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Pasta alla Carbonara

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This pasta alla carbonara recipe easy to make with 4 classic ingredients and tastes so decadent and delicious.

Ok, I couldn’t spend a month in Rome studying and seeking out the best pasta alla carbonara the city had to offer without coming back to this post to share a few things that I learned. ♡

First of all, can I just say how much I appreciate this city’s passion for talking about good pasta?! One of the first souvenirs I purchased during our month in Rome was this tote bag, and the number of nods and conversations it prompted with everyone from market vendors to our AirBnB neighbors to restaurant servers to local playground parents were downright delightful. “That’s right.” “All you need.” “Correct, no cream!” You also can’t help but love a city where everyone, when asked who makes the best carbonara, quickly replies with the obvious —“mia nonna” (my grandmother). Certainly true, I’m sure. But I have to say that the bowls of pasta alla carbonara that I had the pleasure of sampling in restaurants were also exceptional.

My favorite, no surprise, ended up being the pasta alla carbonara developed by the “King of Carbonara” himself, Chef Luciano Monosilio. Served with a supremely decadent and silky egg sauce, a few crispy and surprisingly large cubes of guanciale, and a perfectly al dente twirl of thick spaghetti, Chef Luciano’s carbonara tasted just as legendary as one would hope. And I was also intrigued to learn that he has a brilliant modern method for making it, which I’ve now wholeheartedly adopted.

Instead of tossing the egg sauce in a very hot pan with very hot pasta, a classic method that is notorious for sometimes accidentally scrambling the eggs, Chef Luciano first tempers the eggs in a metal mixing bowl with the guanciale grease and hot starchy pasta water. Then he transfers the pasta directly to the mixing bowl, places the bowl over the pot used to cook the pasta water (essentially creating a double boiler), and tosses the pasta with the sauce over the heat until it has cooked and thickened. It’s a simple method that I’ve found to be much more reliable when it comes to creating a perfectly glossy egg sauce and I have a hunch that all of you fellow carbonara lovers out there are going to love it too.

So today, I’ve updated my favorite pasta alla carbonara recipe below to include the double-boiler trick, along with a few additional tips that will hopefully be helpful. This recipe is definitely full-on rich, full-flavored, classic comfort food. So when you’re ready to indulge, grab a fork and let’s dive in!

Pasta Carbonara Ingredients

Here are a few notes about the pasta carbonara ingredients that you will need to make this recipe:

  • Pasta: Thick spaghetti or rigatoni (I used mezzi rigatoni in the batch photographed here) are the most common pasta shapes traditionally used with carbonara sauce. But of course, the dish will still be delicious with just about any type of pasta shape you have on hand, so it’s up to you.
  • Eggs + egg yolks: My Roman friend, Alessio, taught me years ago to always use double the number of yolks as whole eggs in this carbonara.
  • Guanciale: Italian cured pork cheek is undoubtedly the starring ingredient in Amatriciana, Gricia and Carbonara. Its rich, salty, intense pork flavor and signature thick crisp-chewy texture is unparalleled in my opinion, and absolutely worth a trip to your local Italian market if guanciale is unavailable at your local grocery store. That said, if you’re unable to track down guanciale locally, thick-cut bacon or pancetta will work as a non-traditional substitute.
  • Pecorino Romano: This aged sheep’s cheese is always traditionally used in the Roman pastas, and its salty, grassy, earthy flavor is absolutely delicious in carbonara. That said, if Pecorino is unavailable at your local grocery store, you can use Parmesan as a non-traditional substitute. Or if you want to follow the lead of Chef Luciano Monosilio, you’re welcome to use a 2:3 ratio of Pecorino Romano to Grana Padano.
  • Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper: Guanciale is quite salty and peppery, so you will not need to salt your pasta water as liberally as normal when making carbonara. I still like to add quite a bit of extra freshly-ground black pepper in addition to the guanciale, but you’re welcome to use however much pepper you prefer.

How To Make Carbonara

I’ve made carbonara over the years using more methods than I can count. But I’ve found that this double boiler method — slightly adapted from the method used by Luciano Monosilio — is the most reliable I’ve found so far to create a silky, glossy egg sauce. And, most importantly, avoid scrambling the eggs.

The full instructions for how to make carbonara are detailed in the recipe below. But here are double-boiler steps you will need to follow specifically for cooking the egg sauce:

  1. Mix the sauce. Everything having to do with the egg sauce will take place in a large metal (or other heatproof) mixing bowl. First, whisk together the eggs and egg yolks. Then, while whisking the eggs with one hand, slowly stream the reserved guanciale grease into the eggs with the other hand until combined. Next, while continuing to whisk the egg mixture with one hand, slowly stream one ladle-full (1/2 cup) of the starchy pasta water into the egg mixture with the other hand until combined.
  2. Quickly add the pasta. Once the pasta is about 1 minute shy of al dente, use a spider strainer or tongs in one hand to transfer the pasta directly from the stockpot to the bowl with the egg sauce, while using the other hand to toss the pasta with the sauce.
  3. Cooking the pasta and sauce. Immediately place the metal bowl on top of the stockpot that has been left behind with the starchy pasta water. This basically functions as a double-boiler, as the steam from the hot water will heat the bowl with the pasta. Continue tossing the pasta and guanciale continuously until the egg sauce has thickened. Then immediately transfer the pasta to your serving bowls. (If it sits for much longer in the hot bowl, it may begin to accidentally scramble.)

Pasta Carbonara Tips

Before we get to the full pasta alla carbonara recipe below, here are a few tips to keep in mind when making this dish:

  • Read through the recipe first. This recipe is not difficult to make, but it does require a bit of multitasking that goes very quickly once you begin cooking the pasta. So I recommend taking a few minutes to read the entire recipe fully (especially the double boiler technique) before you begin cooking.
  • Finely-grate the cheese by hand. As always, it’s important to grate the cheese by hand versus buying pre-grated cheese at the store (which usually contains anti-caking agents that prevent the cheese from melting smoothly). I recommend using a microplane or your preferred grater to finely grate the cheese just before adding it to the recipe.
  • Don’t use too much pasta water. We want the starches in the pasta water to be very concentrated for this recipe, which will later help to emulsify the cheese sauce and adhere it to the pasta. So I recommend filling your stockpot no more than half full (about 3 quarts).
  • Have a strainer or tongs ready to go. I find it’s much easier to use a spider strainer (or tongs, if using long noodles) to transfer the pasta directly from the stockpot to the sauté pan. But if you do not own either of those, you can use a heatproof cup to scoop out a few cups of the starchy water (it’s always good to reserve more than you need, just in case). Then you can drain the pasta in a colander and transfer it immediately to the sauté pan.
  • Don’t overcook the pasta. Since the pasta will continue cooking slightly while it is tossed with the sauce, it’s important to keep a close eye on the pasta during the final few minutes of cooking so that you can transfer it over when it just 1 minute shy of al dente.
  • Be very careful not to scramble the eggs. As mentioned above, be extra-careful when adding hot liquids or pasta to the eggs not to let them scramble! The key is to incorporate any extra heat gradually and never let the pan (or metal bowl, in this case) holding the egg sauce overheat. I believe you will have success if you use the double-boiler method included in the recipe below.
  • Serve immediately. This pasta is definitely best served immediately hot out of the pan, so dish it up as soon as the sauce has thickened and enjoy!

Carbonara FAQ

How do you pronounce “carbonara”? The correct carbonara pronunciation in Italian is “kahr-boh-NAH-rah.” (Here’s an audio example.)

What does “carbonara” mean in Italian? The name of this dish is derived from the Italian word carbonaro, meaning charcoal burner.

Where did pasta alla carbonara originate? The historical origins of this dish are fairly controversial, as is the case with most of the four Roman classic pastas. You can read more about a few of the most popular myths here, but more than likely, historians believe the dish originated in the mid-20th century in postwar Rome.

Why did my carbonara scramble? Carbonara sauce scrambles when the eggs are heated too quickly. Be sure to quickly whisk the eggs while gradually (not too fast!) adding in the guanciale grease and starchy pasta water. Then once you move on to tossing the pasta with the sauce, keep a very close eye on the sauce and as *soon* as it thickens, remove the bowl from the heat and transfer the pasta to your serving dishes.

Can I add cream to my carbonara? Noooo, this is unheard of in Rome, and it’s also completely unnecessary. The egg sauce will be plenty creamy on its own when properly mixed with the starchy pasta water.

What if I can’t find guanciale? As mentioned above, guanciale is one of the key ingredients that makes traditional pasta carbonara so special. But if you can’t find guanciale in your local stores, pancetta or a good thick-cut bacon can be used as a substitute.

What can I use instead of Pecorino Romano? This sheep’s cheese is always used in the traditional Roman pastas and, in my opinion, tastes best here. But if you are unable to find Pecorino Romano, I’ve also tried making this recipe using freshly-grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) and it was delicious.

The 4 Roman Pastas

Interested in trying out all four of the classic Roman pastas? These traditional recipes won’t let you down!

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Pasta alla Carbonara

  • Author: Ali
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 3-4 servings 1x

Description

This pasta alla carbonara recipe easy to make with 4 classic ingredients and tastes so decadent and delicious.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 12 ounces (340 grams) uncooked pasta (I used mezze rigatoni)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 2 ounces (60 g) freshly-grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for garnish
  • fine sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper
  • 8 ounces (225 g) guanciale, diced into ½-inch cubes

Instructions

  1. Cook the guanciale. Heat a large sauté pan (preferably nonstick) over medium-low heat. Add the guanciale to the pan and cook, stirring and flipping occasionally, until the guanciale is golden brown and crispy and the fat has rendered, about 10 minutes. (Keep a close eye on the guanciale so that it does not burn.) Using a slotted spoon, transfer the guanciale to a clean bowl. 
  2. Bloom the black pepper. Add 1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper to the pan with the hot grease, then turn off the heat.
  3. Boil the pasta. Meanwhile, fill a large stockpot about half full of lightly-salted water (roughly 3 quarts) and bring it to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  4. Mix the sauce. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, egg yolks, and Pecorino together in a large metal mixing bowl (or other heatproof bowl) until combined. Using one hand, gradually pour in the black pepper guanciale grease into the bowl while using the other hand to whisk the mixture until combined. Once the pasta has cooked for 5 minutes, remove ½ cup of the starchy pasta water and gradually pour it into the egg mixture while whisking until combined.
  5. Quickly transfer the pasta. Once the pasta is about 1 minute shy of al dente, use a spider strainer or tongs with one hand to quickly transfer the pasta to the metal bowl, while using the other hand to continuously toss the pasta with the egg mixture. Add the cooked guanciale to the bowl as well. 
  6. Finish the pasta. Turn off the heat under the stockpot used to cook the pasta (the cooking water should still be in the stockpot). Then carefully place the metal bowl with the pasta directly on top of the stockpot, like a double boiler, so that the steam from the cooking water will heat the bottom of the bowl. Use tongs or a large spoon to continuously toss the pasta until the egg sauce begins to slightly thicken (watch it very closely so that it does not scramble). Then once the sauce has thickened, immediately remove the bowl from the stockpot and transfer the hot pasta into your serving dishes. 
  7. Serve. Serve warm, garnished with an extra sprinkle of cheese and a twist of black pepper.


Notes

Recipe edits: Recipe updated in 2022 to include less pasta (original recipe used 1 pound, which was reduced to 12 ounces for a richer sauce-to-pasta ratio) and revised instructions (I’ve found this new method to be more reliable). I’ve also included a double-boiler method inspired by Luciano Monosilio.

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48 comments on “Pasta alla Carbonara”

  1. Great pasta dish, Ali! Love it! :)

  2. This looks delicious! Wish I had it in front of me right now!

  3. One of my all-time favorites! Love the lots of bacon!

  4. Simply and awesome! I love all that bacon!

  5. You have no idea how happy I am you posted this recipe! I use to have this all the time in Spain with my Spanish family but I had no clue how to make it. I can’t wait to try this for me and my husband now!

    xoxo, K
    Relatively Offbeat

  6. These photographs are gorgeous, as well as the pasta. It’s funny I never seem to have spaghetti carbonara in the US, I always end up having it when I visit England, need to change that! This looks SOOO good!

  7. Carbonara is one of my favorite things ever. Ever. And isn’t it fun to go and remake some of those early recipes? I’ve been doing that for awhile and have rediscovered some gems!

  8. I fell in love with Spaghetti Carbonara when I was in Rome earlier this year. It’s one of the most delicious things on the planet- and this looks perfect! Your pictures have been to die for lately Ali!!

  9. Seriously, I am forever in debt to whoever decided that it would be a good idea to put eggs and bacon in a pasta. I adore carbonara and yours looks fantastic!

  10. So stunning, as always! I love this for a quick meal.

  11. I love this Ali! I have been doing the same little by little. Carbonara has always been a favorite of mine, but I’ve never used onion in it…can’t wait to try yours!

  12. Had this for lunch today! Carbonara is my absolute favourite!

  13. Your carbonara looks delicious. The recipe looks so quick and easy, I will definitely be giving it a try soon!

  14. My favorite too forever!! I like spicy food so I just add a little bit of hot peppers cut very small and add them to the bacon skillet when the onion is almost translucent!!!

  15. We made this tonight and OH MY! It was delicious!! I used brown rice spaghetti from Trader Joe’s and it was excellent with this. This is going into my “bag of tricks” for yummy comfort food during the LONG winter. Thanks!

  16. This has always been one of my go-to recipes. My landlord in Sicily who spoke no English showed me how to make this when I was newly married. Leftovers can be frozen with good results. It works well with chopped ham as well.

  17. I’ve made Carbonara for years with cream so i was excited  to try your version.  The whole family loves it and i love the lack of heavy cream calories! Thanks for improving an old favorite:-)

  18. First had this when I was in Italy, loved it!
    Going to try your recipe tomorrow and so looking forward to trying it.  Have to let you know how it turns 
    out 

  19. This was fantastic!! Thank you for sharing an amazing recipe :) My husband and I both loved it!!

  20. Making this tonight! I can’t wait! 

  21. Just made this tonight and oh my gosh! So delicious!! Thanks so much!!! 

  22. Loved it. Thank you for sharing. 

  23. I made this tonight, dinner for one style and it was so yummy. This will be a go to for sure! Thank you for sharing!

  24. Made it, and eating it with the family as I type this out!! So glad I found your recipie!! Thankyou, it is so delicious, and I WILL be making it again very soon!

  25. Wow! This looks and sounds, delicious!! I’m going to try this.

    Do you think it would be ok, if I put in some julienne cut sun dried tomatoes? I’d dice them, first.

    Thank you so much for sharing this recipe, and all of your recipes. I’ve enjoy all of your dishes I’ve made.

    Beth

  26. Really silly question but as I live with an English teacher and a Math teacher they are in need of clarification please.

    Are we correct in reading that in total we will have 2 egg whites and 6 egg yolks?

    Midge
    A Canadian super Fan

    • Hi Midge! Sorry for the confusion — the recipe calls for two whole eggs (whites + yolks), and four egg yolks (no whites).

    • Thank you for asking answering this question. I thought the same thing … 4 eggs 2 with and 2 without yolks or 6 eggs two will entire eggs and 4 yolks only. I am duly informed.

  27. Hi!
    Tastes great! I had difficulty getting hold of Guancial!
    Pork itself is not easy to find in most places in India. Luckily I had sealed 500 gms packets of pickled Pork sausage…a specialty of erstwhile Portuguese culture in Goa on the West coast of India. Goa Sausage and Wine!

    All the other ingredients- Pasta,Eggs,seasoning are available in most outlets..and in household storages.. especially during the last six months that the world has
    been arm-twisted into adapting.

    I also modified your excellent recipe slightly to include a few Krasnie Ostrie Perets(Red Hot Chilli Peppers). You were right about doubling the eggs : yolk ratio. The overall result was a sumptuous stomach warming meal !

    Thank you again. I did post on the first recipe of Ginger Kale Rice a couple of days ago..do not know if you missed it amongst your many correspondences! Cheers!

    Regards
    Madhu

  28. Amazing! Had tried to make this a few ti e previously without much success. This was fabulous- Delicious- everyone loved it. Can’t wait to make it again!

  29. Hi, Ali
    I cut the recipe in half since it was just the 2 of us.
    I made the dish tonite – step by step. No issues, BUT it was waaay too salty. Whew.
    I say it was the too-salty pasta water. Mom and sis said it was the thick bacon I had.
    I wondered if maybe my dish was too dry but mine looked just like your photo.
    We got our month’s supply of sodium! Will try again but with not so much salt in the
    pasta water next time. Hope all is well with you and Barclay. Lisa in Indy

  30. Have you tried adding seafood, like shrimp and lobster tail, to this before? I’m hoping to add both. How would you recommend cooking those proteins and adding it to this recipe?

    • The issue you will have is that the guanciale is the source of fat for the dish. You would have to add olive oil or something if you use a low fat protein. Also, the guanciale adds a lot of flavor, it’s cured in spices, herbs and garlic.

  31. Wondering if gluten free noodles would yield the same result. Thoughts?

  32. We made this and loved it. Like the story about Italian origin…did NOT like the part of no pineapple on pizza …”not ever”(?!?)…this is just snobbish!!

  33. Saw the comment/question wondering if gluten-free pasta would work with this….Why not? We use garbanzo-based pasta (Banza) and several whole-grain pastas, vegetable-style pastas; it’s all good! The key is the Carbonara!

    • The main question is how much starch the pasta release. The bean based pasta might have different type and amount of starch. Trial and error, I suppose. You might have to add more or less pasta water to get the right consistency.

  34. Can’t wait to try this. I have never made pasta carbonara before because it looked so heavy, or just seemed difficult. Thanks for this recipe.

  35. Great recipe, happy to have found it again. I feel this recipe is superior to all the others I have tried, even when the ingredients are the same, simply because you temper the eggs. Pretty genius way to prevent the eggs from cooking when coating the pasta. Thanks again!

  36. I want to make this recipe with fresh pasta. Will the ayer be starchy enough?

  37. Finally a good, authentic version that I can follow.

  38. The best recipe and sooooo easy to do. Love it and it taste amazing

  39. It was almost there. I felt like it needed more flavor it was very bland. Also, I’m noticing all the 5 stars are from commenters who hadn’t even made the recipe 😞

  40. Is this 4 yolks total, or the 4 yolks plus the 2 yolks =6 yolks?

    • So you will need 6 eggs total. 2 of those eggs you will add whole. The other 4 you will only add the yolks. (You can either discard the whites or save them for another recipe.)

  41. I’ve always been a fan of it this one looks really different and appetizing. The subtle way of garnishing really does stand out. Thank you for recipe