Pasta Carbonara

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My favorite recipe for authentic Italian pasta carbonara that’s easy to make, full of the richest flavors, and made with four basic ingredients.

Pasta Carbonara

A few months ago while I was in Valencia doing a two-week Spanish language intensive, I became good buddies with my fellow classmate, Alessio, who proudly hailed from Rome.  He and I instantly connected over a shared obsession with his hometown’s famous cuisine (he was so delighted that I was a fan!) and had a blast chatting each day about our favorite dishes, and tips for how to authentically make them, and where in Rome to find the best so-and-so.  But the joke amongst our classmates was that not a single day could pass without one of us somehow bringing the group conversation back around to one Roman dish in particular…

pasta alla carbonara. ♡

Now, lol, I may have gravely disappointed Alessio when he asked my opinion about pineapple on pizza.  (“Have to admit — I love it.” / “Noooooo, Ali — no pineapple on pizza ever!”)  But I did earn a bit of Roman cuisine street cred when he asked how I make my carbonara.  (“Eggs, pasta, guanciale and Pecorino Romano — no cream.” / “Yesss, that is correct!”)

According to Alessio, the greatest tragedy of this Roman dish being exported around the world has been the addition of cream.  It’s often used as shortcut to make the sauce extra creamy, but it is actually completely unnecessary.  When made properly, the eggs in carbonara should melt with the starchy water and cheese to create a creamy, silky, luxurious sauce all on their own.  Then when combined with chewy al dente pasta, lots of guanciale (or bacon), and a generous crack of black pepper — I mean, does Italian comfort food get any better than this?!

I think not.  We’d better make some.

Frying Guanciale for Pasta Carbonara

Pasta Carbonara Ingredients:

Alright, before we get to the recipe listed below, here are a few quick notes about the ingredients you will need.  Since authentic carbonara is traditionally made with just four basic ingredients — pasta, eggs, cheese and bacon — it’s worth it to invest in quality so that each will shine.  You will need:

  • Pasta: I really love to use thick pasta in carbonara, such as spaghetti, bucatini or rigatoni.  That said, though, just about any pasta shape will work for this dish, so I say use whatever you have on hand.
  • Eggs: Alessio insists that the egg ratio for carbonara should always be double the amount of yolks as whole eggs.  So for a pound of pasta, we will use 2 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks.
  • Cheese: Pecorino Romano — a hard, salty, sheep’s cheese — is traditionally used in carbonara.  But I often substitute Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese, which also works well and tastes similar.  As always though, when using cheese in a sauce, it’s very important that you buy a block of cheese and grate it by hand before adding it to the recipe.  Otherwise, pre-grated cheese has a tendency to clump and not melt well.
  • Guanciale: Guanciale — Italian cured pork cheek — is the type of bacon traditionally used in this dish.  It is quite salty and flavorful, and also quite fatty, which melts down to form the oil for the sauce.  That said, though, if your grocery local store does not carry guanciale, you are welcome to sub in diced pancetta or a thick-cut bacon instead.
  • Sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper: It’s also super-important to be sure that your pasta water is liberally salted for this recipe, as it is the only time we will be adding salt to the dish.  Then feel free to add as much or as little freshly-cracked black pepper as you prefer, to taste.

Large pot of spaghetti carbonara

How To Make Carbonara:

Once you’ve become a bit practiced at making carbonara, the process can move quite quickly if you are multitasking the pasta/bacon/egg sauce along the way.  But if this is your first time making carbonara, I would recommend reading the directions extra-carefully and taking your time so that you do not accidentally overcook any of those elements along the way.

Here’s a quick overview of how to make carbonara (full recipe below):

  1. Heat the pasta water. Main note here — don’t forget to generously salt that pasta water!
  2. Whisk together the egg mixture. I find it’s easiest to do this in a measuring cup so that you can easily pour the mixture into the pasta later.  We’ll just whisk eggs, egg yolks, grated cheese, plus a few twists of freshly-cracked black pepper together until combined.
  3. Cook the guanciale. Brown the guanciale in a large sauté pan (large enough to hold all of the pasta) until it reaches your desired level of crispiness.  Then use a slotted spoon to transfer the guanciale to a separate plate, leaving behind a few tablespoons of grease, and remove the pan from the heat.
  4. Cook the pasta. You want to cook the pasta until it is just 1 minute shy of al dente.  Midway through, use a measuring cup to carefully scoop out about 1 cup of the starchy pasta water.  Then while vigorously whisking the egg mixture with one hand, very slowly drizzle the hot water into the eggs with your other hand until the water is incorporated.  (Be sure to constantly whisk the eggs, or else they will scramble!)
  5. Toss the pasta. Once the pasta is nearly al dente and ready to go, use tongs or a spider spoon to transfer the pasta immediately from the stockpot to the large sauté pan with the bacon grease.  Place the sauté pan over medium heat, add an additional 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water to the pasta, then toss, toss, toss the pasta for 1 minute until it is al dente.
  6. Add in the eggs and guanciale. Then, using one hand to continue tossing the pasta, use your other hand to slowly drizzle the egg mixture into the pasta and toss until combined.  (Do not add the eggs too quickly or they will scramble!)  Continue tossing until the eggs form a glossy sauce that coats all of the pasta, adding in extra scoops of starchy pasta water if needed to thin out the sauce.  Add the guanciale and toss to combine.
  7. Serve. Serve immediately, garnished with an extra crack of black pepper (plus extra grated cheese, if desired).

Spaghetti Carbonara in Serving Bowl with Parmesan

More Italian Pasta Recipes:

Looking for more classic Italian pasta recipes?  Here are a few of my faves!

Pasta Alla Carbonara in Bowl

Print

Spaghetti Carbonara

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 4-6 servings 1x

Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (or 500 grams) thick spaghetti (or your preferred pasta shape)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 2 ounces (60 g) freshly-grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper
  • 7 ounces (200 g) diced guanciale (or pancetta or thick-cut bacon)

Instructions

  1. Heat the pasta water. Heat a large stockpot of generously-salted water until boiling.
  2. Whisk together the egg mixture. In a measuring cup or medium mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, grated cheese, plus a few twists of freshly-cracked black pepper until combined.  Set aside for later.
  3. Cook the guanciale. Meanwhile, cook the guanciale (or pancetta/bacon) in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until browned and slightly-crispy, about 7 minutes.  Remove pan from the heat, use a slotted spoon to transfer the guanciale to a clean plate (leaving the leftover grease in the pan) and set both aside for later.
  4. Cook the pasta. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until 1 minute shy of al dente.  Midway through, use a measuring cup to carefully scoop out about 1 cup of the starchy pasta water.  Then while vigorously whisking the egg mixture with one hand, very slowly drizzle the hot water into the eggs with your other hand until the water is incorporated.  (Be sure to constantly whisk the eggs, or else they will scramble!)
  5. Toss the pasta. Once the pasta is nearly al dente and ready to go, use tongs or a spider spoon to transfer the pasta immediately from the stockpot to the large sauté pan with the bacon grease.  Place the sauté pan over medium heat, add an additional 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water to the pasta, then toss, toss, toss the pasta for 1 minute until it is al dente.
  6. Add in the eggs and guanciale. Then, using one hand to continue tossing the pasta, use your other hand to slowly drizzle the egg mixture into the pasta and toss until combined.  (Do not add the eggs too quickly or they will scramble!)  Continue tossing until the eggs form a glossy sauce that coats all of the pasta, adding in extra scoops of starchy pasta water if needed to thin out the sauce.  Add the guanciale and toss to combine.
  7. Serve. Serve immediately, garnished with an extra crack of black pepper (plus extra grated cheese, if desired).


Notes

Recipe edits: Recipe updated in July 2020.

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32 comments on “Pasta 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. 5 stars
    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).

  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?