Updated on March 4th 2024
Making the Best Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Feeling uplifted after a soaring final aria at Teatro dell’Opera di Roma? Stroll home for an elegant supper of Spaghetti alla Carbonara, paired with a crisp white Trebbiano wine. What could be more perfect?
Spaghetti alla Carbonara is quick and simple - essentially pasta coated with a sauce made from egg, bacon, cream and cheese, but if each ingredient is given special attention, the dish is refined and memorable.
Is your pasta preference spaghetti coated with delicious sauce and twirled over a fork, or sauce tickling little orecchiette ears? What about Bucatini, the famous Roman pasta nicknamed “the immortal”, or wide, bold strips of fettucine?
A mouth-watering array of delectable cheeses - Parmesan, Romano, Peparto, Parmigiano, Pecorino Romano or equal parts of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano can be used. Which will make your Carbonara sing.
Do you adore crisp, brittle shards of cooked pancetta or small crusted cubes of unctuous salty speck? Do you prefer bacon or guanciale? Head to your Italian deli and taste, taste, taste. Roll a slice around your tongue and savour the different flavour notes, look for pearls of fat that will melt and add richness, assess the saltiness and smokiness. Cook a few slices in a hot pan and smell the aroma. Delicious!
Perhaps add a little garlic or chopped chives, olive oil, butter or lean pancetta? Some herbs? Ah the delight of choice!
In contrast to these impressive structures, Romans prefer simple food cooked at home. A popular Roman saying was, “piu se spenne, peggio se magna”, (the more you spend, the less well you eat). Rich, creamy sauces and fresh pasta, especially pasta all’uovo, are more favoured in the North.
Romans created many famous pasta dishes, such as Spaghetti alla Puttanesca, Spaghetti all’Amatriciana and, of course, Spaghetti alla Carbonara.
This may have originated with the coal men from Umbria (i Carbonari) or was possibly created for American GI’s during the second world war. In any case, it inexpensive, tasty and nourishing.
4 egg yolks
Cream 60g (2oz)
Bacon – 4 rashers 280g (9oz)
Spaghetti 500g (1lb)
Parmigiano (grated) or Parmesan 60g (2oz)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
- Put a large pot of salted water on to cook. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.
- When this is nearly finished. Dice the bacon and fry in a large non-stick pan until crisp. Remove the pan from the heat.
- Beat egg yolks in a bowl. Add cream and cheese then beat. Grind in black pepper and add salt.
- Drain the pasta and add it to the cooked bacon.
- Add the egg mixture and toss well. The heat from the pasta will cook the egg mixture. Serve this as soon as the egg mixture has cooked but the cheese has not melted.
- Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
The cream used in Italy (panna da cucina) has a thinner consistency and a light tang. Look for this in a delicatessen or specialist store. If it is not available, use a thin cream and add a little yoghurt if you like the tang. Avoid double cream, thickened cream or clotted cream.
Some thrifty cooks like to use 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks instead of egg yolks alone. Adding egg whites will give a more “scrambled egg” appearance.
This dish is very rich so keep servings small. The recipe will feed four people.
# There are many versions of this classic pasta dish available in Italy. The best versions are still found in Rome and in the smaller villages of Lazio. Perfect Traveller recommends you visit Pasquales Pizzeria in Rome , in the hope that his daughter Serena is cooking her version of Carbonara and you will be well satisfied.
This story was originally published on February 10th 2024
Carole Redlich loves clothes, fabric, shoes and has a well deserved reputation as a wonderful cook who investigates and enjoys cooking food from many countries, including Italy.