Carbonara is my love language. It is not only my favorite food, but also my preferred way to offer care and comfort to myself and my loved ones. I prepare carbonara at least once per week, sometimes more if I am feeling particularly tender, hungry, or cozy. I often make single servings for myself after long days, or even for a late breakfast, and I have continued to hone my process over several years. At this point it feels more like a dance than a recipe, requiring fluidity, attention, and flexibility.
It goes without saying that I did not create any part of this dish, and that I’m sure there are many Italians that could cook circles around me. What I bring to this recipe is a pure reverence and devotion to the dish, and an utter delight each time I make it. If you take anything from this post, I hope it is not a perfect bowl of pasta, but a desire to find your own sacred foods and cultivate a deep appreciation for the ritual of making them.
- 3 eggs, separated (fresh, free range ideally – the quality of the eggs really matter in this recipe, low quality yields flavorless pasta)
- 3-4 oz. of guanciale/uncured bacon/pancetta
- Generous handful of spaghetti or bucatini
- Hunk of good Parmesan (you can use Pecorino Romano if you like, not pre-shredded)
- Heaps of freshly ground black pepper
- Kosher salt
- Optional: scallions/chives/parsley for garnish
- Chop or cut pork into small bits.
- Sauté pork in a non-stick pan over low-medium heat.
- Start to boil pasta water in a separate saucepan.
- When pork is starting to crisp, about 5 minutes into cooking, reduce heat to low and allow it to fully cook over low heat in the rendered fat.
- Once water boils generously salt pasta water and add pasta, cooking 2 minutes short of al dente
- While the pork and pasta are cooking you will prepare the sauce. In a bowl (I use the bowl I am going to eat out of) separate three eggs. You do not need egg whites for this recipe, but I will add a teaspoon of the whites to the yolks to give the sauce a little more fluidity. Mix egg yolks until very well blended.
- Grate parmesan into the egg mixture. I use at least ½ cup, it should form a texture like a paste. Add pinch of salt and generous amount of cracked pepper to the egg and cheese mixture.
- When pasta is close to al dente scoop a splash of pasta water into the egg mixture. This tempers the eggs and begins to melt the shredded cheese. The texture should thin a bit, but not be watery. Be careful not to overdo it!
- Increase heat on pork to med-high to bring the pan temperature back up.
- Using tongs transfer pasta directly from the pasta water to the pan with the pork with ¼ cup of pasta water, moving quickly. DO NOT DRAIN OR RINSE YOUR PASTA. Reserve the rest of the pasta water.
- Continually stir the pasta and pork as the liquid cooks off and pasta water reduces some. The pasta should be lubricated, not dry, with the fat and pasta water beginning to stick to the pasta. Add more pasta water if you need to during this step as it cooks off.
- Pull off heat and allow pasta to cool slightly.
- Slowly start to pour egg and cheese mixture into the pan with the pasta, stirring continually as you pour. If the sauce seems too thick after adding the egg mixture you can add more pasta water, one tablespoon at a time. The sauce should be glossy and cling to the noodles, not goopy or thin.
- Finish in the bowl with fresh Parmesan, more cracked black pepper, and garnish if you choose to.
- Eat immediately! Carbonara is best served hot and eaten quickly after.
This recipe requires you to multitask. Time is of the essence when you make carbonara! It is crucial that you do not overcook the pasta, and it all comes together quite quickly. It helps to prep your mise en place before you begin and have everything close to the stove where you are cooking for easy access.
Tongs are a huge help with this recipe. You can use them to cook the pork and the pasta, and they make it easy to transfer the pasta without draining.
If you’re not a pork eater, you can substitute mushrooms or another hearty vegetable in place of the meat. Add a tiny bit of soy sauce or another umami flavor to the vegetables for the salty, meaty flavor you would be skipping.
Salt at each stage. You need to add it to the pasta water and a pinch to the egg mixture or the dish will lack complex flavor, but it is easy to over salt so be mindful of that!
Do not put cream or milk in this dish. Pasta water works magic here, it’s just not necessary, and it will result in a pasta that is too rich and heavy. Or peas, because frozen peas do not add anything to the flavor or texture of this dish.