This Spaghetti Carbonara is easy, quick, and delicious…and it’ll whisk you away to Italy for the night (or at least a few minutes)!
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Are there certain foods that remind you of different vacations you’ve taken? For instance, my wife and I went back to Charleston, SC last summer (I grew up there), and I can’t get smoked bourbon salt out of my mind. One of the restaurants we visited used this amazing creation to finish their dishes, and it has stuck with me ever since. Spaghetti Carbonara falls into the same category. This time it was our honeymoon trip to Italy several years ago. I fell in love with Spaghetti Carbonara, and I ended up ordering this delicious dish all over Italy. This is one of those dishes that I often order when I go out to eat, and I finally decided I needed to make it at home. And guess what? It’s shockingly easy to make!
After just one bite of this Spaghetti Carbonara, my wife deemed it company-worthy. That’s when I know a recipe is not just good, but really good. Not only is this dish creamy and packed full of flavor, but it’s incredibly easy to make. The creaminess of Spaghetti Carbonara comes from an egg and cheese mixture that is stirred into the hot pasta. The pasta then cooks the eggs indirectly. That sounded a bit odd to me at first, but then I remembered eating some not-so-good Spaghetti Carbonara on our last night in Rome. It was basically scrambled eggs mixed with pasta. And now I know why that particular version missed the mark…the eggs were probably added to the pan while it was still on the stove. All that does is scramble the eggs. While I love a good scrambled egg, Spaghetti Carbonara is not supposed to have scrambled eggs in it. Don’t worry…the eggs will cook fully thanks to the hot bowl and hot pasta. So to make Carbonara, you really just need to cook the cubed pancetta and pasta, then stir in the egg mixture. The longest part of this recipe is literally waiting for the pasta water to boil. A dinner that’s quick, easy, and delicious? Count me in!
One of the real dividing points about Spaghetti Carbonara is whether or not it should include heavy cream. A lot of American versions have added cream to the recipe, but Italians (particularly those in Rome) are adamant that Spaghetti Carbonara should never include heavy cream. Since I was out to create a truly authentic version of this recipe that would remind me of the meals I ate in Italy, I left the cream out. And you know what? It doesn’t need cream. The additional egg yolks and grated cheese provide plenty of creaminess, and I’m more than happy to omit the heavy cream.
One other recipe note is that Spaghetti Carbonara is traditionally made with guanciale, or smoked pork jowl. Not surprisingly, guanciale isn’t exactly easy to find in the U.S., or at least not in upstate New York. If necessary, substitute pancetta for the guanciale. (I found pancetta in the deli at my local market, and I asked for 2 slices about 1/4″ each.) Worst case scenario is you could use thick cut bacon, but spend the extra couple of minutes looking for pancetta before turning to bacon. Also, if you can, use real Parmesan Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheese…not the fake stuff in the shaker can! Like most Italian meals, Spaghetti Carbonara is pretty simple, so you should go with the best quality ingredients you can afford. And of course you should open a bottle of wine for this dinner. It is Italian after all. Cheers!
- In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, Parmesan, Pecorino and pepper; set aside. (Tip: Do this first to allow egg mixture to come to room temperature before using it later in the recipe.)
- Fill a large stock pot with 6 quarts of water and salt liberally. Heat over high until boiling. Add spaghetti and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water; Drain rest of pasta water into a large serving bowl. (See note below)
- While the pasta is cooking, add the cubed pancetta to a deep frying pan over medium-low heat; cook for 7-8 minutes or until slightly crispy.
- Add cooked pasta and ¼ cup of reserved pasta water to pan with the cooked pancetta; stir well and cook over medium heat for 1 minute, or until most of the water has evaporated.
- Pour water out of the large serving bowl. Transfer pasta and pancetta into the bowl, and stir in the egg mixture. Stir constantly until eggs begin to thicken and coat the spaghetti. (The heat from the pasta and bowl will indirectly cook the eggs. If the mixture becomes too thick, add a splash of the reserved pasta water. I typically add about 1/4 cup of additional pasta water at this point.)
- Top liberally with freshly ground black pepper and additional Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.