This recipe for Pasta Carbonara is one of the first things my dad taught me how to cook. Now, it’s a recipe I make for my kids often and they love it just as much as I did (and still do). Although it comes from my dad, I have fiddled with the recipe just a bit and as a result, I have allowed people to successfully make a recipe they had previously written off after having disastrous results. Since my original post, I have heard from several family members and friends that they made my version of carbonara, and were thrilled with the results. I love stuff like that!! Helping people enjoy the cooking and eating process is one of my favorite feelings. Come see what makes my recipe such a success.
**Originally posted 10/16/2013. Blog post updated 3/28/2020 with new photos, recipe card, etc.**
So what is carbonara?
“Carbonara” roughly translates to “coal burner” in Italian, and this dish gets its name because of the copious amounts of freshly cracked black pepper, which are said to resemble flecks of coal. Pasta Carbonara is one of the simplest pasta recipes but it does require some technique. Many, many people have told me they have always had bad luck making carbonara. Adding hot pasta to eggs is a recipe for disaster, which is why one day I decided to temper my egg yolks with some of the starchy pasta cooking water. It is the secret to success. Well, not so secret anymore. I have heard from family members and friends how my recipe and technique have allowed them to successfully make this dish at home. Hurray! My work here is done.
What ingredients do you need to make my carbonara?
- Pasta: any variety of dried pasta, though I really prefer a long noodle for this.
- Bacon: Or pancetta, guanciale (which is traditional but can be hard to find), really you can use any smoked and/or cured meat you love or leave the meat out for a vegetarian version and sub in some roasted mushrooms or other vegetables.
- Egg yolks
- Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano: but feel free to use just one or the other, or use any sharp, aged, salty grating cheese
- Black pepper and lots of it
- Garlic and onion: This is not in most traditional Italian recipes, but my dad added it and I do too.
- Fresh Parsley: optional but my dad added it and I like the freshness and color it adds
Dad’s Pasta Carbonara
This is truly one of my favorite dishes to make and to eat. It is pure comfort food and always makes me remember being in the kitchen with my dad. When I first wrote this recipe, my dad was still here. I could text him, call him, email him if I had any questions on a recipe. Updating this blog post now, after losing him a little over 18 months ago is quite an emotional process. I have no doubt he would send me a sweet, silly email when he saw this blog post pop into his inbox like he did with so many other blog posts. My heart hurts knowing I will never receive one of those emails again, but I am comforted knowing that he is living on through my blog and through the recipes I was lucky enough to learn from him.Print
- 1 lb of any long slurping noodle such as spaghetti or linguine fini
- 8 ounces bacon (thicker cut the better) cut into small strips
- 1/2 yellow onion very finely diced
- 1 or 2 garlic cloves smashed and finely minced
- 4 egg yolks (place in a medium sized mixing bowl)
- 1 1/2 cups parmigiano and romano-finely grated (or just one or the other-whatever you have or prefer)
- 1 cup of reserved pasta cooking water
- Lots of freshly ground black pepper
- handful of chopped parsley (optional)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- Once boiling salt generously and cook your pasta according to the package directions – I usually go a minute or so under.
- While waiting for the water to boil, begin crisping the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat stirring occasionally.
- While bacon is crisping, separate eggs and add your yolks to a medium bowl. Reserve egg whites for another use if desired.
- add 1 cup of grated cheeses to the egg yolks
- When bacon is crisp, remove to paper towel lined plate to drain and pour off excess bacon drippings, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the pan along with any brown bits.
- Return pan to heat and add onions and garlic, cook until softened, but not brown – about 5 minutes.
- Turn heat off and leave onion/garlic mixture to cool slightly.
- When your pasta is almost cooked, scoop out a cup of the water, and very, very, VERY slowly drizzle the hot water into the egg yolks and cheese while whisking constantly. If you pour the hot water in too quickly, or without whisking, you will have scrambled eggs.
- When your pasta is cooked, drain it in a colander or scoop directly from pot to pan with tongs, and add it to the skillet containing the onions and garlic, grind in as much black pepper as you can stand, I like about 20 grinds from my pepper mill.
- Quickly add the egg mixture, remaining cheeses, bacon, and parsley if using and toss immediately with tongs until the mixture clings to the noodles and becomes silky.
- At this point the hot pasta will cook the eggs, but not curdle them, so it is very important to add the egg mixture to the noodles as soon as they come out of the water. Let this sit briefly, one or two minutes, and stir once again before serving.
- Serve immediately with extra black pepper, parsley, and cheese on the side.
Keywords: pasta carbonara, spaghetti carbonara, carbonara
Here’s the OG blog post from October 16, 2013:
Tuesday: I left my house at 7 am, had classes all day, a granola bar for lunch, raced off campus at 2:45 to make it to my daughter’s gymnastics class and blew in the door at 5:30 with my two hungry kids. I did not plan ahead for dinner; there was nothing happily simmering away in a crock pot on my counter. My answer, as it so often is, was pasta. But not just any pasta… My dad’s pasta carbonara (with a few of my small tweaks). I grew up eating it, it’s not fancy, it’s not quite traditional Italian–although pretty darn close (Please excuse me for not stopping at Wegmans to buy cured pig cheeks). Anyhow, in the time it takes to boil the pasta, I can assemble the rest of the ingredients. It all gets tossed together and served. It really is that simple. This dish proves that comfort food doesn’t have to take all day, and that busy people don’t have to resort to take out, frozen food, or sauce from a jar. My son refers to it as “that creamy bacon pasta thing” and my daughter just likes anything involving noodles and/or bacon. It is a less than 30 minute meal that satisfies deeply and I can almost guarantee most people have the few ingredients it requires in their kitchens right now. And who doesn’t love the smell of bacon at the end of a long, crazy day?
Cook’s note: Before getting started I recommend pouring yourself a cold glass of Italian Pinot Grigio. It helps make the experience more authentic… That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.