Pasta Carbonara

4.85 from 13 votes
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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.

Pasta carbonara recipe in a large pot.

Recipe Science

  • Mixing hot pasta with a sauce made from raw eggs and cheese creates a creamy texture as the heat from the pasta gently cooks the eggs without scrambling them.
  • The rendered fat from pancetta or bacon adds depth of flavor and helps emulsify the sauce, coating the pasta evenly.
  • Using starchy pasta water to adjust the sauce’s consistency ensures a silky, cohesive mixture that clings to the pasta.

Why It Works

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.

Ingredients You’ll Need

Ingredients needed to make this carbonara recipe at home.
  • Water: Used for boiling the pasta, ensuring it cooks evenly.
  • Kosher salt: Added to the pasta water to season the spaghetti as it cooks.
  • Pasta: Long and slender noodles like spaghetti, bucatini, or linguine are good choices.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil: Used to sauté the pancetta, adding a rich, fruity flavor.
  • Pancetta: 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 savory, crispy element and richness.
  • Egg yolks and eggs: Create a rich, creamy sauce that coats the pasta.
  • Cheese: 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.
  • Black pepper: Provides a touch of heat and enhances the overall flavor of the dish.

See the recipe card below for all ingredients and measurements (US and metric).

Ingredient Substitutions

  • Spaghetti: 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.
  • Pork: Choose if you’d like more spiced notes like pepper and cloves with fattier guanciale, or a more neutral flavor from Pancetta, or smokiness from American-style bacon. My local market sells Pancetta, but bacon is more widely available.
  • Parmesan cheese: Use Pecorino Romano for a slightly sharper, saltier flavor.
  • Egg yolks and eggs: Substitute with a combination of whole eggs and heavy cream for a creamier sauce.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil: Use unsalted butter for a richer flavor when sautéing the pancetta.

How to Make Pasta Carbonara

Person pouring salt into a pot of water.

Step 1: Cook the Pasta

I 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.

Spaghetti being added to a pot of boiling water.

I prefer spaghetti cooked al dente—tender, with just a tiny amount of chew in the center. The reserved pasta water will be used later to cook and thin the sauce.

Tongs lifting spaghetti from a pot of hot water.

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. Here’s my guide on how to cook pasta perfectly every time!

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.

Close up of pieces of pancetta sautéing in a pan.

Step 2: 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.

Step 3: Coat the Pasta

The leftover bacon fat is packed with tons of flavor, so don’t drain it. I reserve 3 to 4 tablespoons. Add the hot pasta straight from the water to the pan, and toss it with the rendered grease. Add the pancetta, and toss to combine.

Eggs, parmesan cheese, and pepper in a bowl.

Step 4: Make the Sauce

To make the carbonara sauce, I combine two whole eggs and four egg yolks. The extra fat in the egg yolks prevents the egg whites from curdling when cooked, reducing the chances of scrambling.

Whisking eggs and cheese together in a bowl.

Whisk the eggs with the grated cheese and freshly cracked black pepper. The magic happens as the eggs gently cook with the pasta.

Pro Tip: 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.

Metal tongs tossing spaghetti in a bowl with eggs and cheese.

Step 5: Temper the Egg Mixture

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.

Pouring water into a pot of pasta of spaghetti.

Once 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.

Step 6: Set Up the 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. 

Cooking the carbonara sauce and pasta over a bain-marie.

Step 7: Cook the Sauce

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.

Spaghetti carbonara with pancetta served on a white plate.

Step 8: Ready to Serve

Right before serving, I like to sprinkle on freshly grated parmesan cheese, black pepper, and freshly chopped parsley.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of sauce is carbonara?

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.

Is pasta carbonara the same as Alfredo?

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.

Can you get sick from eggs in carbonara?

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.

Can you cook the sauce directly on the stovetop?

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 should I 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).

Serve This With

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Pasta Carbonara

Give this easy pasta carbonara recipe a try if you're craving classic Italian comfort food with restaurant-quality results.
4.85 from 13 votes
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Total Time35 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine Italian

Ingredients 
 

  • 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

Instructions 

  • 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 Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • 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.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 8 servings
Calories 399kcal (20%)Carbohydrates 44g (15%)Protein 17g (34%)Fat 17g (26%)Saturated Fat 6g (30%)Polyunsaturated Fat 2gMonounsaturated Fat 7gTrans Fat 1gCholesterol 161mg (54%)Sodium 334mg (14%)Potassium 205mg (6%)Fiber 2g (8%)Sugar 2g (2%)Vitamin A 305IU (6%)Calcium 170mg (17%)Iron 1mg (6%)

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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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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6 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. amanda says

    for the final step, the final heating using the bain-marie, after the water is brought to a boil do you turn the heat off or keep the water boiling? it is not clear in any of your instructions, thanks so much!
    Amanda

  2. dave polcyn says

    Wanted to let you know Jessica, I made your meat loaf recipe the other night ever one in my family loved it. thank you Dave Polcyn

  3. Bethany says

    This was fast and delicious, even my little boys liked it! I added baby Brussels sprouts with the bacon. The only tricky part was cooking the egg sauce over the pasta pot, because my pot was bigger than my bowl, so the bowl didn’t fit properly. Would make this again 🙂