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Nov 1, 2005 10:56 AM

Best Carbonara Recipe

  • c

I've never actually eaten pasta carbonara, but it sounds delicious.

I've read a few different recipes, some that include cream, other times not.

What is your best carbonara recipe?


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  1. my dad used to make a bastardized version of pasta carbonara... he used bacon, beer and canned (gulp!) "parmesan" cheese.

    making a more "adult" version is easy, I make it with pancetta, real parmesan cheese and white wine. It is not super authentic, but it is rich and tasty.

    chop pancetta in to bite sized pieces, fry until crisp, drain fat, return to pan & de-glaze with wine. mix parm w/ an egg & lots of black pepper.

    toss pancetta w/ cooked pasta, gently stir in egg & parm. until melted. eat while hot.

    1 Reply
    1. re: withalonge

      Actually, your adult version sounds pretty authentic to me!

      I remember about a year ago, a downtown Toronto restaurant that specializes in Northern Italian food invited a few chefs that were visiting from Italy to make their best carbonara recipe, and every single one was slightly different.

      Mine starts with my father's homemade pancetta (or guanciale) that has a mixture of spices on it, which include a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg and lots of black pepper. This is sauted with just a smig of a good olive oil. Once ready, I remove it from the heat, and drain excess oil if there is too much.

      I boil linguine because that's my favourite. In the meantime, I put 1 egg yolk per person (Only YOLK) in a bowl, and add pecorino and black pepper. Once the pasta is almost ready, I temper the egg yolks with pasta water. I also set aside some pasta water just in case.

      Once I've drained the pasta, I put it back in the pan but off the heat and I stir in the pancetta mixture first. Once that is well incorporated, I add the egg mixture and mix vigourously and add additional pasta water if necessary.

      It is then served immediately in hot bowls. This is my ultimate comfort food.

    2. Here's a good link to run you through the issues. Cream is not only not authentic, but it tends to hinder the proper glazing of the egg-cheese mixture onto the pasta.

      The most important thing, something that most recipes omit because it is understood that you would do this (though most Americans would not so understand), is to warm the plates on which the food would be served (and, if you decide to toss the pasta in a bowl before serving, that bowl as well). Preheat your oven to 175F-200F before making the dish, and set the plates/bowl therein as you start the dish.

      Serving warm pasta dishes -- carbonara above all -- on tepid or cool plates invariably nullifies any pretense to greatness the dish might otherwise have and reduce it merely to OK.

      (Btw, this is good practice for other food meant to be served warm.... And chill those plates for foods meant to be served chilled. And observe which restaurants don't bother to do this, and demote them accordingly.)


      10 Replies
      1. re: Karl S.

        I've used hog's jowls intead of pancetta.
        If you use cream AND parmasean cheese, the cheese soaks up the cream quickly if the cheese is finely grated, but it's a delicious. If the cheese is shaved, no problemo.

        1. re: fishfork
          Melanie Wong

          Aka guanciale, for the authentic taste.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Oh YES! Guanciale...ummmmmmm! (Certainly pancetta will do, but I can't stand it when restaurants use regular bacon. And it's usually in stupidly big chunks, as though size is a substitute for authenticity.)

        2. re: Karl S.

          Do you have any suggestions for avoiding the "scrambled egg" result? I have tried similar recipes (not using cream) and it's been hit or miss, off heat or with heat, when adding of the beaten egg and cheese to the pasta. Maybe adding some of the pasta water to the beaten eggs to temper them?? Thanks

          1. re: chopstix

            More yolk, less white.

            1. re: chopstix

              Bringing your eggs to room temp. should help. Take pan off heat and swirl the fat to cool a bit. You could even transfer to a sturdy bowl. Work quickly to mix in the egg and pasta. I personally like a few little curds for texture...

              1. re: chopstix

                Someone ELSE pours the egg mixture over the pasta, whilst you stir/toss frantically.

                Strangely obvious solution, yet it only occurred to me after several 'scrambled' carbonaras. Had no problems since.

                An aside:
                In making this dish for vegetarians, I substitute in a vegetable for added colour. I saute them (zucchini, or mushrooms, my two favourites)in some oil, toss the pasta in it until coated, then take it off the heat, pour the egg mix over it, and voila - an inauthentic but nonetheless delicious alternative.

              2. re: Karl S.

                Parole sante! All efforts are meaningless if the plates are cold. Bravo!

                1. re: Karl S.

                  Karl S, regarding warming the serving dishes for pasta, America's Test Kitchen recommends placing the dishes in the sink and then draining the pasta over these dishes. Thus, boiling pasta water warms the dishes.

                  1. re: Norm Man

                    This works great, and I always place a Pyrex measuring cup in the serving plate when I drain the pasta over it, so I can retain a couple of cups of hot pasta water in case I need it to thin out the sauce if it gets too tight.

                2. Coincidentally, I just made carbonara last night for supper (pictured below). As husband and I were eating it in total silence, I thought that this, in general, has to be one of my favorite pasta dishes! So quick and simple and greater than the sum of its few parts. The key to a really exquisite carbonara is to use the BEST ingredients that you can find to elevate the dish. Pecorino instead of parmesan is preferred and lots of cracked black pepper is a must!! I personally would NOT use any cream since it would be too heavy and muddle the flavors. Since I wasn't that planful, I had to use what I had on hand...

                  I usually just wing it, but decided to use the Zuni recipe (see link) out of curiosity last night. I don't think the ricotta or peas are traditional, but I think they work well. Unfortunately, I didn't have any spaghetti or bucatini (highly recommend bucatini if you can find it) so used spaghettini and also had to omit the ricotta. I also used Trader Joe's frozen peas, but did have farm fresh eggs from my farmer's market! I would have used pancetta instead of bacon if I had some on hand...Guanciale would be great too, but it can be hard to find for some. If you use bacon, make sure it's thick cut and not heavily smoked.

                  I thought that the 5 TB of oil was excessive after rendering the grease from the bacon so I drained some out. Would use about 3 TB to start and add more later if necessary. I really liked how the bacon is cooked (almost poached) on low heat initially and then crisped right before the pasta is tossed in. The fat and the egg merged together into a silky sauce and there were soft curds of egg here and there. Ricotta would have given it more texture, but some people might not want that. Hard not to fall in love w/ this dish...



                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Carb Lover

                    A friend (who covets my Zuni cookbook) made the Zuni carbonara recipe recently and said it was the best she had ever made. It's next on my list of things to make from that book now that I've seen your photo!

                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      This sounds like a hybrid I commonly make -- a cross between fettucine carbonara and paglia fieno (which in my book is green and white fettucine in and eggy, creamy sauce with parmesan, peas and baby field mushrooms). Googling gives a number of varaints to the original I (think I) have. Smoked trout is one I've tried. Hard to go wrong with those ingredients, though! I think in the recipe you used, a few sliced field mushrooms thrown in with the bacon or pancetta would make a VERY acceptable addition....

                    2. NEVER USE CREAM!!! The ingredients should be spaghetti, pancetta (or bacon or guanciale), eggs-separated, cheese (parmesan or pecorino), and black pepper

                      I use the Mario Batali recipe from the food network website. You basically brown the pancetta and add some of the pasta cooking water to the pan (with the rendered fat) and then add the spaghetti and cook for a minute. Then you add the egg whites, cheese and pepper and cook for another minute. Then put into some warmed serving bowls and add make a well and put the egg yolk in the well. Then add more cheese and pepper and serve. Its a great recipe and very simple and definitely doesn't scramble the eggs.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Evan

                        Here's a link to Batali's traditional recipe. I agree with most of what has been said: warm the dishes, no cream, use pecorino, no cream, try to find guanciale, and of course, no cream. Niman Ranch makes guanciale; it may be worth contacting them to see if anybody near you carries it (or ask a butcher to get it). I also suggest looking for Rustichella d'Abruzzo bucatini. It has a very rough texture that grabs onto the sauce better than any of the more commonly available pastas.


                        1. re: nja

                          Rustichella d'Abruzzo bucatini, luckily, is the type that Fresh Direct carries, so i'm going to order from them (First time!)

                      2. I use Marcella Hazan's carbonara recipe from Classic Italian cooking and it always turns out fabulously. She includes the eggs, pancetta, parmesan/pecorino, oil in which garlic had been briefly sauted, and a little white wine. I like the texture of this sauce which is not too wet/saucy, but very smooth and the hint of garlic and wine.
                        (no cream in this sauce)

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Aisy Cendre

                          +1. I never tinker with this recipe. I think it's perfect. And double-ditto to no cream.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            i have never made anything i didn't like out of that book! when i have time, i'm going to try the lasagna with the homemade noodles.

                            1. re: raygunclan

                              The green lasagna is one of my favorite dishes on earth. It opened my eyes to what the dish could be.