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Pasta Carbonara

I just made some for dinner and was curious about the proportions of egg yolk to cream to parmesan people are generally using. I did four yolks : 1/2 cup cream : ~1 generous cup of cheese. It turned out pretty good, but I've come across a lot of various different spins and was wondering if any of you out on the Internets had come to any consensus.

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  1. There's no cream in real carbonara.

    1. It's been a while, but I don't recall using any cream. And I used whole eggs...I think, and lots of pancetta, of course.

      1. Right, no cream. Whole eggs. Here's Marcella Hazan's recipe which is to die for, IMO.

        http://www.fooddownunder.com/cgi-bin/...

        6 Replies
        1. re: c oliver

          I've got her book on my wishlist right now. That recipe sounds great. Now I want to make dinner all over again. Thanks Internet peoples.

          1. re: Veektohr

            Agree with the no cream. I use Mario Batali's recipe, you can find it on the foodnetwork website. Its easy to make and fantastic.

            1. re: ESNY

              Batali finishes with an egg yolk nestled into the pasta, right? I love that presentation.

              1. re: Veektohr

                Yes, you separate the yolk from the white and at the end add the yolk to the pasta in a bowl. Then each diner mixes it and it creates a nice sauce.

                1. re: ESNY

                  This only works if the bowls have been warmed properly. Carbonara on tepid or cold plates is mediocre at best.

          2. re: c oliver

            Thank you for posting the recipe. I've only recently become familiar with Marcella Hazan & am looking forward to trying out this recipe. I like the blending of the eggs & cheese prior to adding pasta. Have been a huge fan of Carbonara (no cream) ever since I discovered it in a neighboorhood Italian restaurant years ago.

          3. No. Cream.

            Cream belongs in Alfredo, not carbonara. It obscures the flavor of egg yolks that is distinctive to carbonara. (How did American recipes for carbonara start to feature cream, you might ask. Because it makes it easier to avoid curdling, but at the cost of destroying what is distinctive about the dish. I am not saying people are bad for liking cream sauces on their pastas, just that if it's got cream it's not carbonara.)

            1 Reply
            1. re: Karl S

              What I like about the Hazan recipe is that the eggs and cheese etc. being in the bowl prior to the pasta etc being added seems to just "blend" the eggs in. You don't see bits of egg. Probably because the pasta has cooled just a smidge I'm sure I'm not describing this right.

            2. I really enjoy a recipe from Northern Italian Cooking by Biba Caggiano. I'm not going to argue the point of no cream in real carbonara, but this recipe has 1/3 cup heavy cream to 4 egg yolks and 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan. It's very good and the cream doesn't overwhelm the pasta in a small quantity (I even use 2% milk sometimes to cut down on the fat and it's still great). I wrote about the recipe here:
              http://www.phoo-d.com/2008/11/bacon-a...
              Phoo-D

              5 Replies
              1. re: Phoo_d

                That's pretty similar to how I prepared it last night. Twas delicious, but I'm curious now about the flavor without the cream.

                Do any of you experiment with adding other things to your sauce like peas or mushrooms for instance, or do you think it's best kept pure and simple?

                1. re: Veektohr

                  Pure. And. Simple.

                  I love mushrooms, but would not want their earthiness to muddy the simplicity of this dish . If I had a handful of shelled peas that needed a home, I might toss them in, but precisely because they would not take away or obscure the essence of the dish.

                  1. re: Veektohr

                    Suzanne Goin has a version with peas and pea shoots that is lovely, but other than that, I'm a purist.

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      I'm a purist. If I were going to add peas, I'd go with paglia e fieno. Peas and cream go well together.

                    2. re: Veektohr

                      I'd probably refer to it as either "carbonara with peas or mushrooms" or "kinda-sorta cabonara."

                  2. I use Ruth Reichl's recipe: (I'm paraphrasing), 4 eggs beaten in a large bowl, set aside.
                    cook pancetta, (or bacon or guancione), about 8 oz.
                    add 1 pound cooked pasta to the scrambled eggs, add 1 cup parmesan, add pancetta, mix. eat.

                    it's the best.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: Felixnot

                      This recipe is also the only I use for carbonara: simple, easy and oh so delicious.

                      1. re: rosielucchesini

                        I do like the white wine that Hazan adds to the pancetta/olive oil mix, as well as the slight flavor of garlic from the cloves one browns, then removes, from the olive oil.

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          I do also. That's what I like about recipes from great sources. There are few ingredients but you get so much flavor from them. I wouldn't want the garlic in slices that remained in this particular dish. And that wine is just the right touch too.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            And I like to eat the crisp bits of garlice while finishing making the dish!

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              Good girl :) Gotta watch out for those vampires every minute.

                          2. re: MMRuth

                            Plus she has us add the parmesan to the eggs before tossing in the pasta, which I think adds to the creaminess of the dish.

                            1. re: BobB

                              I'm glad I'm serving this for dinner tomorrow as this discussion is making me hungry.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                I made it Saturday night! And I agree about the benefit to mixing the cheese with the eggs prior to tossing.

                                1. re: MMRuth

                                  And, since I have no fear of raw eggs, it's tempting to dip my finger in that prior to adding the pasta, etc. :)

                      2. This is my ultimate comfort food. I actually usually use 1 egg yolk (no whites) per person. I mix them with lots of black pepper and actually temper them a bit with cooking water before adding them to the pasta, and pancetta mixture. I find that there is much less of a chance at the eggs scrambling that way and it makes for a creamier sauce. Also, for the cheese, I'm not sure on quantities because I can't eat cheese. Sometimes, I will just put the cheese on the table if its just family and they can add their own. Otherwise, I would assume that there has to be about 2 tbs per person of grated parmiggiano.

                        As for the additions, the only thing I tamper with is the meat. If I don't have pancetta around, I will use one of my dad's other homemade salumi or in a pinch, I will use bacon, but add pinches of the spices that are usually found on pancetta.

                        15 Replies
                        1. re: icey

                          It's also very good with guanciale.

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            Which I can't get where I live, darn it. So next time in NYC, I'll be getting that also at DiPalo's and bringing home.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              I am in agreement that Marcella Hazans recipe is perfec. When I make it, I toss all together in the warmed serving bowl and have never had a scrambling issue. I agree with the guanciale suggestion it is great in amatriciana too. C oliver, since tis the season, I am happy to fedex you some guanciale, really!

                              1. re: cassoulady

                                I meant to say somewhere along the line here that I use her recipe as well. One quick trick that I've learned for warming the bowl in my little kitchen is to put it upside down on top of the pot I'm using to cook the pasta - the steam warms it up nicely.

                                1. re: MMRuth

                                  that is clever!! I usually put some water in it, pop it in the micro then dry it off, which clearly is not the best method.

                                2. re: cassoulady

                                  Oh, aren't you the sweetest?!?!? Maybe we can just all meet at DiPalo's in June and hang out in line :) When I fixed this last week, I used the cheapest bacon you ever saw and it was STILL delish. How could it not be when you look at the ingredients? Sitting here in a motel in SoCal munching corn chips and this is making me very hungry.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    bacon, pancetta, guanciale, it is gonna be good either way!

                                    1. re: cassoulady

                                      There really is no going wrong with good ol' pork belly. Or jowels, either I suppose.

                              2. re: MMRuth

                                In a previous post on another board here, I was asking where I could find guanciale in my area - it was specifically to make Carbonara...

                                Here's what I tried and loved it:
                                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iERZIR...

                                Good luck!

                                AzD

                                1. re: ArizonaDave

                                  I can't figure out how or why the egg mixture didn't scramble up on him -- amazing!

                                  1. re: Sarah

                                    Good question. He didn't temper the egg w/ the pasta water and he just added it to hot pasta on the stove that was still on and it didn't look like it was on low. I'd end up w/ a frittata if I tried that.

                                    1. re: chowser

                                      I was worried too - but I've tried it once and came out about like his did... very smooth and flavorful. I did have the pan on low heat when I added the egg, and worked slowly to incorporate the pasta, egg, water and oil so as not to scramble.

                                  2. re: ArizonaDave

                                    I just watched this and, while it looked good, the Hazan recipe just seems more straightforward. Plus hers has the browned garlic, wine and parsley which I think all add to the flavor. But I would turn down a bowl of either :)

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      Oh absolutely! I wouldn't be picky either.. I don't pretend to be a carbonara expert. This attempt was my first ever. I stumbled upon that video and couldn't get the thought of giving it a try out of my head! Now I'm looking forward to trying Hazan's too.

                                      AzD

                                      1. re: ArizonaDave

                                        It was my first effort also - but not my last. I'm considering making it twice in the next two weeks.

                              3. I'm curious as to why it seems wrong for the egg to cook a little. I grew up on carbonara that was less wet than the one I made recently, and I actually enjoyed the fact that the egg was bit cooked. I was surprised and a bit disappointed to it being all 'creamy'... am I doing something "wrong", or is the egg just not supposed to scramble a tiny bit?

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: linguafood

                                  Hmm ... I like it when the egg some how miraculously joins with the pasta, the little water still attached to the water and the cheese to be creamy, without little bits of cooked egg in the way.

                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                    I remember my "childhood" carbonara as a relatively homogenous dish, i.e. not many different textures. Just drier, overall, if that makes any sense. And still delicious, I might add. Ah, memories. Who knows what it was *really* like '-)

                                    1. re: linguafood

                                      ". Who knows what it was *really* like '-)" I wonder that often when cooking from cuisines that I've never tasted "in situ", or sometimes not even in local restaurants. I guess I think of the "creaminess" of the carbonara sauce as just being attached to the pasta, with no residual "liquid".

                                      1. re: MMRuth

                                        Yeah, and that's exactly how it came out when I made it recently. Don't get me wrong, it was very tasty. But they just weren't as eggy-creamy. Maybe there was more cheese in the pasta I remember? That would explain the drier & crumblier texture...

                                        All this talk about pasta makes me crave some -- I think we'll have pappardelle with asparagus & parm in a white wine butter/olive oil concoction. Found some great basil today. >drool<

                                        1. re: linguafood

                                          In the link I posted above, pasta water is incorporated along with the egg mixture. Possibly the pasta water is the key?

                                          AzD

                                    2. re: MMRuth

                                      I think - for me - that describes it perfectly. Not like fried rice egg bits.

                                  2. when I think of cooked egg bits in pasta I think of a pad thai. Carbonara, in my opinion, the eggs should make a creamy liquid suace but not creamy like an alfredo ( which actually has cream) but enough to adhere to the strands and a little left in the bowl to sop with bread.

                                    1. Definitely no cream, alla Marcella Hazan, the goddess of goodness!

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: BobB

                                        I found it very odd when I noticed the other day in a cookbook I have from The River Cafe in London that they call for cream in their recipe.

                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                          It's one of the recipes I traditionally checked when inspecting cookbooks that might include it. If they include cream without an explanation for why the variation, I lose trust in the author/editor..

                                          Just like thickeners in clam chowder. And certain approaches to dealing with eggs and fish. All little flags of whether someone's got their eyes on the ball.

                                          1. re: Karl S

                                            Let's be fair here. There are certain dishes for which you can't pinpoint to a single, concrete recipe. Chocolate chip cookies, for example. Pound cakes is another. And so is carbonara.

                                            I have made carbonara with and without cream, and I've had mediocre carbonara without cream, excellent carbonara with cream, and vice versa.

                                            After cooking carbonara for years, using Marcella Hazan's recpie as a guide, I've discovered that the answer (at least my answer) to a good carbonara is how liquid the egg-cheese batter is. Depending on the cheese and certainly the eggs themselves, the same number of eggs and the same measurement of cheese can sometimes result in a liquid batter similar to a raw cake batter, or a stiffer batter closer to the texture of cookie dough. The stiffer the egg-cheese batter is, the less successful the carbonara will be (and that's where the cooked egg flavor comes from in the failed carbonara dishes).

                                            After I beat the eggs lightly (four eggs, not two. Her original recipe called for four eggs, as those with the early editions of her cookbook will tell you), I add the cheese. If the egg-cheese gop is sufficiently liquid enough, I don't add cream. But there are times when the egg-cheese gop is too stiff, and I will add enough cream to make it more liquid. Once it reaches the cake batter consistency, that's when I know the carbonara is ready.

                                            This approach has never failed me.

                                            1. re: Roland Parker

                                              Not quite. Carbonara is definitionally without cream. It definitely has variations about yolk-only, the meat used, the amount of cheese, and the use of pasta water. But cream makes it into something else that's not recognizable as carbonara. And putting the title of carbonara in a recipe that contains cream no more makes it carbonara than putting kittens in the oven make biscuits of them....

                                      2. I've always used cream and egg yolks in my carbonara...and green peas, too. I suppose it is not carbonara to the purist, but it tastes good. Why not just call it "carbocrema".

                                        1. I'm another in the no cream camp and I like to use thick sliced American bacon with a light smoke. Also, I'm curious if anyone else adds chopped Italian parsley to Carbonara. To me it's essential, it provides a balance to all the cheese, egg and bacon.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: virtualguthrie

                                            I put parsley in - I think Hazan's recipe calls for it as well.

                                            1. re: MMRuth

                                              Yes. It does provide balance. This is one of those dishes where parsley's virtues become evident. But the lack of parsley is not as serious as the presence of cream.

                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                Agreed, cream + Carbonara= (I wish there was a symbol for thumbs down)

                                          2. Being a big fan of spaghetti alla carbonara I'm delighted to share with you my favourite recipe. Try it and you won't go wrong.

                                            Ingredients:

                                            120 grams of spaghetti
                                            1 whole egg and one egg yolk
                                            30 grams of guanciale
                                            1 clove of garlic
                                            dry white wine
                                            3 tablespoons of the water in which you coocked your pasta
                                            plenty of pecorino romano and parmigiano reggiano
                                            freshly ground black pepper and salt

                                            Mix one egg, one egg yolk, little bit of percorino and parmigiano in a bowl. Add some black pepper and a little bit of salt.

                                            Put your spaghetti in the plenty of salted water (until it cooks to al dente. Normally you will have it al dente if you cook it 1 minute/1 and 1/2 minutes less the cookcing time indicated on the box).

                                            In the meantime fry the guanicale (cut into little pieces) on a large pen using a bit (do not use much because guanciale has its own fat) olove oil. Once the gianciale becomes semi-crispy, add some garlic and black pepper (unless the guanicale is already seasones with a black pepper), mix using a wooden spoon. Put one spoon of pasta water into a frying pan, mix again and remove the garlic. Set the pan aside. When pasta has almost become al dente put the pan back on the stove and add a little bit of white wine. In the meantime take your past off the stove but before draining, save about 3 tablespoons of pasta water. Once alcohol has evaporated from the wine (this will take about 30 seconds) put your pasta into the frying pan and mix well (but gently) with a wooden spoon. Add more cheese and mix again. Set aside and add youe pasta water. After that add your egg and cheese mixture into the frying pen (remember! the pan is now off the heat!!) and mix again very gently. Your cabonara is now ready to serve. Put some cheese on a plate and then place your pasta on top of it, addign some more cheese and freshly ground black pepper.