Here's the real carbonara recipe, according to many old Italian men and nonnas. A few simple ingredients: fresh eggs, cured pork, cheese, and pasta, and 15 minutes is all you need to make rich, indulgent carbonara from scratch.
...without the cream. So y'all can stop calling me everything but a child a God. Y'all are real serious about pasta carbonara and cream, huh?
So years ago, when Sweet Tea and Thyme was just a baby, I brought you guys pasta carbonara that I love: it's creamy, decadent, rich in all of it's cheesy, creamy, bacony, garlicky goodness. It's an easy weeknight recipe that's great comfort food.
And a lot of y'all have enjoyed that recipe with me.
But then there were those who were so adamant that my recipe was wrong, wrong, wrong.
So I gave in to your needs, dear friends. Here y'all go: a much more authentic version of carbonara. No onions. No garlic. Whole eggs. Pecorino. The authentic stuff.
How do I know it's authentic? Because I watched some videos on Youtube with old Italian men and nonnas criticizing the most popular videos of Youtube cooks and chefs making carbonara. And I made a couple calls to a few Italian friends of mine to confer with their family members. You know. To confirm.
So what is spaghetti alla carbonara?
Spaghetti alla carbonara is hot pasta tossed in a large skillet with a mixture of raw egg, Pecorino Romano cheese, and either Guanciale (pork jowls), pancetta, or even lardons of smoked bacon. A little reserved pasta water is splashed in as well, which helps make the sauce nice and creamy. Then you season with a hearty sprinkle of freshly cracked black pepper.
Carbonara translates roughly to ‘coal miner’, and legend is that this meal was often made and eaten by coal miners after WWII since all the ingredients in carbonara are pretty affordable and the American soldiers brought in a lot of pork and egg.
The main difference I see between Italian and American carbonara is mostly that we don’t know when to quit when it comes to our food. Italians are staunch traditionalists with their food, but in the US we add store bought bacon, shallots, garlic, add chicken, put in peas, replace the bacon with mushrooms, add in cream...boy, we are a mess! Haha! A delicious mess, because garlic + shallots always equal a good time in my book, but a mess nonetheless.
How easy is it to make spaghetti carbonara?
This recipe is so easy even a kid can do it. While supervised, of course!
Simply bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then add your pasta to the boiling water. While pasta is cooking, bring a large skillet over medium heat to start the best part: bacon.
Add pancetta (or guanciale or bacon) and a couple tablespoons olive oil. Butter, if you want extra points. Cook bacon until a little crisp then turn off heat.
In a mixing bowl pour the egg yolk(s) and eggs in with freshly grated pecorino and beat the eggs and cheese until well combined. When the spaghetti is al dente, add the pasta and egg cheese mixture to your bacon pan and toss like a crazy person to ensure the pasta is well coated in both the carbonara sauce and that awesome bacon fat. Splash in some pasta water, and give another good toss with the egg mixture before helping yourself to some ground black pepper. The heat from the pasta and the cooking water also gently cooks the egg, so yes, carbonara is safe to eat.
Honestly, I like both versions equally. They're fast, easy, delicious, and I almost always have the ingredients on hand.
Serve it up with garlic knots, homemade focaccia, or some yeast rolls (these are great to premake and keep in the freezer to heat up whenever they're needed), and a nice little salad, and you have a great, quick and easy dinner on your hands. Perfect for when you have those 'I just popped up to say hi' guests.
So...garlic or no garlic?
Frankly, I'm a garlic person. I'll admit that I add two cloves of smashed garlic in after frying the pork. Hey, we are total garlic people here.
The residual heat after turning the flame off makes sure that the garlic is cooked through, that the flavor permeates all the rendered fat, but the garlic never gets burned and ruins your dish. But, if you're trying to be 100% authentic-authentic...don't add it. *shrugs in 'this is just a guideline'*
Well, what about bacon in my carbonara?
Guanciale, which is pork jowl, can be difficult to find. And you aren't likely to find slab bacon or pancetta at your local Walmart or Target. A nice thick-cut bacon is perfectly fine to use, and you'll most likely get a good 10 servings of carbonara out of one pound of it.
I like it. A couple places in Italy do use it. It's not in this recipe. If you want cream, go to my last carbonara recipe and be as deliciously inauthentic as you want, crazy
The creaminess in this recipe comes from using whole eggs, an extra yolk, the melting cheese, and the starchy pasta water. Quickly mixing it all together in the pan with the pasta creates an awesome sauce that doesn't need cream.
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Authentic Spaghetti alla Carbonara
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 4 large eggs fresh
- 1 egg yolk* READ NOTE
- 8 ounces guanciale pancetta or slab bacon, cubed into bite sized pieces
- 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Coarse sea salt
- In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, egg yolk, and pecorino cheese until well combined. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. (It should be salty 'like the ocean') Add the spaghetti and cook according to package directions or for 8 to 10 minutes.
- While the spaghetti is boiling, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the guanciale and sauté for about 3-5 minutes, or until the meat has just turned crispy and the fat is rendered. Remove the pan from the heat.
- When the pasta is done, reserve ½ cup of the water, then drain.
- Toss the hot spaghetti and half of reserved pasta water into the pan with the guanciale, then add the egg mixture and stir quickly until the sauce begins to thicken. If the sauce seems too thick, add more of the reserved pasta water until the sauce is thickened to your liking.
- Season well with freshly cracked black pepper. Taste for salt, depending on what type of pork product was used, you may not need any.
- Divide the pasta into serving bowls and serve immediately.