Pasta Carbonara – Jessica Gavin

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This pasta carbonara uses simple ingredients but delivers restaurant-quality results with a combination of cooking techniques. Get ready to enjoy classic Italian comfort food made right at home.

pasta carbonara in a large pot
Table of Contents
  1. Pasta selection
  2. Cook the pasta
  3. Cured pork selection
  4. Cook the pork
  5. Cheese selection
  6. Make the sauce
  7. Temper the eggs
  8. Cook the sauce in a bain-marie
  9. Serve this with
  10. FAQ
  11. Pasta Carbonara Recipe

This carbonara recipe is inspired by an unforgettable culinary experience I had while traveling to Rome. I’m a big fan of hearty tomato sauces like bolognese, but the simplicity of this pasta dish has won me over. Rich eggs, finely grated parmesan cheese, and generous amounts of cracked black peppercorns deliver a luxurious sauce. Plus, crispy pieces of cured pork adds a savory bite that brings everything together. 

This homemade version only requires a handful of ingredients. However, the trickiest part is not overcooking the egg proteins. Otherwise, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs instead of a smooth sauce. Not to worry, I’ll share multiple solutions. Tempering the eggs and using the pot of hot pasta water to serve as a double boiler ensures gentle cooking.

ingredients to make carbonara

Pasta selection

Long and slender noodles like spaghetti, bucatini, or linguine are good choices. Other types of pasta like shorter penne, gemelli, or cavatappi also work well. You want a noodle that will hold together well with vigorous stirring.

Cook the pasta

To start, I like to season the pasta water with salt. You will also be using some reserved water for cooking and thinning the sauce. Salting the water will make this pasta dish more flavorful. I use one tablespoon of kosher salt for every four quarts of water and one pound of pasta.

I prefer to use spaghetti and cook until al dente. Tender with just a tiny amount of chew in the center. The pasta will continue to cook in the sauce, so you don’t let it overcook in the water. Timing is crucial here. Adding hot pasta into the egg mixture will cook the eggs.

While the pasta is cooking, fry up the pancetta. They’ll be done just about the same time. Don’t drain the water! We are going to turn the pot into a double boiler (bain-marie) to cook the sauce.

Cured pork selection

The three most common types of cured pork used to make carbonara are guanciale (seasoned pork jowl), pancetta (Italian pork belly), and smoked bacon. All add a deeply savory taste and richness.

Choose based on if you’d like more spiced notes like pepper and cloves with fattier guanciale, a more neutral flavor from pancetta, or smokiness from American-style bacon. My local market sells pancetta, but bacon is more widely available.

pancetta sautéing in a pan

Cook the pork

Cut the pork into ½-inch thick strips. They will shrink as they cook. Saute the pieces in a large skillet over medium heat. Wait for the fat to render and the meat to turn deep red and crispy. The grease is packed with a ton of flavor, so don’t drain it. I reserve about 3 to 4 tablespoons in the pan to toss with the hot spaghetti. It’s so good!

Cheese selection

Aged grated cheeses like Parmesan, parmigiano-reggiano, or pecorino-romano add an excellent fermented tangy and salty taste. I like the nutty flavor of Parmesan, but you can blend it with pecorino-romano for a more intense and spiced taste. You will whisk the cheese together with the eggs. As it heats up, the melted fat and protein will help cling to the sauce but not be overly cheesy and heavy.

Make the sauce

I combine two whole eggs and four egg yolks to make the carbonara sauce. The extra fat in the egg yolks prevents the egg whites from curdling so tightly together when cooked, reducing the chances of scrambling. 

You can use the leftover whites to make ricotta pancakes the following day, royal icing for cookies, or even a lemon meringue pie for dessert. Whisk the eggs with the grated cheese and freshly cracked black pepper. The magic happens as the eggs gently cook with the pasta.

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