This is one of those dishes that my mom taught me to make many years ago, even though she herself didn’t make it very often. As usual her influence worked its way into my kitchen and I hardly ever made carbonara. I’m happy to say that I’ve changed my ways. When I finally made it again about a year ago, I remembered just how much I love this decadent dish with its bright egg yolk, salty pecorino and savory bits of pork meat. Mike was a big fan too. We almost always have the ingredients on hand (or a reliable substitute) which is even more reason to put it into the dinner rotation more often. Sometimes we cheat and use Parmigiano simply because it is what we have on hand as in the photo above. Speaking of substitutes if you are unable to find pancetta or guanciale, bacon will do just fine. An unsmoked bacon is preferred and more in keeping with the traditional recipe, but I wouldn’t let that stop you from trying this dish. We hope you will give this recipe a try, and if you do please let us know how it turns out.
- Bring a pot of salted water to boil. When the water comes to a boil add your pasta to the pot and cook until al dente.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add the pancetta or guanciale and saute for about 5-7 minutes or until it becomes crisp and the fat renders. Remove from heat.
- In a mixing bowl, beat eggs and 3/4 cup of Pecorino Romano cheese together, then add salt and pepper.
- When the pasta is done, reserve at least 1 cup of pasta water. I usually reserve more just in case. Strain your pasta and add to a serving bowl.
- Add the pancetta to your egg mixture to temper it and mix into pasta right away, stirring quickly and continuously until the egg and pancetta mixture is completely incorporated. It’s important to stir immediately and quickly so that the eggs do not scramble
- Add some pasta water as needed to moisten and further incorporate ingredients. Only use as much water as it takes to moisten and incorporate the ingredients.
- Serve immediately. Pasta waits for no one. Add additional cheese and pepper to taste.
Note: Al dente simply means that the pasta is a little chewy and not over done. It literally means, “to the tooth” or ya know, chewy.
About the eggs: I use a generous amount of whole eggs per pound of pasta which I think gives it a rich creamy taste. If you would like to replicate the photo in this recipe, set aside aa egg yolk in a small bowl and place on top of the pasta once you have plated it. If you are cooking for a group this might not be practical. It was fun for just me and Mike.
About the meat: Traditionally this recipe calls for Italian cured meat not bacon. The main difference is that bacon is typically smoked which changes the flavor of this dish. The traditional ingredient, guanciale is made from pork jowl or cheek. It is sometimes substituted with pancetta which is made from pork belly. Both cured meats are often referred to as Italian bacon and neither is smoked. Because bacon is much more widely available in the US, the American-Italian version of this dish often uses bacon. Unless an unsmoked bacon is used, it does significantly change the flavor profile, but it is still very well-liked and common in this country.
The picture above shows our version using pancetta. We prefer guanciale or pancetta to the smoky flavor of bacon. Both are delicious and one of these days I’ll report on a side by side comparison of the two.
About the cheese: Carbonara is a typical pasta dish of the Lazio region of Italy (Rome area). As such the local Pecorino Romano cheese is used. In the photo above we used Parmigiano simply because we had it on hand and had run our of Pecorino. We think you’ll like either option, but maybe don’t argue this point with a Roman!