This authentic Pasta Carbonara Recipe is absolutely delicious with perfectly cooked spaghetti tossed together with rendered savory guanciale (pork jowl), fresh grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and a bit of egg for both taste and texture. It’s a simple 20-minute meal and only requires 7 ingredients. This incredible spaghetti carbonara is the perfect example of why Italian cuisine is known for taking just a handful of ingredients and turning them into iconic dishes that are layered in flavor and easy to make.
Carbonara is a simple pasta dish composed of eggs, hard cheese, cured pork, black pepper, and pasta that is thought to have been developed in the 1940s. So for an Italian classic, carbonara is fairly young. Some people believe that its origin is related to coal workers because alla carbonara means “coal workers style” and the use of black pepper, like coal flakes. But others believe that its roots are related to WWII American soldiers in Italy and their rations of bacon and eggs. But in truth, culinary historians don’t know for sure. Yet, we can all agree that regardless of its origins it’s delicious.
The pasta most often used to make pasta carbonara is spaghetti but any type of noodles work and rigatoni is often used too. And like with all Italian food, higher quality ingredients make the dish. However, what really makes the dish special is how it’s prepared. When making classic pasta carbonara, instead of a sauce being made ahead of time, one is quickly created after the pasta is cooked and drained. This is done by adding a mixture of raw egg, hard cheese, and black pepper to the hot pasta along with a bit of pasta water. Then rendered cured pork is added with a bit more cheese. The result is a rich and creamy pasta full of flavor without the use of heavy cream.
To begin, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Next, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook it according to the package directions. It should be cooked to al dente, but not more. Then when the pasta is done cooking, set aside 2 cups of the hot pasta water and then drain the noodles in a colander.
While the pasta is cooking, add the guanciale to a large saute pan and cook it over medium heat for a few minutes. You just want it to become soft and begin releasing fat. You do not want the guanciale to become hard so keep an eye on it to prevent overcooking.
Next, whisk the egg yolks, ground black pepper, and almost all of the grated cheese together in a medium bowl. Then add 1 tablespoon of the reserved pasta cooking water. When everything is fully combined the egg mixture should be smooth and creamy. This is the base of the carbonara sauce.
When both the spaghetti and guanciale are done cooking, add the noodles to the large saute pan along with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the hot pasta water. Then toss the noodles together with the guanciale and continue cooking for 1 minute over medium-high heat.
This is where the carbonara magic begins to happen! First, turn off the heat and remove the saute pan from the stove. Then slowly pour the egg yolk mixture over the pasta while stirring continuously for 30 seconds with a wooden spoon. The residual heat of the pasta cooks the sauce as you stir.
Once you’ve added the egg mixture, stir in the rest of the cheese along with 1 to 2 more tablespoons of the warm pasta cooking water to create a creamy consistency. Start with one tablespoon and then add more if needed. You want the pasta to be creamy, not watery.
With the carbonara complete, taste the finished dish. Then season with salt and pepper if necessary. Now, serve with your favorite wine and enjoy.
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The main difference between the two pasta dishes is how the creamy sauce is formed. Alfredo relies on butter, heavy cream, and Parmesan cheese to make a creamy cheese sauce. Whereas, carbonara is thickened by using a combination of starchy water, egg, and cheese. There is no cream in carbonara. Also, carbonara always includes guanciale, pancetta, or even bacon. Alfredo doesn’t have any cured pork as part of its flavor profile.
If you’re asking yourself, why is my carbonara not creamy? The most common reason that carbonara turns out dry is that you either have too much pasta and not enough sauce or you didn’t add enough reserved pasta water at the end when finishing the dish.
Authentic carbonara doesn’t include any heavy cream. The creamy sauce is created by combining starchy pasta water, cheese, and eggs. So when people ask, is carbonara better with or without cream? The recipes with cream may be delicious, but they aren’t a true Italian dish.
No, this dish is best eaten immediately after it’s made. Yes, leftovers the next day are fantastic, but it’s not really a make-ahead meal.
Leftovers will keep for up to 4 days in the fridge when stored in an airtight container. Then reheat on the stove over medium-low heat or in the microwave on medium power. If the pasta is dry you can add a bit of hot water to loosen it up a bit.