This classic pasta dish uses eggs for a rich, silky sauce. It’s simple, quick, and hits all the notes of a cream-based sauce without the cream!
Timing is key in this recipe, so be sure to read the instructions through and have everything ready to go when it comes time to combine your freshly cooked pasta with the eggs.
- 1.75 oz (50gm) guanciale (see note for substitutions)
- 1 large egg
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1.75 oz (50 gm) Pecorino Romano or a 50:50 mix of pecorino and parmesan (see note) grated, plus extra for serving
- 8 oz (225 gm) dry spaghetti (see note for substitutions)
- salt for the pasta water, and to adjust to taste
- 1/4 tsp pepper freshly ground, plus a little to serve
- Thoroughly whisk the eggs, about 3/4 of the cheese, and pepper together in a large bowl (big enough to hold the cooked pasta at the end), then set aside.
- Dice the guanciale (or substitute) into small cubes or strips, then set aside.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente while proceeding with the step below.
- Preheat a large skillet on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Add the guanciale (or substitute) and cook until the meat is crisp and much of the fat has rendered (about 3-4 minutes). Remove the pan from heat.
- When the pasta is finished cooking, use kitchen tongs or a pasta spoon to transfer it from the pot to the semi-cooled pan with the cooked guanciale. Quickly stir to combine, then transfer about half of this mixture to the bowl with the whisked eggs and cheese. Immediately start tossing the pasta with the egg mixture, stirring, lifting, and trying to get everything as mixed up as possible. Once the sauce is starting to look creamy and ‘set,’ add the remaining pasta/guanciale, and the remaining cheese. Continue to toss and stir for a minute or two, or until the sauce looks glossy and thick.
- Serve immediately, garnished with a bit of extra cheese and black pepper.
Guanciale is a very simple Italian cured pork product made from the cheek of a pig. There’s very little meat in guanciale, and a lot of fat (which render nicely and helps to give this dish a very distinctive flavour). It’s got a distinctive and somewhat strong ‘porky’ flavour that tends to divide people a bit. It can be hard to get a hold of in many markets (for tips on finding it see the body of the recipe post), but there are some options.
- Pancetta is probably your best bet, in that it’s easier to find, appropriately fatty, and not smoked. It’s flavour is less distinctly ‘porky’, which means it definitely tastes different from guanciale (which some people prefer).
- Capocollo (aka Coppa) is a heavily marbled cured pork made from muscles around the pig’s neck. It’s usually a bit more expensive but it makes an acceptable alternative here, especially if you like somewhat leaner meat. See if you can get a thicker cut piece that you can dice into pieces, as the default is for this product to be cut quite thin.
- American-style bacon is VERY different from the other cured pork products I’ve listed, as it is smoked. It’s certainly delicious with cheese and pasta, so you can use it in this recipe, but don’t expect it to taste like a traditional carbonara. If you do go with bacon, try to choose something that’s been air-cured, thicker cut, and kept simple (i.e. no bourbon, maple, or other flavourings added).
Good Pecorino Romano cheese can be somewhat tricky to find in some markets, but it should still be easier than finding guanciale for most people. That being said, there are some substitutions that are possible, and many people like a 50/50 mix of Pecorino and Parmigiano.
- Other Pecorino cheeses – Within Italy, most pecorino is actually made in Sardinia. Any of the pecorino varieties can be used here fairly interchangeably, though it is worth noting that the
- Parmigiano-Reggiano – the classic Italian hard cheese from Parma. Many people like to mellow the distinctive sheep’s milk flavour of pecorino a bit with this cheese. I personally like a 50/50 blend of the two. You can also completely substitute the pecorino for this cheese, though you’ll obviously lose the distinctive flavour profile of pecorino.
- Grana Padano – another great Italian hard cheese, and similar in may respects to parmigiano. Use it as you would that cheese (i.e. 50/50 with pecorino, or to substitute entirely).
- Parmesan-style hard cheeses – take note that I’m talking about hard cheeses made in the style of Parmigiano-Reggiano but outside of Italy (generally the USA), and NOT pre-ground/powdery cheese that comes in a shaker.
Carbonara doesn’t have to be made with spaghetti – any long thin pasta will work (fettuccine, linguine, etc.). Bucatini is a popular alternative, as the long tube-shaped pasta does a good job of holding the creamy sauce well.
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