If there is one take away I learned from traveling, eating, and cooking with local Italians, it is that Italian cuisine is all about fresh ingredients and simplicity. One of the most simplistic and classic pasta dishes in Italy of all time is spaghetti carbonara.
So, what is spaghetti carbonara? It is an egg-based sauce made with Pecorino Romano, (most times Parmigiano Reggiano too), pancetta, and fresh crushed black pepper. Since it is made with so few ingredients, it is best to always try to use the best ingredients possible. Furthermore, thick spaghetti is the most common pasta used for spaghetti carbonara. Though you can use other pasta, thick spaghetti for this recipe truly makes a difference. The creamy sauce coasts the thick spaghetti beautifully. My favorite pasta brand that I highly recommend is Barilla, which can be found at most local grocery stores.
Another important ingredient to get right is the pancetta. Pancetta is essentially Italian bacon and ten times tastier than your traditional bacon! It is made with pork belly seasoned well with salt and pepper, then curled into a tight roll and finally cured to perfection. You can find high-quality pancetta at your neighborhood markets or a local butcher shop.
To be honest, I never had spaghetti carbonara until we went to Italy. Then once I tried it, I couldn’t get enough of it! We first had spaghetti carbonara in Gatteo a Mare at the Hotel Flamingo restaurant. I can still remember to this day when the chef came to our table and told my 8-year old cousin to never cut his spaghetti carbonara with a knife ever again. This spaghetti carbonara was out of this world, the sauce was thick and creamy and of course, the thick spaghetti was cooked to perfect al-dente.
Then we had spaghetti carbonara again in Brescia, Italy when we stayed with our local hosts. One of our local hosts happened to be a chef at one of Italy’s elite cooking schools. So this time, I learned how to make spaghetti carbonara from the very best! The secret tip he told me – one egg per person. Moreover, per our host’s son’s recommendation, the more pancetta the better! So, you will also find that my recipe calls for a lot of pancetta. Thank-you Matteo!
I love making spaghetti carbonara because it is so easy and delicious. It only takes 25 minutes to prepare and cook. So if you are looking for a quick lunch or dinner to prepare for the family, this is the perfect recipe. All you have to do is sauté your pancetta until crispy and cook your thick spaghetti to al-dente. Then whisk together your remaining ingredients, toss everything together and viola, you are finished. It is that easy! Moreover, when you toss the hot spaghetti with the egg mixture, the steam from the spaghetti is what “cooks” the raw eggs. Some spaghetti carbonara recipes might call to heat the pasta with the mixture in a sauté pan to help cook the eggs, but if you are not careful you can end up scrambling the egg mixture. So I find my method works much easier and well – if not, perfectly.
- 1 pound thick spaghetti
- 3/4 pound pancetta diced in 1/4 cubes
- 4 garlic cloves
- 5 eggs
- 1/2 cup grated fresh Pecorino Romano
- 1/2 cup grated fresh Parmigiano Reggianoo
- 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup pasta water
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
- Place a pot of slightly salted water over high high heat and bring to a boil. Tip: ALWAYS slightly salt your pasta water, a pinch of salt will do.
- Smash your garlic cloves. Then in a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the smashed garlic gloves and the pancetta. Cook the pancetta until the edges are beginning to crisp. Once crisp, lower the heat and deglaze the skillet with the white wine. Continue to cook until the wine has evaporated. Remove the smashed garlic cloves (save these for later) and set aside the skillet from the heat.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs. Then whisk in both cheeses, cracked black pepper, and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
- Once the water has reached a boil, cook the thick spaghetti until al-dente (typically 11-12 minutes). Ladle 1/2 cup of the pasta water and set aside. Tip: pasta water is a natural thickening agent for sauces because it has starchiness from the cooked pasta. Then drain the pasta.
- Add the spaghetti to a large bowl and pour the egg-cheese mixture over it. Quickly toss the mixture with the pasta. The steam from the pasta will "cook" the raw eggs without curdling them. Then add the leftover pasta water (to your liking - you do not have to use the entire 1/2 cup), and pancetta and continue to toss until the spaghetti is coated and everything is mixed well.
- When you serve the spaghetti carbonara, sprinkle the chopped fresh parsely on top. You can also add grated cheese, fresh cracked pepper, and mince the leftover garlic for additional flavor.
Al-dente is the traditional way to cook pasta. It means "to the tooth", so when the pasta is cooked with a nice bite to it. Tip: if you happen to have leftovers, when you reheat the pasta in the microwave or saute pan, add a little water to refresh the sauce and pasta.
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