Apr 6, 2011

Carbonara recipe

I'm going to quote myself.

I know, it sounds boldly presumptuous. But I'm going to do it in order to introduce a recipe–which is the topic of my quote–and thus invalidate my quote. Convoluted much? Please, keep reading.

Two years ago I wrote a post listing the most off-limits foods to serve at a meal, taking into account everyday ethical choices, idiosyncrasies, eating whims and food snobism. One of the items on that list was Carbonara.

Here's the quote. I described it as, «Easy dish but so hard to make well. The danger between obtaining "scrambled eggs" and "quick setting cement" walks a very fine line.» One other fact I failed to mention is that the eggs in properly prepared carbonara are essentially raw.

That said, I'd like to share the recipe as one of my culinary strong points, and overrule my carbonara embargo. I should do this because some folks have never tasted the real carbonara (I've heard of chefs that make it with heavy cream, béchamel... mayonnaise, even!). Others don't cook it because they can't overcome the anxiety of figuring out correct heat and timing, factors that divide carbonara into "good" carbonara, and "awful" carbonara. And some people simply freak out about the raw eggs.

I'd like you to read on, and possibly make some at home tonight. The ingredients for carbonara are not hard to find.

Make some, and then you can decide to ratify or reject the carbonara moratorium.

In the meantime, the usual historic note. I'll make it short.

Carbonari were 19th century freedom fighters called 'charcoal burners' perhaps because of their camouflage black face paint (carbone = coal). The revolutionary secret society's goals were patriotic and liberal, and they played an important role in Italy's Risorgimento.

Some believe that the dish was once popular with these fugitives who lived on the mountains near Rome, because the ingredients were easily portable and cooking was fairly uncomplicated. Some others attribute the birth of carbonara to American allies putting breakfast of bacon and eggs on pasta.

Whatever the origin, this dish is a cucina romana stalwart.

To make the real rebellious carbonara for 4 you'll need:

500 g (1.1 lb) spaghetti, I also make it with rigatoni or any thumb-length, ribbed tube pasta
200 g (1 cup) guanciale, cubed or thinly sliced in strips (can be substituted with unsmoked pancetta or bacon)
1 egg + 4 yolks
1/2 cup each Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a gallon of cold water to a rolling boil, adding a fistful of salt when the surface of the water begins to tremble. Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Do. Not. Overcook.

While the pasta boils, sizzle the strips or cubes of guanciale in a hot skillet for about 10 minutes over a low flame, until the fat is translucent, crisp and barely browned. Remove skillet from the stove, discard the rendered fat, blot the cooked pork on kitchen towels and keep aside.

In a large serving bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks, grated cheeses and pepper. Blend well into a yellow paste. I use a fork for this.

Tricky part.

When the cooking timer rings, using tongs, fish out the pasta from the boiling water, and immediately toss it into the bowl with the eggy mixture, place the bowl over the pot of boiling water and blend vigorously using your fork. This way you're cooking the egg AND coating the pasta, clever you! 
You don't want the egg to set with the heat of the pasta (that's frittata) you want to evenly coat it, while cooking. 
If you see the sauce is too dry you can add a slug of starchy cooking water and keep blending the silky delight. Taste and add more salty cheese and ground black pepper, if necessary. 
Garnish with the fried pork. Done.


  1. At the end the real Carbonara. I'm so annoyed to see only something that looks like it. Thank you Eleonora !!!

  2. Absolute YUM! Any chance we can find this on the street food stroll? :)

  3. This looks wonderful and I will try it. Spaghetti Carbonara is one of my husband's favorite dishes, but then he would love bacon ice cream too. If I can't find guanciale, I will substitute bacon or pancetta.
    Thank you!

  4. Salivating and hungry, I am.
    This is probably my favourite pasta recipe. I usually use pancetta or just plain bacon, but i will try this guanciale, for sure.

  5. Lola ! That looks so darn good I can't even tell you how good it looks... after working a good part of the night, I could go for a big plate of this and a glass of some sturdy red wine with good strong legs...

    Always a pleasure when I can make it here ; like in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, it looks Truly Scrumptious...

  6. Yum!!!
    I'm wishing for pasta weather... still very hot here, but this dish will be served in my home in the coming months...
    thanks to you:-)

    x Robyn

  7. you live in a world of fantastical food...i so hope to one day visit...and maybe diet before and after...smiles.

  8. Wow does that look mouth wateringly delicious! I am very pro-carbonara especially one that looks as good as this - can't wait to try your recipe! Grazie!

  9. i love learning the history of this great dish, and moreover, the correct way to make it. (truth be told, i have used cream - a little! - with the eggs) but i truly appreciate knowing the proper way to prepare it.

    thank you lola for this, and also for the heads up about the evita remake in buenos aires -- no sightings yet, but will keep an eye out ;-)


  10. BELLISSIMO QUESTO POSTO! You are so right.. everyone claims to know how to make carbonara but then when you taste it..it is always scrambly egg type or too creamy. It seems to be the pasta that boys like to make the most! Thanks for bringing back a true and traditional recipe!

  11. Ciao! This dish looks amazingly delicious. I don't think I've ever actually had carbonara which is a shame and I love my pasta dishes! That will definitely change. I just might have to make it this weekend.

  12. Fabrizio~
    Grazie a te per la visita. Hai fame? :)

    Indeed! Let's discuss post-walk lunch!!

    Great! Pancetta is better than bacon, because pancetta is not smoked.

    You can find guanciale in my online store. Did you check out the GUANCIALE product link?


    I love it when you pop in for a bite, and leave such wonderful comments behind. A presto!

    It may still be too hot in your hemisphere for this rich dish, you're right. But once the temperatures begin to drop, you can go carbonara-crazy.

    We'll be here, welcoming you with open arms (and elastic waistband clothing).

    Thank YOU! Let me know how it turns out!

    Four components, that's all it takes. Plus love, obviously: the secret ingredient.

    I'm all about culinary tradition! There's a reason why our older generations cared so to keep them alive. Thank you for your kind words.

  13. JR/Mike~
    Be prepared, when you'll eat Carbonara, life will never be the same again!

  14. As many recipes as there are cooks, it seems :-)

    Nonna (and Mamma) always added the eggs to the pancetta first, and then whisked them into the pasta. And for the ingredients, it was drummed into my head that it was one egg per person plus one, and one tablespoon of parmigiano per person, plus one.

    Great post!

  15. This looks delicious. I, for one, love carbonara. Mmmm. Breakfast AND dinner.

  16. The first time I ever had this was in Siena. I was a little put off when the waiter cracked a raw egg over my pasta but I loved it and have been enjoying it for years. I'm loving it even more using eggs from our own chickens and home cured guanciale and pancetta from our pigs.

  17. Oh I have had some pretty awful Carbonara. Not something I would order again but you do inspire me to make some.

  18. Andrea~
    Like in much of Italian/regional cuisine, every family has their own recipe for this and many other dishes. I rely more on ingredient proportion, and I've tried every egg/yolk combination possible. For 500gr of pasta 4+2 works the best for me, regardless of number of guests.

    ...and even midnight munchies!

    Inn at CCP Farm~
    That's the way to do it (I'm a bit envious, actually). Home cured guanciale? Now you've got my attention!

    Erase all bad memories with this, and get back to me once sated ;)

  19. Thanks so much for relieving my guilt. I thought carbonara was a relic of Italy's deforestation. Now I am one happy mangione.

  20. Absolutely true a properly made carbonara is just delicious.

  21. Mike-
    You're my kinda guy, then.

    I'm happy you agree with me :)

  22. One of my favorites...if done right

  23. Is it Owen's wine that has good strong legs or...?

    This recipe looks fabulous. I don't think il mio appartamento a Roma will be equipped to make this, though. Alas.

  24. Lola, thanks for the reminder, I had completely forgotten that you have an online store.
    I'm hoping you do Europe shipping!
    Off now to follow the link!

  25. The one and only time I had real Carbonara (and never forgot it, either) was when my daughter had invited her subway encounter she had met two days before. He insisted on going out with her, but first wanting to meet her family. He was a handsome model from Texas, tall and dark, and able to cook Italian style. He sang while preparing the meal for us ("It`s all about Soul"), and when he served us, we were all quiet and stricken by the beauty and taste of it (and him, of course).
    That was my Carbonara Story.
    Love to you, Lola!

  26. Perfect instructions-thank you! It bothers me too when I see restaurants making it with cream.

  27. Good god those photos look tremendous!

  28. Theresa~
    You and me think the same.

    Have wooden spoon, will travel.

    Unfortunately amazon makes you pick one or the other, and my bigger readership is US-based, so I had to go in that direction for shipping :( But there might be a way to choose GB shipping on the buyers' end!

    Wow, that's one plate of pasta you'll never forget!

    The dish is rich (and tasty) enough without it!

    TV F&D~
    Nothing like a little food porn! ;)

  29. Non hai idea di quanto piaccia a casa!! Devo provare a rifarla anch'io! Complimenti!
    Un abbraccio e buonissima serata

  30. Marifra79-
    Grazie! Che piacere il tuo entusiasmo. Ciao

  31. You've inspired me! I'm adding this to my must try recipes.

  32. I'm glad you ended your embargo! That photo has me drooling and I haven't even finished my morning coffee...

    By the way, I've heard of a lot of awful ersatz versions of carbonara, but mayo... that takes the cake!

  33. Gina~
    Wonderful! let me know how it turns out.

    I know, mayo was a shocker for me too. It's strange how some folks go out of their way to complicate otherwise easy recipes.

  34. Can i just come there and you prepare it?? i'll bring the wine and do clean up!

  35. Of course! Door's always open <3 (and we can do clean-up together)

  36. Hello Lola, I could smell the guanciale across the ocean`~`~`~`
    Love it!!

  37. That looks so darn delicious. you've made a perfect carbonara, one of my favorite dishes.

  38. E' vero la carbonara è il piatto più difficile da fare...ma goduriosa!

  39. CChuck~
    I bet you did! ;)

    I have to agree with you on carbonara, it's up there in my favorites category.

    Davvero goduriosa! Sono d'accordo con te!

  40. Elenora,
    Thank you for the wonderful tour on Monday!!! We had dinner at Roscioli on Monday night which was awesome (particularly the Carbonarra) and Monti tonight (also great). Our travel blog is lanieradventures.blogspot.com and my food blog is eatfirstchewlater.blogspot.com. Thanks again.

    Jake & Julie Lanier

  41. Jake & Julie~
    thank YOU for the wonderful time, I enjoyed our walk very much. I'm happy you liked the restaurant suggestions, after the bad experiences you'd had, I didn't want you leaving Rome with bad food memories!
    I'm off to visit your blogs now.
    Enjoy the rest of your vacation and... buon appetito!

  42. One of my favorite dishes. The worry is in the raw eggs, but pasteurized eggs are available for those who worry.

  43. Just now found your blog and read this. You hit it on the head. Timing is the key. I also found it interesting that you mention chefs wanting use bechamel. My son's a chef and he and I have that discussion several times.

  44. Looks wonderful! This is one of my fave pasta dishes. It's perfect when you're tired and don't feel like going to the store. I just made some a few nights ago. :)

  45. I love carbonara, but since I'm never able to cook it properly (the eggy part of it!), I've given up cooking it :-( Thank you for your advices, I'll try to follow your instructions, especially for the "tricky part" of the recipe. it's not easy managing eggs for carbonara: sometimes the results of my efforts are small pieces of omelette or, even worse, a very liquid egg cream that lacks any taste. As far as "guanciale vs pancetta", no doubt... guanciale is perfect for carbonara, pancetta changes its taste.
    Buon appetito!
    P.S. I'm Italian but I'll try to write in English since your blog is in English, thus sorry for my mistakes.

  46. Grazie Gaia, ma io sono Italiana – il blog è scritto per i miei lettori/famiglia all'estero!

    La carbonara non è semplice come sembra!