With just a few quality ingredients, our Classic Creamy Carbonara is simple, elegant and is a subtle yet decadent dish reminiscent of days spent in Italy.
The most memorable pasta dishes are usually made with few quality ingredients. Vodka sauce is made using tomatoes, cream and vodka. Puttanesca is made using tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic and anchovies. Cacio e Pepe is made using cheese and pepper. And a staple in our house — carbonara is made using whole eggs, pecorino romano and guanciale (pork jowl).
But what is carbonara? It's actually one of the fastest pasta dishes to make and, contrary to popular belief, spaghetti carbonara does not have any cream. The creamy sauce comes from the silkiness of the egg yolks, grated pecorino Romano, guanciale (cured pork cheeks), and a bit of starchy pasta water to bring it all together. It’s an easy recipe that's light and delicate and is all about simple ingredients and refined technique.
A Roman staple, Italy is exactly where I fell in love with pasta carbonara. Rich and delicate, creamy and smooth, salty and flavorful, spaghetti carbonara was a dish I ate on the daily — if it was on the menu, I ordered it, and when it wasn’t, I was dreaming of it.
”You don't need many ingredients to make a fantastic carbonara and, done properly, it's a thing of beauty.”Jamie Oliver
When I returned home from my trip, it was all I talked about. It inspired Philip to learn all the elements and technique of a traditional carbonara recipe — and in an attempt to win my heart through my stomach — our Classic Creamy Carbonara was born. It’s a dish that’s a very close second to the Carbonara I had in Italy, which is an incredible complement this recipe, in my humble opinion.
- Fresh or Dry Spaghetti
- Garlic Clove
- Pecorino Romano
- Fresh ground black pepper
Spaghetti Carbonara Recipe Steps
Boil Water: Get a large pot of water and lightly salt it. Bring the water to a boil and toss in the pasta. Cook until it's al dente (tender but still a little firm to the bite).
Cook Guanciale: Place cubed guanciale in a large skillet or frying pan with a clove of garlic and cook on medium heat. Start with a cold pan so that the fat renders out slowly, resulting in a tender chew.
Cook the meat until it is brown but not crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic, then add fresh ground pepper.
Make the Egg Mixture: While the pork is cooking, get a small bowl, crack the eggs into it, add a handful of grated pecorino Romano and beat them until well combined.
Prepare the Spaghetti: Once the pork is cooked, reserve about a half cup of the pasta water, drain the spaghetti and toss it into the skillet with the guanciale. Stir the spaghetti until it begins to soak up the pancetta fat then add a good splash of the pasta water.
Make the Carbonara Sauce: While stirring and tossing the pasta, pour in the eggs.
Keep tossing, incorporating the eggs into the water until it forms a creamy and glossy sauce around the spaghetti. You can add a couple more splashes of water as necessary.
Serve with an additional sprinkling of pecorino Romano and a few twists of black pepper.
What is guanciale? Guanciale is an Italian cured pork made from the cheeks of a pig. It is similar in flavour to pancetta, but has a higher fat content, which adds richness to the classic spaghetti carbonara.
Is there cream in carbonara? Cream is not traditional in spaghetti carbonara. The creaminess in a classic carbonara comes from the starchy pasta water combined with the gentle cooking of the eggs.
Are the eggs raw? The eggs in carbonara are partially cooked, much like a soft poached egg. We always recommend using only fresh eggs when cooking spaghetti carbonara.
Guanciale: The most similar substitution for the guanciale is pancetta, however, pork belly or bacon will work as well.
Fresh spaghetti: Replace fresh with dry and adjust cooking to the package suggestion. Swap spaghetti with bucatini, fettuccini, pappardelle, or any other noodle shaped pasta.
Pecorino Romano: Parmigiano Reggiano or Parmesan cheese will work. Pecorino Romano is a much saltier cheese so adjust seasoning accordingly.
Serve the spaghetti carbonara right away, if possible. For leftovers, reheat with a splash of water. The eggs will separate and become curdled when you reheated, however, it will still tastes delicious.
While we love the authentic carbonara recipe of eggs, pecorino Romano, and guanciale, carbonara lends itself well to additions of ingredients that require little cooking, such as greens, peas, and herbs. Chicken breast also makes a good addition to carbonara.
Recommended Tools and Ingredients to Make this Recipe
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Classic Creamy Carbonara
- 1 lb fresh spaghetti
- 8 oz guanciale diced
- 1 clove garlic skin in tact and smashed
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup pecorino romano grated
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente (tender but still firm to the bite). Do not drain the pasta.
- Place guanciale in a large skillet or frying pan with a clove of garlic and cook on medium heat. Start with a cold pan so that the fat renders out slowly, resulting in a tender chew. Cook the meat until it is browned but not crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic, then add fresh ground pepper.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and three-quarters of the grated pecorino.
- Reserving about a half cup of the pasta water, drain the spaghetti and add it to the pancetta. Toss until the spaghetti is coated with the pancetta fat. Remove from heat and add about a ⅓ cup of the pasta water.
- While stirring and tossing the pasta, pour in the eggs, continuing to toss until the spaghetti is well coated and glossy. Add additional pasta water if necessary, to get a creamy consistency.
- To serve, use tongs to pick up a good serving of pasta. Place the tongs on a large spoon and twist to wrap them in the spaghetti. Place the spaghetti on a plate while twisting and slowly release the tongs, leaving a serving that resembles a bird’s nest. Sprinkle with additional pecorino Romano and black pepper.