Spaghetti Carbonara is, hands down, my favorite pasta dish. But, a lot of people are confused about what it is. If you’ve ever had this dish at an Olive Garden or another chain Italian restaurant, you make think that Carbonara consists of some form of Alfredo sauce with bacon. While this definitely doesn’t taste bad (who doesn’t like cheesy sauce and bacon?), it is so wrong.
Italian food often gets a bad reputation for being unhealthy, but that is a misconception. Often, American versions of Italian food are very unhealthy. Italians rarely use cream in their dishes. Which means that, yes, Fettuccini Alfredo is 100% an American pasta dish. Cream is delicious and it is fine if you prefer it that way. Just know, it is not authentic.
I’ve seen dishes labeled as Spaghetti Carbonara that have any assortment of bacon, Alfredo, spinach, olives, peas, and tomatoes. However, real Spaghetti Carbonara consists of only eggs, pancetta, a small amount of olive oil, parmesan, and black pepper. Nearly every bowl of Carbonara will taste different, depending on the chef’s preference. I personally like mine to be heavier on the egg. Some people prefer much less egg and much more cheese. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to ratio of egg to cheese, so alter this according to your preference.
The ingredients I’ve used in this dish are so simple, I don’t feel that a picture is necessary.
For the pasta I used my Homemade Fresh Pasta, but boxed is absolutely fine. I usually opt for a thin spaghetti, but regular spaghetti is traditional. Bucatini is also a really good option for Carbonara.
Aside from that, I used pancetta. Pancetta is a salt cured pork, similar to prosciutto. Ask your deli to cut it thick so it can be diced. Bacon can be used as a substitute. Then, eggs, parmagianno-reggiano, salt, black pepper, olive oil, and a little bit of white pepper. White pepper is not traditional, but it gives it an extra pepper-y flavor.
The key to perfect Spaghetti Carbonara is all about timing. If you’re using regular boxed pasta, you’re going to want to start heating up the water right away. While that is boiling, put a bit of olive oil in a hot pan, then add your diced pancetta.
Let the pancetta bits brown on a medium-low heat, moving them around occasionally. While waiting for this and waiting for your pasta to boil, start on your egg sauce.
I typically like to stick to a ratio of 2 egg yolks to 1 whole egg, to keep the richness and to add the bright, yellow color. I make mine in a mug, just because its easy to mix and pour from, but a measuring cup would probably work better. Whisk your eggs together with a fork until they are smooth. Then add salt, cracked black pepper, and parmesan cheese. Then add a small amount of white pepper. Keep in mind that the pancetta and the parmesan are very salty ingredients, so don’t add too much salt to your dish until you taste it.
At this point, your boxed pasta should be almost done. If you’re using fresh pasta, add it in now. When it is done, strain it but save some of the pasta water. Toss the pasta in the pancetta pan with the heat turned off. It will sizzle a bit, add some pasta water if the pan is too hot. Get the oil from the pancetta to coat the pasta entirely.
Now, you can add the egg mixture to the pan. You want the pan to be hot enough that the eggs will render but not scramble. Pour it in but keep the pasta moving around the pan so the eggs don’t get too hard.
The eggs will turn slightly lighter in color, this is how you know you’re not eating raw eggs. Now, add salt, pepper, and cheese as needed.
I love this recipe because it is so simple. After having authentic Spaghetti Carbonara, you’ll have a hard time accepting the knockoff kind. If you love bacon (pancetta) & eggs, and you love pasta, you’ll love this dish!