Pasta Carbonara

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Do you need an impressive pasta dish in your recipe collection that is affordable, quick, and easy?

Enter pasta carbonara! This simple carbonara recipe is incredibly versatile:  You can use it to impress weekend dinner guests, or as a quick, weeknight dinner staple using just a few ingredients. 

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. dried spaghetti
  • ½ lb. pancetta or bacon
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup pasta water (if needed)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Extra parmesan for topping

How To Avoid Scrambling the Eggs When Making Pasta Carbonara

Scrambling the eggs is the number one worry I’ve heard from home cooks attempting to make pasta carbonara. 

Spaghetti with scrambled eggs just isn’t pasta carbonara.

The trick here is to use the hot pasta to cook, yet not scramble, the eggs. 

The best advice I have for you to avoid scrambling the eggs; is not to hesitate but to stir vigorously and constantly. The more quickly you add the eggs and stir, the less time they have to scramble.

Always add the eggs after removing the pan from heat. Start stirring vigorously as soon as your eggs hit your pasta, and stir continuously until the eggs are warmed through. You’ll know it’s done when you see the eggs and cheese take on a thicker, creamy, consistency.

Instructions

This recipe is much more basic and easy than you’d expect. There are not many steps, but I recommend preparing everything in advance. 

This keeps things moving smoothly and prevents your pasta getting too cold or your eggs scrambling due to poor timing. 

Step 1 – Prepare your Ingredients

This dish comes together quickly, so preparation is essential. Grate the cheese and set it aside. Cut the pancetta or bacon into ½ inch pieces and preheat your skillet to medium-high heat. Get the pasta cooking water salted and on a high-heat burner to bring to a boil.

Step 2 – Cook the Bacon

On a medium-high heat stove, cook your chopped pancetta or bacon for 7-8 minutes until it starts to brown and crisp. Be sure you don’t over-cook as you’ll get the wrong texture and burnt flavor throughout your pasta. 

I babysit my skillet pretty carefully while cooking the meat for carbonara. Since it is such a simple dish, I want each layer of flavor to be perfect. 

Step 3 – Whisk the Eggs and Cheese

Crack 4 whole eggs into a bowl and whisk until combined. Add in a cup of grated parmesan and stir.

This mixture will be thick. You can thin the sauce with the hot pasta water after your pasta has cooked, if necessary. 

Step 4 – Cook the Pasta

Cook the spaghetti according to your package directions. Be sure you cook it in well-salted water for the best flavor.

Reserve ½ to 1 cup of hot pasta cooking water before draining.

Once cooked, drain the pasta in a large colander, do not shake the pasta. Let some water stick to the noodles. 

Step 5 – Make the Pasta Carbonara

Remove the pasta pot from any heat source. I usually put mine on a trivet on my counter. Pour the drained pasta back into your pasta pot, then slowly add your egg and cheese mixture. 

Use one hand to pour the mixture and the other hand to stir constantly with your tongs. Stir until the entire pot is steaming and you have a creamy sauce. 

If the sauce is too dry, this is where you’ll add some of your pasta water. Just add enough to give the sauce a creamy consistency. 

Use a slotted spoon to add the pancetta or bacon and stir until combined. 

Add salt and pepper to your taste and plate it up with some additional parmesan cheese. 

Real Pasta Carbonara

So after I published this article I got some feedback that real pasta carbonara has:

  • Guianciale not bacon or pancetta
  • Pericona Romana cheese not parmesan

My recipe works great, and it’s delicious. It also uses ingredients that are easier to find (at least outside Italy). Just be aware that if cook this with bacon and parmesan, any Italians you serve it to might be legitimately aggrieved!

If you want to make the real deal, and can get your hands on the right ingredients, here’s a lovely video that explains it:

Cookware Used

For this dish, I don’t use a lot of crazy tools or cookware. It’s such a simple meal! These are items you likely already have in your cupboard.

Large Stock Pot – I like to use a big non-stick pasta pot for this dish. When you’re vigorously stirring your eggs into your hot pasta, there is less worry about it spilling or splashing over the side. 

Silicone Coated Tongs – Tongs are an excellent tool for stirring the egg mixture into the hot pasta. Just be sure you use a silicone-coated pair to avoid scratching the bottom of your pan.

Cheese Grater or Food Processor – I like to use freshly grated Parmesan cheese in my pasta carbonara. 

It does take a bit of time to grate a cup of cheese on a box grater, so feel free to also use a food processor for that step.

Non-stick Skillet – I cook my pancetta or bacon in a non-stick skillet. I sometimes like to add extra ingredients (see some variations below) when I cook it in a skillet. 

The Best Pasta for Carbonara

I don’t usually discriminate when it comes to pasta, but for carbonara, I believe in sticking to spaghetti. I think it holds the sauce well, and I love the texture of spaghetti carbonara. 

I have had it at restaurants with rigatoni and enjoyed it, but spaghetti carbonara is my absolute favorite.

I wouldn’t stray too much from those two pasta options. Thicker kinds of pasta or very short pasta just wouldn’t hold the sauce the same way. 

Tip for Easier Cooking (Hint, It’s Bacon Carbonara)

Use bacon instead of pancetta. In the U.S., carbonara is traditionally made with pancetta, but if we want to get truly traditional, the Roman dish is made with guanciale. 

I’ve never been able to find guanciale in my local grocery store, and, to be honest, I have a hard time even finding pancetta unless I go to a specialty store. 

Bacon is an excellent substitute. It’s affordable, easy to find, and there isn’t a major flavor difference compared to pancetta. Pancetta is a salty meat, and bacon, while salty, has a slightly smoky flavor. Both work well in this dish.

Use the thickest cut bacon you can find and avoid anything with added flavor like maple. (Though applewood or other smoked woods work just fine, flavor-wise.)

Alternative Cooking Variations

I like my carbonara recipe simple: eggs, cheese, bacon, pasta. But there are some variations that you may want to try when making this dish your own.

  • Add 2-3 cloves of garlic when your bacon is almost cooked through and cook for just 30 seconds. I have done this a few times when preparing the dish, but I still prefer the classic flavor without garlic.
  • Add some white wine to your bacon (and garlic, if you so choose) pan and simmer for 1-2 minutes.
  • This is a very controversial variation, but some people do add peas and a bit of heavy cream to their pasta carbonara. I personally think that is more of an alfredo sauce, so I keep these recipes separate. But, if you’re looking to make this dish your own, feel free to experiment with what your family likes!

Now, It’s Your Turn!

This simple carbonara recipe is one that I use often. Never shy away from trying new things that your family might enjoy and making it your own. 

Don’t forget, do not hesitate with the eggs and stir them constantly! I hope your family enjoys this rich and delicious pasta dish as much as mine does. 

Print

Pasta Carbonara

This simple Spaghetti Carbonara recipe is incredibly versatile. Use it to impress weekend dinner guests, or as a quick, weeknight dinner staple using just a few ingredients.

  • Author: Beatriz Garcia
  • Prep Time: 10 mins
  • Cook Time: 20 mins
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 Servings 1x
  • Category: Pasta
  • Cuisine: Italian

Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 lb. dried spaghetti
  • ½ lb. pancetta or bacon
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup pasta water (if needed)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Extra parmesan for topping

Instructions

Step 1 – Prepare your Ingredients

Grate the cheese and set aside. Cut the pancetta or bacon into ½ inch pieces and preheat your skillet to medium-high heat. Get the pasta cooking water salted and on a high-heat burner to bring to a boil.

Step 2 – Cook the Bacon

On a medium-high heat stove, cook your chopped pancetta or bacon for 7-8 minutes until it starts to brown and crisp. Be careful not to overcook.

Step 3 – Whisk the Eggs and Cheese

Crack 4 whole eggs into a bowl and whisk until combined. Add in a cup of grated parmesan and stir.

This mixture will be thick. You can thin the sauce with the hot pasta water after your pasta has cooked, if necessary. 

Step 4 – Cook the Pasta

Cook the spaghetti according to your package directions. Be sure you cook it in well-salted water for the best flavor.

Set aside ½ to 1 cup of hot pasta cooking water before draining.

Once cooked, drain the pasta in a large colander, do not shake the pasta. Let some water stick to the noodles. 

Step 5 – Make the Pasta Carbonara

Remove the pasta pot from any heat source. I usually put mine on a trivet on my counter. Pour the drained pasta back into your pasta pot, then slowly add your egg and cheese mixture. 

Use one hand to pour the mixture and the other hand to stir constantly with your tongs. Stir until the entire pot is steaming and you have a creamy sauce. 

If the sauce is too dry, this is where you’ll add some of your pasta water. Just add enough to give the sauce a creamy consistency. 

Use a slotted spoon to add the pancetta or bacon and stir until combined. 

Add salt, pepper and additional grated parmesan cheese to your taste.

Tried this Recipe?

Let me know how you did on Twitter: @clan_kitchen