Spaghetti alla carbonara is a favourite of many around the world. There is an endless cream/no-cream debate that takes place outside of Italy on a regular basis in relation to carbonara (right now people are probably arguing about it somewhere) and I think this argument largely takes place because outside Italy there are a number of generic Italian restaurants that make theirs with cream instead of egg, to appeal more to people in those countries. Also, the taste, texture and feeling of pasta carbonara is one of creaminess, so if you had to guess you would likely say it was made with cream.
Spaghetti alla carbonara comes from Italy’s capital city, Rome, in the Lazio region, and thankfully, the Italians are sticklers for the “traditional way to do things”. So, naturally there is an Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine) which painstakingly identifies the traditional dishes and highlights the recipes their panel has agreed are the right ones.
The beauty of a carbonara is that you only need five ingredients, and as with all Italian recipes, I suggest using the best ingredients your budget can afford.
Here are my tips for creating traditional carbonara:
- Guanciale is a cured meat made from pork cheek (“guancia” means cheek in Italian), which results in a slightly fattier cured meat. It's not used for eating on its own but instead as a pasta ingredient due to its incredible flavour. You can find guanciale at your local Italian butcher or you can use pancetta or bacon instead.
- I use a hard pecorino cheese for this dish in keeping with tradition. Alternatively, you can use a combination of pecorino and Parmigiano-Reggiano or just Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
- Make sure the egg and cheese mixture is stirred through the pasta after it comes off the heat and is drained. The creaminess comes from the residual heat and a dash of the pasta water emulsifying the ingredients.
Spaghetti alla carbonara
Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Total time: 20 mins
- 120 g guanciale (or pancetta), cut into ½ cm-thick slices
- 350 g dried spaghetti
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 50 g pecorino cheese, finely grated
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Place guanciale strips in a preheated frying pan over medium heat and fry until translucent and starting to brown – you do not need oil as the guanciale will release oil as it cooks (so will pancetta or bacon if you are replacing the guanciale). Set aside.
- Boil salted water in a saucepan. When boiling add the dried spaghetti and cook for as long at the packet advises (usually 7-9 minutes). You want the pasta to be slightly resistant to bite but not crunchy. Drain the pasta (retaining 1/2 cup of the water) and add it to the pan with the guanciale.
- Combine beaten eggs and pecorino cheese together then add to the pasta and mix well to combine. Add a little of the pasta water if needed and serve with freshly ground pepper.
Amanda Michetti started the Italian-led recipe blog Chew Town five years ago. Its aim is to both document her family's recipes and show readers that great food deserves to taste delicious, look great and be simple enough for everyone to try. In recent times, Amanda has left her day job and now works as a freelance food photographer and recipe developer with her work showcased here.