost importance. Eggs, pecorino cheese and black pepper are an absolute must. The only substitution that is possibly acceptable is replacing the guanciale with pancetta or bacon.


Guanciale is cured pork jowl. It has a very unique flavor and, because it’s widely available online and in specialty markets, we highly recommend seeking it out. If you absolutely can’t get any, use pancetta or bacon but be warned that the resulting pasta (though undoubtedly delicious) would never be considered a real carbonara in Italy. If you ever do get a chance to try it with guanciale, you’ll understand why.


How to Make the Perfect Carbonara Sauce


When it comes to texture, everyone likes their carbonara sauce a little different. Some people prefer a thicker sauce while others like it a little thinner. For a thick sauce you can use just the egg yolks, but if you want it a little lighter feel free to add one of the egg whites in as well.


Which Pasta Should I Use in a Carbonara?


Romans argue about this constantly! Some prefer a long pasta (such as spaghetti) while others think a short pasta (such as rigatoni) is a must. In our opinion, the former has an advantage in holding the creamy sauce (especially when served a little thinner) while the latter holds chunks of crispy guanciale better.


We’ll leave the argument to the Romans and the choice up to you.


Are the Eggs Served Raw in a Carbonara?


Yes and no. Cooking the eggs and pasta together in a pan risks resulting in tough, scrambled eggs. Old Italian wisdom maintains that the hot pasta pasteurizes the eggs and renders them safe to eat. If you’re still nervous, one potential solution is to vigorously mix the pasta and sauce in a heat resistant bowl which can be placed over the simmering pasta water—a bain-marie. This is a more gentle way to cook the eggs and will help ensure you remove the eggs from the heat before they scramble.


We’ll keep making ours the traditional way.



Watch the Pasta Grammar video where we make carbonara here:



PASTA ALLA CARBONARA RECIPE


Makes: 3-4 servings

Cook Time: 20 minutes


For this recipe, you will need:

  • Salt

  • 12 oz. (340g) rigatoni or spaghetti pasta

  • 4.5 oz. (125g) guanciale (substitute with pancetta or bacon, if necessary)

  • 4 large eggs

  • 2 oz. (55g) grated pecorino cheese, plus extra for topping

  • Fresh black pepper


Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a rolling boil. Add a light amount of salt to the water, considering that the guanciale and pecorino cheese already contain a significant amount of salt. In this case, use about half of the salt that you would typically add. Then, add the pasta to the pot and cook it according to the instructions on the package.


In case you are using guanciale, make sure to remove the hard outer skin before cutting the meat into 1/2-inch cubes. Place the cubes in a large skillet over medium heat. If you are using pancetta instead, add a pinch of salt and pepper into the pan. Sauté the meat for approximately 4-6 minutes until it becomes deeply browned and crispy. Then, turn off the heat.



While the pasta is cooking, separate the eggs and place the yolks in a large mixing bowl. If you prefer a sauce with a slightly lighter consistency, you can add the white of one egg as well. Then, add the pecorino cheese and a generous sprinkle of black pepper to the mixing bowl. Whisk the eggs and cheese together thoroughly until they are well combined.


When the pasta is al dente to your taste, transfer it to the bowl with the egg mixture, using either tongs or a slotted spoon. Vigorously stir the pasta until the egg yolks coat it completely. Next, add the guanciale and the fat from the skillet to the bowl and stir again to ensure that the sauce is evenly distributed. If you find the sauce too thick, you can add some of the hot pasta water to it to achieve your desired consistency.


Serve immediately, topped with extra black pepper and grated pecorino on top if you like.


Interested in trying the ORIGINAL carbonara recipe? You can check it out here! If you're looking for other simple pasta dishes, you might want to try our Burro e Parmigiano recipe.

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40 Comments


Catherine Napoli
Catherine Napoli
Nov 16, 2023

Came out way too dry. Made this in my younger days, mom and nonna made it all the time too. Not sure what went wrong. Will try again.


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Carol Lawrence
Carol Lawrence
Nov 06, 2023

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Thomas Metten
Thomas Metten
Jul 26, 2023

I made this as a quick evening meal, and wanted to represent team rigatoni ;-)


It was my first time, a second plate with a bit more pasta water gave better consistency to the sauce, but taste-wise: lovely!



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jazmyn
Mar 24, 2023

Best recipe ever! I did have to use another yolk because I felt like I went crazy with the cheese. Thank you! Simple and delicious!

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Aaron Williams
Aaron Williams
Jul 25, 2022

I made this a second time as part of a full course meal based on your recipes for my wife's birthday a couple of weeks ago, it was the secondo. We loved it! I think it was a lot better the second time, I made less pasta and used more egg white, excellent! I still made too much though because it was part of a huge meal.

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