Spaghetti alla Carbonara is a simple and delicious pasta dish considered a signature dish of Rome and made even more popular by lively debates on the most authentic recipe and its origins.
Truth or Fiction?
When we were children in Rome in the 1960s the story was that the dish is a simple preparation of the carbonari, the men of the mountains who burned wood to make charcoal. This was an easy meal for them to prepare while minding their fires. Someone had to explain to us that people had only recently started getting electric or gas stoves; cooking was done over charcoal fired stoves. Popular culture has it becoming well-known when American troops in Rome after WWII shared rations of bacon and eggs and asked, “What can you prepare with this?”
Relatives and Shocking Offspring
“Carbonara” is related to several similar preparations such as Pasta all’Amatriciana and Spaghetti Caccio e Pepe, also delish but different. And it has multiplied and spawned many offspring that are amusingly and much derided by purists who decry the illegitimate and shocking additions such as cream, peas, onion, garlic, asparagus – horrors!
Here is the classic and delicious recipe. It is really quite simple. The only tricky part is mixing in the eggs so they form a creamy sauce rather than ending up scrambled.
Tip: this dish doesn’t reheat well so we recommend you prepare only what you plan to eat, don’t count on leftovers.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 pound guanciale or pancetta or (unsmoked bacon if you can’t find) – diced
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 3 eggs – room temperature (some recipes use 2 eggs + 2 yolks)
- 2/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese or a combination of both
- Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk eggs, cheese, and some black pepper in a bowl until smooth and creamy
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add diced guanciale or pecorino. Cook, turning occasionally, until evenly browned and crispy, 5 to 10 minutes.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook spaghetti in the boiling water, stirring occasionally until a bit firmer than “al dente”. Reserve a quarter cup of the pasta water.
If guanciale has cooled, reheat. Add pasta to skillet. Stir.
Pour egg mixture over pasta and guanciale, stirring quickly, until creamy. Add some reserved pasta water if needed for creaminess. And salt to taste and a generous grinding of pepper.
Where to Eat Spaghetti Carbonara?
We asked our team where they would most like to eat their Spaghetti Carbonara dish in Rome. Top votes went to:
- On the Landini terrace overlooking this ancient Jewish quarter of Rome.
- In the elegant Zegno apartment near the Spanish Steps.