I love spaghetti carbonara, and I want you to as well. It’s a beautiful dish that can come across as rich and sophisticated but it’s really simple and fast. If you can’t cook, learning how to make carbonara will make you feel like you can. If you can cook, it gives you an easy way to cook to your usual standards.
You can make it with fancy ingredients and it will come out well. You can make it with basic ingredients and it’s still great. You can make it in 15 minutes. You can make it with things you have lying around. It’s an excuse to eat eggs and bacon and cheese and pasta. I mean, it’s perfect.
Here are three different versions of the recipe. This one is the one I turn to. It uses common ingredients (e.g. bacon) and has the least amount of effort (e.g. no separation of eggs). If you are new to carbonara, try this: Easy Creamy Spaghetti Carbonara – Budget Bytes
This one at Bon Appetit says simple, but it recommends guanciale and has you separating eggs. If you find you want to step up from the first recipe, try this: Simple Carbonara Recipe | Bon Appetit
Or if you are a fan of recipes in the Times and want something in between those two, try this: Spaghetti Carbonara Recipe – NYT Cooking
My tips are:
- Use long pasta. Spaghetti is obvious, but I like to use bucatini. Also fettuccine or linguine will work. Apparently the sauce forms better if you use long noodles.
- Use way more bacon than called for in these recipes. Embarrassingly I will use an entire package of bacon for four people. That’s about 400g or 14 oz. Really! Most of these recipes call for a third or so of that. My take is more bacon makes for a better dish. Decide accordingly.
- Chop up the bacon or whatever pork you use into very small pieces. Try the width of your pinkie finger. Essentially it is a flavoring for the pasta. It also gives the pasta a more visually interesting look, which is one of the reasons I use so much. (Ok, fine: I also just love bacon.)
- It may seem tricky for new cooks to combine the egg-cheese mixture with the pasta, but it really isn’t. As soon as you are ready, pour it on the pasta and toss it six to twelve times with your tongs until it is all coated. Do it fast and with confidence and you’ll be fine. People like to warn you: you’ll cook the eggs! If you are fearful of this, let the drained pasta sit and cool for 2-3 minutes. You want it still to be warm, but not hot.
- Feel free to go crazy adding shredded cheese at the end. Let’s face it: this is a rich dish. Don’t hold back now. More cheese tastes better and looks better.
- You can use chopped herbs, but for this dish I find the shredded cheese and fresh ground pepper is all I want to garnish the pasta and to add flavor.
- This dish is really simple, but it’s still riffable. You can use different types of pork (guanciale (salt-cured pork jowl), pancetta (Italian bacon), or bacon), different types of long pasta, and different types of hard cheese (parm, romano, pecorino, or some combination).
- No one drinks it anymore — at least they don’t admit it — but I like a nice oaky chardonnay with this. A glass of vermentino would also hit the spot. But any white that is full bodied is fine. You can’t drink a light wine with this (ahem pinot grigio) in my humble opinion. That said, a good glass of sparkling mineral water would also go great.
- I recently made this with good quality pancetta, freshly ground parmesan and relatively expensive spaghetti, and let me say, it made a great dish even greater. The fat from the pancetta and the pancetta itself gives you a more sophisticated taste than bacon does. And the expensive spaghetti holds up better too and gives you a better mouth feel. Now, I am all about cucina povera, and using a little bacon and cheaper cheese makes for a delicious low cost meal. But if you want to, splurge a bit and this dish can become a rich and luxurious dish too. It’s great either way.
If you want to read more about carbonara, I recommend these links
P.S. One last note. When I was a kid, there was a show on TV called The Galloping Gourmet with Graham Kerr. One time he made carbonara, or as he called it then, bacon and eggs pasta. I remember watching it and thinking sadly: I can never be a gourmet because I would never eat that! A weird thing to think for a six year old. Fortunately I grew up to love it and if I am not a gourmet, I am at least a gourmand.
Speaking of Kerr, here is his recipe for carbonara. I prefer the ones above, but I’ll leave it for you do choose.