Think of a carbonara as an elevated Cacio e Pepe, in which smoky pork is added to the mix. All you need to do is add bacon, eggs and cheese to some pasta to make what is essentially the breakfast of the pasta world. Although known for taking classics and putting my own spin on them (like the carbonara recipe in my orange Instant Pot book), I’m going to make this one more traditional in terms of the ingredients, but I do supply some options in Jeff’s Tips. It‘s most commonly made with spaghetti, but any long noodle works great. That said, I personally prefer bucatini or perciatelli for this as I like to slurp the sauce simultaneously with the noodles.
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Boil The Pasta
Make The Carbonara
Draining The Pasta
Marrying The Pasta To The Carbonara
The Taste Test
- 1 pound bucatini or perciatelli (or any long pasta you prefer)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon semolina or Tipo “00” flour (optional, see Jeff’s Tips)
- 4 large eggs; 2 with just the yolks (an egg yolk separator is amazing for this)
- ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for topping
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more for topping
- 1-2 teaspoons garlic powder (optional)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 8-10 ounces pancetta, guanciale or thick-cut bacon, diced
- Fill an 8-quart pot halfway with water and place on the stove over high heat. Once it achieves a rolling boil, add the salt and semolina flour (if using) and reduce the heat to medium-high. Add the pasta and gently stir until fully submerged in the water. Setting a timer, cook according to the package instructions for “al dente” (or the shortest amount of time the package suggests). Once the timer goes off, take a quick moment to pause what you’re doing. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the remaining water and cooked pasta through a colander in the sink. Do not rinse the pasta once drained. Just let it rest in the colander until called for.
- As soon as you begin to boil the water, add the eggs (remember, 2 whole and 2 yolks and an egg yolk separator makes it easy), both cheeses, the pepper, and garlic powder (if using) to a mixing bowl and whisk until combined into a thick paste. Set aside.
- Add the olive oil to a nonstick 4- to 5-quart sauté pan and bring to medium-high heat. Once shimmering, add the pancetta and sauté until just crispy, about 5-7 minutes. Turn the stove off and remove the pan from the heated burner, placing it on a cool part of the stove or rest it on a trivet on the counter.
- Add the cooked and drained pasta to the pan and toss with the pancetta and the oil. Then pour the cheesy egg mixture over it followed by ½ cup of the reserved starchy pasta water. Using tongs, toss for another 1-2 minutes until the mixture is lightly cooked into the pasta and until a creamy consistency forms. And don’t worry, the heat of the pot and the pasta combined is enough to gently cook the egg. If, when done tossing, you want it creamier, add up to ½ cup more of the water.
- Serve immediately topped with additional grated cheese and pepper, if desired.
The semolina or Tipo “00” flour is optional but adding 1 tablespoon of it to the pasta water will ensure the sauce becomes a bit thicker. It can be found in most markets (I use Bob’s Red Mill brand) or online.
Only have Parmesan or Pecorino Romano on hand? Just use 1 cup of either (so you have 1 cup of grated cheese, total). But since Pecorino Romano is saltier than Parmesan, which is nuttier, perhaps use Parmesan if going for 1 cup of the same cheese.
Some like their carbonara with onion and peas. If that’s you, sauté a small, diced yellow onion with the pancetta in Step 3 and/or add up to ½ cup peas (thawed from a frozen bag) in Step 4 when tossing the pasta with the sauce.
If you have leftovers, the best way to reheat and reconstitute the sauce is to add a few splashes of heavy cream to the pasta and zap in the microwave, mix and heat until cooked through. Allow it to rest for 1-2 minutes before serving and the sauce will be super incredible.