This pasta carbonara uses simple ingredients but delivers restaurant-quality results with a combination of cooking techniques. Get ready to enjoy classic Italian comfort food made right at home.
Table of Contents
This carbonara recipe is inspired by an unforgettable culinary experience traveling to Rome. I’m a big fan of hearty tomato sauces like bolognese, but the simplicity of this pasta dish has won me over. Rich eggs, finely grated parmesan cheese, and generous amounts of cracked black peppercorns deliver a luxurious sauce. Plus, crispy pieces of cured pork add a savory bite that brings everything together.
This homemade version only requires a handful of ingredients. However, the trickiest part is not overcooking the egg proteins. Otherwise, you’ll have scrambled eggs instead of a smooth sauce. Not to worry, I’ll share multiple solutions. Tempering the eggs and using hot pasta water as a double boiler ensures gentle cooking.
Long and slender noodles like spaghetti, bucatini, or linguine are good choices. Other types of pasta, like shorter penne, gemelli, or cavatappi, also work well. You want a noodle that will hold together well with vigorous stirring.
Cured pork selection
The three most common types of cured pork used to make carbonara are guanciale (seasoned pork jowl), Pancetta (Italian pork belly), and smoked bacon. All add a deeply savory taste and richness.
Choose if you’d like more spiced notes like pepper and cloves with fattier guanciale, a more neutral flavor from Pancetta, or smokiness from American-style bacon. My local market sells Pancetta, but bacon is more widely available.
Aged cheeses like Parmesan, Parmigiano Reggiano, or pecorino-romano add an excellent fermented tangy and salty taste. I like the nutty flavor of parmesan, but you can blend it with pecorino-romano for a more intense and spiced taste.
You will whisk the eggs and parmesan together. As it heats up, the melted fat and protein will help cling to the sauce but not be overly cheesy and heavy.
Cook the pasta
To start, grab a large pot to cook the pasta. I like to season the cooking water with salt to make the dish more flavorful. I use one tablespoon of kosher salt for every four quarts of water and one pound of pasta. The reserved pasta water will be used later for cooking and thinning the sauce.
I prefer spaghetti and cook until al dente—tender, with just a tiny amount of chew in the center. The pasta will continue to cook in the sauce, so don’t let it overcook in the water. Timing is crucial here. Adding hot pasta to the egg mixture will cook the eggs.
While the pasta is cooking, fry up the Pancetta. They’ll be done just about the same time. Don’t toss out the boiling water! We will turn the pot into a double boiler (bain-marie) to cook the sauce.
Cook the pork
Cut the Pancetta into ½-inch diced pieces or more petite strips for bacon. They will shrink as they cook. Saute them in a large skillet over medium heat in olive oil. Wait for the fat to render and the meat to turn deep red and crispy.
The grease or bacon fat is packed with a ton of flavor, so don’t drain it. I reserve 3 to 4 tablespoons in the pan to toss with the hot spaghetti. It’s so good!
Make the sauce
I combine two whole eggs and four egg yolks to make the spaghetti carbonara sauce. The extra fat in the egg yolks prevents the egg whites from curdling so tightly together when cooked, reducing the chances of scrambling.
You can use the leftover whites to make ricotta pancakes the following day, royal icing for cookies, or even a lemon meringue pie for dessert. Whisk the eggs with the grated cheese and freshly cracked black pepper. The magic happens as the eggs gently cook with the pasta.
Temper the egg mixture
Before cooking the sauce, toss the spaghetti and Pancetta with the egg mixture in a large bowl. Make sure it’s heatproof, like a metal mixing bowl. It should be large enough to fit on top of the pot used to boil the pasta but not touch the water inside. Once the noodles are coated, temper the eggs by gradually adding a ½ cup of hot starchy pasta water.
The tempering process helps to cook the raw egg gently but keeps it smooth. The starches also coat the egg proteins, creating a buffer to reduce the chances of curdling. Coagulated eggs will be small little granules that look like tiny cheese curds. You can add more liquid for a looser sauce if you’d like.
Finish the sauce in a bain-marie
To complete the cooking process, boil the pasta water and put the bowl of pasta on top. Now you have a makeshift bain-marie or double boiler. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water, or it will get too hot! Just pour off some of the liquid as needed.
The trapped steam will heat the bottom of the bowl. After constantly stirring for a few minutes, the egg sauce will tighten, thicken, and stick to the spaghetti. Stirring distributes the heat to prevent hot pockets in the bowl. Without motion, the eggs will solidify. Right before serving, I like to sprinkle on some freshly grated parmesan cheese, black pepper, and freshly chopped parsley.
Serve this with
- Caesar salad
- Mixed green salad with balsamic vinaigrette
- Rosemary focaccia
- Garlic bread
- Puff pastry cheese straws
Frequently asked questions
It’s a savory custard sauce with a higher ratio of egg yolks to whole eggs. Grated cheese like parmesan, parmigiana-reggiano, or pecorino-romano is added. Freshly cracked black pepper gives a slight spiciness to add flavor dimension.
No, carbonara uses the fat and protein in gently cooked eggs to create a luxurious sauce. Alfredo sauce uses heavy whipping cream to add richness.
Raw eggs are used to make the sauce for the pasta recipe. To reduce the chances of food poisoning from salmonella, use pasteurized eggs. As the eggs thicken in the double-boiler, this indicates the thermal process also inactivating the spoilage organisms.
You pose a greater risk of scrambling the eggs versus using a bain-marie. This process is due to the uneven direct heat below the pan. Transfer the pasta and egg mixture to a larger pan if going this route. Heat over medium-low heat, and constantly stir until the sauce thickens up. Use the pasta to move any sauce on the pan’s bottom. If it sits too long, the sauce will curdle.
Why you should use a bain-marie for cooking the sauce
When learning how to make pasta carbonara, the key is not to curdle the eggs in the sauce. Just cook them enough to thicken the consistency. It’s similar to making a hollandaise sauce. If the pan’s heat on the stove is too high, the eggs will curdle between 144 and 158°F (62 to 70ºF). Using a bain-marie allows the steam to gently heat the bottom of the bowl, creating a warm surface to cook the eggs. The sauce gradually warms and thickens at around 149ºF (65ºC).
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- 4 quarts water
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 ounces pancetta, ½" diced pieces
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Cook the Pasta – In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Add the salt, then stir to dissolve. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure to reserve the hot pasta water to use later for making the sauce. Meanwhile, as the pasta cooks, prepare the pancetta.
- Cook the Pancetta – Heat a large pan over medium heat. Add olive oil. Once hot, carefully add the pancetta. Saute until crispy, stirring occasionally, about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn off the heat, reserving 3 to 4 tablespoons of grease in the pan. Transfer the meat to a clean plate. Set aside until pasta is ready.
- Coat the Pasta – Add the hot pasta straight from the boiling water into the pan. Toss the pasta in the rendered grease. Add the pancetta, and toss to combine. Keep the pot of pasta water on the stove. It will be used to cook the sauce.
- Make the Sauce – Use a large metal mixing bowl, big enough to fit on top of the pot of pasta water. Do not place it on the pot yet. Add the egg yolks, eggs, parmesan cheese, and black pepper, and whisk to combine.
- Temper the Sauce – Add the hot pasta mixture to the bowl with the egg mixture. Toss to coat the noodles with the sauce. Gradually add ½ cup of hot pasta water to the noodles. Stir constantly to combine until a lightly thickened sauce coats the pasta.
- Set Up the Bain Marie – Bring the pasta water to a boil. Place the bowl of pasta over the pot, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Discard some water as needed.
- Cook the Sauce – Constantly toss and stir the pasta until the sauce thickens, is smooth, and coats the spaghetti, about 3 to 5 minutes. Incorporate the sauce on the bottom of the bowl, so it does not curdle. If desired, gradually add more water for a thinner sauce—season with salt and pepper to taste.
- To Serve – Serve immediately topped with parsley, parmesan cheese, and freshly cracked black pepper.
- Recipe Yield: 8 cups
- Serving Size: 1 cup
- Pasta Options: Spaghetti, bucatini, or linguine.
- Other Pork Options: Bacon or guanciale cut into 1/2-inch wide strips.
- Cheese Selection: Freshly grated Parmesan, Parmigiano Reggiano, or Pecorino Romano.
- Storing: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
- Reheating: Place pasta in a microwave-safe bowl for individual portions. Cover with plastic wrap. Heat in 15 to 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until hot.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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