Spaghetti Carbonara, one of the most famous Pasta Recipes of Roman Cuisine, is made only with 5 simple ingredients: spaghetti seasoned with browned guanciale, black pepper, pecorino Romano and beaten eggs.
In the authentic Italian recipe for carbonara, the ingredients are very few and of excellent quality. The high quality of ingredients is a necessary condition for the success of this recipe.
In spite of many beliefs, the ingredients of the traditional recipe are only 5: guanciale, pecorino Romano, eggs, pepper and spaghetti. To make the best carbonara of your life, you don’t need any other ingredients, so
DO NOT USE garlic, parsley, onion, cream, milk, parmigiano, pancetta, bacon.
If you read this recipe carefully, you will see that there are many Pasta Carbonara variants, even here in Italy, but they are…variations of the authentic recipe. Which is very simple and quick to make.
The only difficulty is to make sure that the eggs don’t cook so much to look like scrambled eggs or too little to be raw and cold.
There are a few tricks to make a perfect carbonara that we are going to show you, so read on!
- Prep Time: 20 Min
- Cook Time:10 Min
- Servings: 4
- 350 g (12 oz) of spaghetti
- 200 g (7 oz) of guanciale
- 4 whole medium eggs (1 egg per serving)
- 100 g (1 cup + 1 tablespoon) of grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- ground black pepper
Step 1) – First, boil the water for the pasta while you prepare the carbonara sauce. Remember: 1 liter (4 cups) of water for every 100 g (3,50 oz) of pasta and 10 g (~1/2 tablespoon) of coarse salt per liter (4 cups) of water.
Cut the guanciale into small pieces (cubes, slices… as you prefer) then cook in a skillet over medium heat for about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir occasionally so that it cooks evenly. The more the guanciale cooks, the more its fat will melt and its meat will become crispy. The level of cooking is up to you, depending on your taste. Some people like their guanciale well cooked and others prefer it soft.
No need for oil: guanciale is already fatty, oily and fabulous on its own. If you want, you can add a tablespoon of cooking water and emulsify. This will create a great oily sauce to season the spaghetti nicely. When it’s ready, turn off the heat, cover with a lid and set aside.
Step 2) – Now prepare the pecorino cream. So, in a bowl put the eggs and pecorino Romano cheese. Use the whole egg, not only the egg yolk.
Pecorino Romano, the only cheese that is recommended for making carbonara, is a very salty and flavorful Italian cheese so there is no need to add salt.
Step 3) – Add some freshly ground black pepper. Then, mix quickly with a fork – or a hand whisk – until you have a creamy sauce.
Step 4) – This egg and pecorino cheese sauce should be quite thick. Set it aside for the moment.
The water should now be boiling so add the salt and cook the spaghetti.
If you chose a fairly large pot, the spaghetti should fit comfortably without breaking them. Whole, unbroken spaghetti is best, so you can more easily roll them around the tines of your fork without the help of a spoon. #eatlikeanitalian
The best way to cook spaghetti without breaking it’s to hold them in a bunch vertically and dip in the salted water.
Step 5) – Now let go and they will fall in all directions. As they soften, use a fork to let them sink in, then stir.
Cook the spaghetti al dente, following the cooking time found on the pasta package.
Step 6) – Using a spoon for spaghetti, drain the pasta when ready. Then place them in the skillet, over high heat, to season well with the guanciale.
At this step, we have reached the crucial moment of spaghetti carbonara. Not to put tension on it, but this is the fleeting moment in which you can make an immortal dish or one that will be a real failure. So now you have to be quick, ready and ruthless.
Here’s how to do it:
Step 7) – When the spaghetti and guanciale sizzle in the pan, TURN OFF THE HEAT, otherwise the eggs will overcook and you’ll end up with scrambled eggs and pasta!
Now quickly add the eggs and pecorino cream to the hot pasta and stir. The pan is not too hot, this way the eggs will cook without lumps.
Pay attention to the consistency, which should be creamy, but not runny.
If you notice that your carbonara is too runny, add some grated pecorino cheese.
On the other hand, if you see that it’s too sticky and dense, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of cooking water.
If you used a spoon to drain the spaghetti, the reserving pasta water may come in handy in this step.
Step 6) – Authentic spaghetti carbonara is ready. So, with the help of a ladle and a fork, create a pasta nest and place it on a plate.
Step 7) – Add the guanciale (what’s left in the pan), freshly ground black pepper and grated pecorino romano to taste. Serve and enjoy!
Serve Spaghetti carbonara immeditely, hot and tasty as they are. We do not recommend storing carbonara leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer for the following days.
Make the carbonara and enjoy it freshly made!
Guanciale or Pancetta?
You should not use pancetta in carbonara. Guanciale is pure magic and if you remove its golden fat, carbonara becomes flat and dull. The reason is the intrinsic quality of the ingredients: guanciale has flavor and fat, pancetta is drier.
Guanciale is an Italian cured meat product made with pork jowl or cheeks. Its name comes from guancia, Italian for cheek, sometimes translated with pork cheek lard or jowl bacon. Salted and peppered, it’s left to mature for 3 months.
Today we’ve shown you the traditional Roman recipe of spaghetti carbonara, where the guanciale is the top ingredient. In fact, the taste, the fat, we could say the juice of the seasoning comes from this little jewel of Italian culinary art.
Many people use pancetta in pasta carbonara. Sometimes because it’s easier to find it on the market. But more often they use it because guanciale is a rather fat meat and there is no doubt that it’s a hyper caloric ingredient.
Spaghetti carbonara with pancetta is a variation of the traditional recipe.
Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano?
The traditional recipe of spaghetti alla carbonara is an Italian recipe whose origins are from Lazio.
The recipe calls for pecorino romano because it’s a cheese born in Lazio, while Parmigiano reggiano belongs to another region: Emilia Romagna. So you can definitely use Parmigiano Reggiano in your carbonara, but know that it’s a variation of the classic pasta carbonara.
As with all the dishes of traditional Italian cuisine, there are several variations to the Spaghetti Carbonara authentic recipe. Now we’ll show you some of these variations: what to add and what to take away from the traditional ingredients and why.
Every traditional recipe has many variations, and this is also true for carbonara. In every variation there can be the addition or substitution of one or more ingredients. Let’s see some of them:
Carbonara with Cream
Many people like to make carbonara with cream, made by replacing 1 egg with 1 dl (about 1/2 cup) of heavy cream. For them, the dish is creamier and has a less pronounced egg flavor.
Well, you shouldn’t use whipping cream to make the dish creamier. For the simple reason that the fat from the guanciale, the cheese and the eggs are already quite creamy and heavy by nature. So adding the cream would only make the dish heavier and more cloying.
On the other hand, it’s true that if you’re making large quantities of pasta (say, for 10 people), a dash of heavy cream can help make the sauce more fluid. But it must remain a secret. And it’s a makeshift solution. Tricks in the kitchen, but only for desperate times!
Pasta Carbonara with Parmigiano
Even for what concerns the cheese, there are those who use Parmigiano cheese instead of Pecorino Romano or half Parmigiano cheese and half Pecorino Romano. In this case the taste becomes less strong and flavorful (pecorino Romano is a very tasty cheese). Allowed.
Carbonara with Pancetta
Guanciale, which comes from the cheek of the pork, can be replaced with pancetta, which instead comes from the fatty part of the belly pork. Pancetta is drier and less fat. If you use pancetta (possibly not smoked), add a tablespoon of oil to fry it.
Spaghetti Carbonara with Garlic or Onion
Many people like to simmer the guanciale with a clove of garlic or a little onion. We don’t know…carbonara tastes a lot of onion and garlic…another recipe for another time.
Carbonara with Parsley
DO NOT put parsley everywhere…
Pasta Carbonara: Origins
Pasta Carbonara is a Roman recipe but it surely is a recent one, since it has been heard of it only after the Second World War. Its origin is somewhat controversial, and there are at least three plausible theories.
Pasta dishes seasoned with products of pastoralism and agriculture (such as eggs and pancetta or lard) were common in the Abruzzo mountains. It seems that some displaced people have discovered them and brought to Rome at the end of the Second World War.
A second hypothesis says that in the Roman taverns the owners seasoned the pasta with Carbonara Sauce to feed the American soldiers because they knew that at breakfast they ate eggs and bacon. Given the success, the recipe has spread.
The third hypothesis says that Pasta Carbonara was prepared in the Roman taverns all along, but only after the Second World War the recipe became known to the general public, because it came into the printed cookbooks.
Now you know all the tricks to make a perfect carbonara recipe. So come on! Let’s start cooking!
Carbonara Recipe – web story
40 thoughts on “Traditional Spaghetti Carbonara Recipe”
I made this today but I had to make a fee substitutions. No guanciale to be found but the pancetta from Aldi was cut into big chunks and had quite a lot of fat. I didn’t need to add any oil.
Store only had Parmesan and Asiago. I used mostly Parmesan (at least it was a decent quality). There wasn’t even parmigiano at the store, for some reason.
Lastly, I can’t eat wheat so I used 100% buckwheat soba noodles.
But the sauce came out perfect! Rich and tasty. A big hit!
Ugh. Do you comment on every recipe you ruin?
This sounds amazing and I am being crazy enough to try this first time for a dinner party for 10 this Saturday. My braising pan is not large enough to toss 2 lb of bucatini so I am thinking of heating up my large round chafing dish and after rendering the meat, when ready to mix move the rendered meat with fat to chafing dish that’s been heated up to a soft boil then shut off flame and rely on hot water double boiler in chafing set up to keep spaghetti warm as I mix. Then toss spaghetti good with fat and meat, add egg mixture with some pasta water and serve as soon as possible. But if I have to keep warm, just put lid on till I get all the plates to serve. Does that sound like it will work.
In all honesty, I don’t know. If I were to make a carbonara with our recipe for 10 people I would use two pans. First you sauté the guanciale in the two frying pans. Plenty of guanciale, no fear. When ready set the pans aside and cook the pasta. Meanwhile prepare the pecorino cheese and egg cream in two bowls. Then when you drain the pasta divide it between the two pans. Be sure to drain two minutes before the end of cooking time. Put the pans back on the heat and stir. When you feel the pasta sizzles because it’s hot, turn it off. Add the cream and stir. Ask a friend to help you from now on. Wait to add water. If too runny, add pecorino cheese. If too dry add cooking water. Serve. If you have done things right it will be perfect! Let me know. ;X
Thanks for sharing your secrets with us! I will now search for guanciale and see the difference that it can make in my Pasta Carbonara. I’ve been using pancetta because I haven’t found guanciale in my local grocery stores but now will go the extra mile and try to find it on line.
Great recipe, thanks!
I found this recipe a little last minute, so I didn’t have time to go hunting for guanciale, but some thick cut bacon from my local butcher worked a treat!
I haven’t previously understood the difference between different Italian hard cheeses (ie. pecorino or parmiggiano- is Parmesan a different thing again?), but happily I happened to have pecorino on hand – I always like to buy it in a block and grate it fresh as I think it keeps its flavour better that way.
This was my first time making carbonara and, other than using bacon instead of guanciale, I followed the recipe to the letter – very happy with the result!
Next time, in addition to looking for guanciale, I might add just a little pasta water (probably just a tablespoon or two) to the sauce – my eggs didn’t scramble, but I wondered what it might be like if the sauce were just slightly thinner…
I have made carbonara three times. I prefer this recipe because it uses the whole egg. (No need to waste or figure out what to do with egg whites later.) We’re vegetarians so I stock up on Sweet Earth seitan bacon whenever I can find it just to use for carbonara. I was skeptical but you’re right. No need to add salt! I did temper the eggs with pasta cooking water. Also, I didn’t read the part about parsley in time. Oops! Thanks, great recipe, made for a quick weeknight meal!
Wonderful recipe! Served at a dinner party and everybody gave the dish a “thumbs up.” I’ll definitely make again!
I always hated the carbonara that you get in restaurants. I now realise its because of the cream. When I realised that carbonara isn’t supposed to have cream in it I was kean to make my own. I’ve tried several recipes and this is by far the best. Admittedly I’ve had to use pancetta as I’ve struggled to get guanciale where I live, but have now sourced some. Can’t wait to try this recipe with the guanciale as it’s delicious even with pancetta!
As for origin, according to the wonderful Antonio Carluccio it was brought to Lazio from Umbria by coal men (carbonari), who came to sell charcoal to the Romans. Since then it has been adopted by the Romans and is famous worldwide
Hi…my religion forbid me from eating pork…what is the best substitute for guanciale? Btw i have tried it with beef streak…and my kids just love it.
Try kosher beef guanciale. If you can’t find it try with kosher beef bacon.
Have a look here: http://www.growandbehold.com/beef-bacon/
Sliced mushrooms work beautifully.
Great idea Loretta!
Followed this carbonara recipe as written. Perfecto. Guanciale from Tails & Trotters in PDX. $20. Fresh local pasta. Really, this is sublime. No embellishments needed. Really.
I made this carbonara recipe exactly as directed! No cream or milk and no garlic! This is the authentic way to make it. It is delicious!
This was a very good recipe and well received by the family. I’ve made this carbonara recipe a couple of different ways – the guanciale didn’t cost $35/lb. But definitely added a different dimension as opposed to the bacon or pancetta. One deviation I made was to temper the egg/cheese mixture with pasta water. I’ve always done this and with the pan at low heat, I’ve never had an issue of the ‘sauce’ scrambling. You don’t need much – just a ladle full if that – it comes together just as nice. I did add a little garlic – just a hint. When the guanciale renders – and it WILL render if you’re patient – it creates and incredible flavor that disperses and blends into the sauce.
Absolutely loved this carbonara recipe. It was easy, quick, and super tasty. The sauce is very cheesy, but I liked that since I really enjoy this particular cheese. The only thing I did differently was using bacon instead of guanciale since that was a little expensive. It cost me 10$ and fed me and my girlfriend for 2 nights 🙂 Would absolutely recommend!
I followed these proportions but used thick cut bacon and Parmesan (because they were more accessible). I put the bacon and some of the fat in a separate mixing bowl and added the pasta and egg mixture to that bowl. Carbonara turned out perfectly creamy without being over cooked as it usually ends up when I toss in the pan. I learned that trick when visiting Italy and having a friend cook carbonara for me.
I’ve seen a carbonara recipe where the egg whites are mixed in first then yolks added just before serving. I always add a little half n half cream. Helps reheating leftovers with no separation.
Hi – I have found that the eggs will become grainy, omelette like or scrambled, if the pan is too hot.
The idea is to coat all the pasta in the egg/cheese and then allow the gentle heat of the pan to almost pasteurise the eggs rather than hitting them with heat to cook them independently of the pasta.
Leaving the rendered fat from the Guanciale in the pan help to emulsify when you add the cooked pasta. Keeping a cup or so of the pasta water (high in starch) helps amazingly well when doing this. I throw in the pasta, swirl through the pork fat to coat, add a little pasta water swirl again, then add the eggs. swirl and toss. Add the Guanciale, and a little more water. Toss, toss, toss. Keep in mind, this is also the reason to cook the pasta about 2 minutes short of packet instructions, it will keep cooking during this emulsification. If you’ve made fresh pasta, then about 1 minute in boiling water is all that is needed. Rosioli in Rome is the best Carbonara I’ve ever had, and my Carbonara is massively influenced by theirs.
Interestingly, no one pointed out that using Guanciale will make this an incredibly expensive pasta dish. Guanciale, if you can find it, will likely cost over $35 per pound. (If the Guanciale is any cheaper the quality will likely be poor.). So, the 7 oz this recipe calls for will cost over $15. Is Carbonara good? Sure! Is it really worth what it costs to make it? Not really because you are not a professional chef that can make the recipe to exacting standards. And, for example, you won’t be using fresh, house made pasta which makes all the difference in the world. If you want really good Carbonara go out to eat at a very good restaurant that is known for the dish.
It really depends on where you live. Do you live in a rural area far from any importers? Or do you live in a city like New York where its easy to find high quality Italian meats? I can guarantee it won’t be as expensive as you say if you live in an area with access to lots of imports.
THANKS FOR POSTING THE REAL CARBONARA FORMULA , I, AS A COOK , KEEP ON LEARNING EVERY SECOND OF MY LIFE , YOUR POSTING TEACH PEOPLE HISTORY TOO , AN EXCELLENT LESSON , CONGRATULATION !!!!!!
Thank you Leydav!
1st “authentic” carbonara recipe I’ve seen that doesn’t utilize pasta water. Some chefs don’t want to give up everything.
I finally found a pasta carbonara recipe that we love. I do have a question, the recipe did not say to save and pancetta so I didn’t have any to put on top.#8 Did I miss something?
Hi Kathy! No, you don’t have to save any pancetta. Usually when you mix the ingredients, a little pancetta remains on the bottom of the pan. You can pick that one to put on top of spaghetti as a finishing touch. But it’s purely an aesthetic factor. Ciao!
I’ve been making carbonara for years with my only deviations from this recipe being the (sometimes) use of bacon and addition of garlic. The secret truly is in the technique; it is incredibly easy to accidentally end up with scrambled eggs.
My girlfriend told me she has had this dish since she was in Rome so I got everything including Pork Cheek which surprisingly isn’t that easy to track down… I make it for her in a couple days wish me luck!
Do you drain the pan after cooking the bacon? There is no mention of draining… and I think not draining would make it greasy…
Usually we don’t drain the pan because the grease of the guanciale is part of the seasoning. Carbonara is a dish rich in calories, that’s for sure, but it will be not greasy. Try it and let me know
One look at this recipe and I knew I had a winner. I like how you give a brief history behind spaghetti carbonara, and that you’re not afraid to tell us to drop the garlic! I agree. And you cover the variants behind this classic dish, too. Keep it up, I love the authenticity of your Italian recipes.
Wow Shaun! I blushed as I read your comment! Thanks so much! Your words give me the strength to continue writing about italian recipes! Thank you, cheers and kisses
I am so glad I found this recipe! I haven’t had good carbonara since I left Rome! Can’t wait to make this!! They have an Eataly here in Boston so I can stock up on ingredients!
Great idea Traci! Here in Italy, Eataly sells high quality Italian products. I hope the same in Boston. If so, don’t worry, you will make the best carbonara of your life! Cheers ;-D
The instructions in 3 and 6 are clear. But then 9 will be not possible as there is no grated cheese available.
Thanks for your comment. I know that not in all countries the Roman pecorino cheese is available. However do not worry, spaghetti carbonara can also be made with Parmesan cheese, in fact it is one of the variants of this recipe. If not even the Parmesan cheese is available (I hope not), you could do like this: whisk the eggs without any cheese, then, in a separate bowl, make a cream with a soft cheese, like philadephia, and add it at the end. It’s not the same thing, but, how do you say, extreme remedies for extreme evil …. Cheers ;-D
I’m really glad I’ve found this recipe! Nice info about the cheese used here!
I personally like to add a little bit of milk (instead of cream), since I find that it prevents the eggs from becoming omelet 🙂
Hi Makos! Actually even here in Italy many people love to add milk or cream. I believe that in the end it depends on personal tastes. Try the recipe as it is, without adding any other ingredients. You’ll feel the difference! Cheers and kisses!