One of the most famous Italian pasta dishes is the humble carbonara. However more often than not, ordering it at a restaurant is a disappointment because so few places know how to make it correctly. Hint: there’s no cream involved in an authentic pasta Carbonara!
While I am mostly a purist when it comes to making a traditional Roman style carbonara, there are a few things you can alter without messing up the dish.
The first acceptable change is substituting guanciale for pancetta. Guanciale is cured pork cheek, and while it is fantastic, can be quite difficult to come by if you are not in Italy. Pancetta on the other hand is cured pork belly. Both ingredients have a good amount of fat and rich pork flavor, although guanciale is a bit richer.
The second acceptable change is using Parmigiano Reggiano in place of the traditional Pecorino Romano. In fact, many ‘authentic’ recipes list Parmigiano Reggiano as the cheese to use, however history tells us that Pecorino Romano is the original. Both cheeses work well, and you can use either, however I do prefer pecorino over parmesan in most cases anyway.
What Is The Best Pasta For Carbonara?
The best pasta for carbonara is Bucatini. These thick noodles look just like spaghetti, however they are fatter and have a tiny hole down the middle. Of course, this is just my personal opinion, but I find using bucatini makes the best possible carbonara. A good rule of thumb is 100 grams of dry pasta per person, so when cooking to entertain (that’s right, I said it) it’s really easy to scale pasta recipes.
How To Make Pasta Carbonara Perfectly Every Time
Ingredients (for two people)
- 200 grams Bucatini, dry
- 100 grams Guanciale, or Pancetta
- 50 grams Pecorino Romano, microplaned
- 5 Egg Yolks
- 1 tbsp Black Pepper, freshly cracked
- 1 tbsp Salt, per litre of boiling water
Making pasta carbonara is extremely easy, and my method is authentic and foolproof. First, get your mise-en-place. That means get everything prepared so you can work on a schedule. Chop up your guanciale or pancetta into chunks (sometimes called lardons). And prepare your egg mixture.
My preferred egg mixture for two servings of carbonara is five whole egg yolks. I beat them together along with a teaspoon of freshly cracked black pepper, and about 25-30 grams of microplaned Pecorino Romano (about a quarter cup). You can use a regular cheese grater if you want, but I find a microplane helps make a creamier sauce.
Next add your chopped up pork to a cold pan on medium low heat and allow the fat to render down. We want to start with a cold pan because this helps the fat render better, which is where a lot of the flavor in the sauce comes from. While this is happening, start a pan of boiling, heavily salted water.
Why do I use a pan to boil the noodles? Simply because I can cook everything at the same time. When you boil in a pot you’ll inevitably notice that half the pasta begins to cook while half is still sticking out of the water. This way everything cooks evenly and you can get a perfect al dente.
If you want perfectly cooked pasta, boil the noodles for 2-3 minutes less than the package says. The noodles will finish cooking with their own residual heat, as well as being in the pan with the pork fat.
Here’s where things get technical. When the pasta is almost done, turn the heat off the pan with the pork. Use tongs to lift the noodles from the pan directly into the pan with the pork and rendered fat, and stir everything around. Toss the pasta around a bit. Next take 50 ml of the leftover pasta water and add it to the bowl of egg mixture while whisking quickly. This will temper the yolks so they have less of a chance to scramble when you add them to the pan. Next, pour the egg mixture directly into the middle of the pasta and quickly start mixing everything around with your tongs. If you let the eggs sit in one spot they will end up cooking and making scrambled eggs, which will ruin the dish.
The residual heat of the noodles and pan will thicken the egg mixture without making scrambled eggs. This will also make the sauce super creamy and rich, which is what pasta carbonara is known for. Make sure to toss all the noodles in the pan so each strand is coated in a perfect carbonara sauce.
I serve my carbonara directly in the pan. Why? Because my favorite Italian restaurant, Tonnarello in Trastevere, Rome does it this way. As they make the greatest carbonara in the world, I try to copy them as much as possible. Seriously, whenever I’m in Rome I probably go to Tonnarello at least twice a week.
Of course finish the pasta with some more microplaned or grated Pecorino Romano, and a healthy amount of freshly cracked black pepper. Serve and eat immediately.
While there isn’t a lot of variation in keeping with an authentic carbonara, the easiest thing to change would be the egg mixture. I use 5 egg yolks, but you can pretty much do whatever ratio you prefer. You can use 3 whole eggs if you want a lighter sauce, more egg yolks if you want something even richer, or a mix of yolks and whites to get your preferred consistency.
If you are worried about undercooked eggs, you shouldn’t be There is enough residual heat left over even after pan is taken off the heat to fully cook the egg mixture.
Wondering what to do with all the leftover egg whites? Use them in a cocktail! In keeping with the Italian theme, you can use the leftover whites in cocktails such as the Monte Cassino, Amaretto Sour, or Petruchio. Or you can save them in the fridge in an airtight container and make an egg white frittata the next morning for breakfast!
- 200 grams Bucatini dry
- 100 grams Guanciale or Pancetta
- 50 grams Pecorino Romano microplaned
- 5 Egg Yolks
- 1 tbsp Black Pepper freshly cracked
- 1 tbsp Salt per litre of boiling water
- In a bowl mix together the egg yolks, half of the pecorino romano, and half of the black pepper. Set aside.
- In a pan add a liter of boiling water along with a tablespoon of salt. If you need more water just scale up the salt. Bring to a boil. When boiling add the bucatini (or noodle of your choice) and allow to cook.
- In a cold pan add the cubed guanciale or pancetta and turn the heat to medium low. Let render until the lardons are crisp and the fat is liquid and clear.
- Remove the noodles from the water 2-3 minutes before the package instructions to ensure they will be al dente in the finished dish. Use tongs to move the noodles from the pan with water to the pan with pork and fat. Mix everything together and turn off the heat.
- Add 50 ml of the starchy, salty, pasta water to the bowl of egg yolk mixture and whisk quickly. This will temper the egg mixture so you do not get scrambled eggs.
- Pour the egg mixture directly into the middle of the noodles and quickly start mixing and tossing the pan. You want the noodles to be completely coated in the thickening sauce. Don't let the pan sit while you do this or the eggs with overcook and become scrambled, continually toss the pan.
- Add over the rest of the pecorino romano and black pepper, serve, and enjoy.