Friday, June 25, 2010

Spaghetti alla Carbonara for Real

I've never been obsessed with recipe authenticity. If you want to call your bagel half spread with sauce and cheese, a pizza, well, more power to you. I will, of course, make fun of you behind your back, but publicly I'll defend you enthusiastically.

I remember posting a ceviche recipe years ago, which had some diced mango mixed in. I received at least a dozen emails from Peruvian readers, not suggesting, but demanding that I change the name.

Their point was simple; true ceviche never features mango. My point was equally straightforward; mine does. So, while I normally don't worry too much about such matters, sometimes I do enjoy demonstrating a recipe in its original form, simply because I find it interesting.

Here I'm doing a spaghetti alla carbonara, as the recipe was made before people started "cheating," and started adding cream. Spaghetti alla carbonara's "creamy" sauce is simply a thin egg and cheese custard, spiked with pork and black pepper. People add cream because they're afraid of scrambling the eggs. But, if you follow the steps in the video, this will not be an issue.

By the way, there are many theories for where the name "carbonara" comes from. The one I officially endorse is that the name was inspired by the specks of black pepper in the sauce, which look like particles of charcoal. It just makes the most sense.

Speaking of authentic, try and find some pancetta or
guanciale, which is cured like pancetta, but made from pork cheek. Those two products are not smoked, which works much better in this delicious pasta. Enjoy!




Ingredients for 2 portions:
6-8 oz dry spaghetti (or any pasta)
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 oz pancetta, guanciale, or in a pinch, a mildy smoked bacon
fresh coarsely ground black pepper
2 eggs
about 3/4 cup grated Italian cheese (a half Pecorino Romano and half Parmigiano-Reggiano blend is perfect)


View the complete recipe

71 comments:

Anonymous said...

So is the egg still considered raw when serving?

Kelly said...

Yum. I think we follow a similar recipe although I use homemade bacon for mine rather than pancetta. I personally like mine without cream better, I think you get a richer flavor that way. I'm generally not a stickler about authenticity. I like knowing what is authentic, but often still put my own twist on things.

Anonymous said...

IS milleaccendini ONE OF YOUR SOURCES FOR RECIPES??

Chef John said...

haven't heard of milleaccendini. who are they?

Chef John said...

No, the hot pasta "cooks" the egg and thickens the sauce

d said...

Wow, this is exactly the way I used to make it...! Only with more easily available ingredients like gouda cheese and bacon (I am not Italian). I always thought the eggs are raw, but this pasta is so delicious that I just never cared. More power to you for pointing out they aren't!

For some reason I always wanted to put more black pepper into it. I have no idea, but it's just not complete without black pepper. Now I know I'm not the only one without that opinion!

Damiano said...

I'm from Italy, and I can only say that your carbonara version is correct. No cream, only eggs (many people use yolks), pecorino/parmesan, pancetta, fresh ground blabk pepper and some pasta water to make the sauce smooth and creamy. That's it.
As you said, the original original version of carbonara requires guanciale, but it's not easy to find, also here in Italy . I mean, in the northern part of Italy - in Rome or Lazio or Umbria, for example, is much easier.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chef--I'm a bit confused as I thought (from my northern italian family background) that an authentic carbonara used egg yolks and not whole eggs (as if its a emulsion made hollandaise). Is that correct or is whole eggs the way to go?

Steve said...

Chef:

This looks absolutely fabulous and I'm definitely making it for tonight's dinner.

A question on pasta preparation: Alton Brown insists that you should never make pasta in less than a gallon of water, which should be at a boil before dropping the pasta in. However, I recently read an article by science-geek food guru Harold McGee in the New York Times (I think) that suggests that rather than bringing the water to the boil first, that you just dump the pasta in with the water cold and when it comes to a boil the pasta is ready.

The reason, if I recall correctly, is that you can save considerable energy by McGee's method.

I've tried it and it seems to work for me, but I'm not a pasta fanatic and may be missing some subtlety that others might pick up on.

Any opinions?

Chef John said...

if it's not broke don't fix it... My grandma boiled water, salted it and cooked the pasta. So, what's how I do it.

Chef John said...

no, whole eggs are the most authentic

Oliver James Spicer said...

Hey Chef John - Just wanted to say thank you for dinner tonight! .We used this recipe and the triple chocolate cookies (that's exactly how they do it in Rome, so I hear :S)

Please keep these types of recipes coming as your basic tomato sauce and the creamier version of it are now staples :)

Hope you are well and thank you so much for the great recipes!

Ollie and Cat, Sheffield UK

Chef John said...

thanks!

Matthew said...

I love your pasta recipes, but given that the sauce has raw eggs, is the pasta best to be eaten right away?

I'm planning to make a whole pot tomorrow ~_~

Chef John said...

not sure I understand the question. the eggs are not raw. they cook in the hot pasta.

Noelle said...

THANK YOU chef john, for posting such a good recipe and sticking to the authentic version! its what makes all the difference :]

tonkaslim said...

Is prosciutto a reasonable substitute for this? The pancetta looks a little too fatty for my taste.

Kir said...

I saw few recipes in which you gradually whisk like half a cup of pasta water into egg-cheese mixture and then pour it on pasta. Which way is better?

Chef John said...

pancetta would love, just don't cook to much.

Kir, that way for that one, and this way for this one.

Amy Lynn said...

Made this last night - it was very good. I added a chopped onion to the pancetta to give it a little kick.

Steve said...

Chef:

As I mentioned above, I prepared this last night and I think we have a new favorite quick pasta dish. I'd done Carbonara before but I think it was with cream.

You're definitely right about bacon -- it's just a bit too smoky and kind of takes over so I need to find a source for guanciale, which shouldn't be too hard since San Diego's Little Italy is not far away.

I slightly botched things and the egg partially scrambled on me -- any suggestions on preventing that? Maybe adding the pasta a little wetter? Your suggestions would be appreciated.

Chef John said...

Not sure, other than maybe pour the eggs in a little quicker and stir like crazy. Maybe a bit more pasta water?

coupland said...

I made this recipe for dinner tonight -- with a home-made spinach pasta -- and it came out GREAT! Very forgiving recipe too because I made it for 4 but only eyeballed the quantities. After all, I would have had to DOUBLE the ingredients and that feels too much like MATH. :P

Artsygal said...

I've got to stop reading your blog late at night. I'm NOT making a dish of this at 9:30 at night. It is however on the menu for either lunch or dinner tomorrow. Of course in the podunk little town I live in my only choice is bacon, and not a particularly spectacular one - very fatty. Watching you pour olive oil over the bacon makes me cringe a little - since my bacon is so fatty and gives off quite a bit of oil as it cooks, can I just omit the olive oil?

Chef John said...

Sure, or drain the excess bacon fat and use olive oil so it's not to smoky

Artsygal said...

Oh my... This was dinner last night as I'd mentioned it would be. I trimmed as much fat off the bacon as I could (the dog was VERY happy with her treat) and then followed your instructions. Let's pretend I didn't set out to make 2 servings so I could see how it reheated when I ate the rest for lunch today, since regretfully none of it survived once I took my first taste. I can't believe a sauce that rich and creamy isn't laden with butter and cream!

Next time I have to cook for a crowd, they're getting a big dish of this with a fresh salad and some crusty garlic bread to sop up the sauce. Cheap, fast and impressive! Thank you!

Lauren said...

Great how-to video! It's good to know a tasty, traditional carbonara doesn't rely on cream for that covetable silky sauce. I'm looking forward to making this soon!

Oh, and the story behind how the dish got its name is really interesting. Thanks for sharing :)

Don Madrid said...

I doubled the amounts to feed 4. Unfortunately I got egg soup instead of creamy sauce :(. Too much pasta water. I used about 1 3/4 cups H2O.

Live and learn.

coupland said...

Don, it sounds like you didn't have enough latent heat in your pan/pasta. 4 eggs should be more than enough to thicken 1 3/4 cups of water. I doubled the recipe too and it came out thick, with only 3 eggs. Okay, so I didn't technically double it, but it fed 4.

Mike said...

This was great! I was a little uneasy about the raw egg but no problems. A word to the wise however, it's not the kind of meal that you want to microwave leftovers the next day.

Mike said...

This is almost the same way I have been making Carbonara for many years (and I am not even Italian ;-). Instead of adding the water to the bacon I temper the eggs with it and then mix it with the pasta and bacon. I usually add a bit of garlic, too.

Jim said...

Hello Chef John!

I am so happy you put your version of Pasta Carbonara on Foodwishes.com. I had asked for your rendition a long time ago and knew you would get to it eventually.

Not only am I happy but my family and friends are thrilled because I will make spaghetti carbonara on a more regular basis because I now have a more rounded view of this classic dish.

You are, in my opinion, one of the best out there. And what makes your blog so amazing is that you are approachable and do not have the giant ego so many of the other big name chefs have. You are inspiring a lot of cooking school grads besides me and I thank you very much.

Jim H.

Chef John said...

Thanks Jim! I love what I do and hope it shows.

Her Royal Highness said...

This was a lovely recipe, John; I was going to make alfredo tonight, but wanted a less-wintery type pasta for our hot summer night. I remembered I'd bookmarked this when I saw it come across the feed.

I ended up adding steak (we had some we needed to use ASAP) and using TJ's romano/parm mix...my egg mixture didn't run as well as yours did, though :( I don't know what the difference was.

Chris said...

Me and my girlfriend tried this one recently and it was gorgeous. She never wanted to make carbonara before because of the cream content, but this egg trick works perfectly and tastes totally authentic. We have tried both smoked bacon and unsmoked pancetta. Actually, the bacon was best but I do agree with the Chef that the smokiness can be slightly overpowering.

Yet another simple and successful Chef John delight. Cheers from the UK!

Alex said...

Definitely the original recipe! Very informative video.

remyburnens said...

thats just how we do it at home, can't beat that recipe!

Psyrixx said...

Going to give this a try tonight with your aioli garlic bread and broccoli salad. :)

paolo said...

Finally someone that make the original carbonara italian style without creamy sauces!!!

5 STAR Chef!!!


Ben fatto (well done) from Italy ;D

Dan said...

Wow, I make a variation of this pretty often and I had no idea it was actually related to carbonara. Learn something new every day--thanks Chef John! :D

About the bacon: what I do is what Julia Child suggests, namely "blanche in simmering water to remove its smoky taste. If this were not done the whole dish would taste of bacon." A little extra labor, but it makes a difference.

Rose said...

Hi Chef John!
I made this last night and it was BRILLIANT! I always thought making pasta carbonara was tricky, but it came out perfectly! I sneaked a little garlic in as well, don't tell the Italians!

Thank you soooo much for doing this, also om behalf of my friends who enjoy my dinner parties :-)

Greetings from Holland!

*SpArKy* said...

made his tonight with some asperagus.....tasted fantastic

vic vega said...

Hello Chef,

I had my eyes on this one for couple of days. Finally i gave it a go and my eggs totally scrambled. I guess one shouldn't use cast iron skillet for this dish. Even heat was off, skillet was still piping hot. That's why my eggs cooked unshapely I suppose.

And yes, all i smell was bacon. Pancetta is hard to find in Istanbul (which i'm living in btw), so I used simple bacon strips. Next time, i'll try prosciutto.

And one last thing, bacon lose all it's crispiness when soked in paste water (well, d'uh!),.. I prefer a little crispiness in my pasta, a nice little contrast in texture. So next time, i'll add the semi-fried prosciutto when pasta is done. What do you think about that Chef, is it ok to have a little crispiness?

alyssa(: said...

Hi chef. I'm 12 years old and I love to cook. I made a lot of your recipes and they are delicious! I just mad this recipe but I'm mad it meatless and with green onions and sun dried tomatoes. Very delicious! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I made this and the eggs got quite scrambled and stuck to the pasta// very dry ewwy taste.. I wonder what I did wrong?

Carrie said...

Me too! It came out as scrambled and the pasta was dry! How do you make it into like a sauce? :(

Chef John said...

Sounds like not enough water, and/or you didnt add enough hot water to the egg mixture before mixing in. Not sure exactly!

Mildred Yeo said...

Great recipe and excellent cooking technique, Chef! My friend, Steve, cooked and served this dish to some 50 people on several occasions! And on every occasion, he received raved reviews! Thank you so much, Chef John! :D

Alex said...

Fantastic. Mixing the eggs with the cheese is what I wasn't doing, ending up with spaghetti ala omeletta. However, I would disagree with watering the bacon. It tastes much better if you add it on later.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this version. I also add a lot of salted butter to the egg mixture (1 whole egg + 2 yolks for 500 gr pasta)....

Chef Ricardo in BsAs said...

To those whose eggs became scrambled: This is caused by excess heat. I would suggest you take the pan containing the bacon/pancetta off the fire before adding the pasta and the egg mixture. Then stir continuously until well integrated. Using room temperature eggs helps, as it is the heat of the freshly drained pasta that will cook the egg. I would also combine the cheese with the egg mixture rather than adding it to the pasta afterward. This will result in a creamier consistency.

Anonymous said...

Wow Chef John, I love your recipes, I am a very accomplished cook but you really make things so easy and imagine, I just discovered your site. I love Italian and Greek food, I am 50-50 of both, live in Greece right now and I am here to stay. Fan forever.

Anonymous said...

Very tasty, I never had carbonara in my life so I have nothing to compare it to, but I enjoyed both cooking and eating this :)) And so did my family for the later. Thanks!

bumburusik said...

Hey! Just wanted to say thank you! Finally carbonara recipe that worked out for me.

Deb said...

Incredible! Easy! Quick!
I added halved roasted cocktail-sized tomatoes, delicious!

Bob Walters said...

I live in Italy and spaghetti carbonara is one of my favorite restaurant dishes. There are many variations of this recipe but your version seems to be essentially identical to those claiming to be “classico italiano”. All agree it’s Roman; some say it’s ancient but most say it’s from WWII. Nearly all call for long pasta, guanciale, and Pecorino while prohibiting the use of cream. A few prohibit Parmigiano-Reggiano, but many use a 50/50 mixture as you did. A few versions use short pasta and/or include garlic or Basel, or hot peppers. Some serve the intact egg yolk on top so that the diner can combine it with the pasta, but that strikes me as a bit risky especially if the yoke is served in the half-shell or if the pasta cools off too much.
Most Italian recipes I’ve found use cheese which is more finely grated than you show in the video and that might help to make a more creamy sauce. Usually the quantity of guanciale is a little more generous, it’s normally cut into 1/4 inch cubes, and cooked until crispy. Most also use finely ground pepper rather than course ground you showed, but these are tiny variations in the overall scheme of things and I think you’ve done everyone a big favor with your very authentic recipe.

Interestingly, a few Italian carbonara recipes don’t include any back pepper at all. Last week I had some taglierini (thin tagliatelle) carbonara served in Piemonte (well north of Rome) without any detectable pepper. Some years ago spaghetti carbonara was served to me in Rome and after plating the pasta, it was completely covered with a very generous coating of finely ground black pepper nearly obscuring the pasta itself. It really lived up to the name. Both extreme variations were delicious.

Issa said...

how do I get it to be creamy. In the video it looks creamy but my curdled?????

Annemarie Reyes said...

One word... YUMMY!!! I made it last night for my very picky kids and they devoured it! My husband even did the dishes. This will go into the favorites pile. THanks Chef . Love the blog BTW :-)

Syl Primeau said...

For you guys having trouble with your eggs, because depending on the type of pan you use it could stay very hot after turning off the flame, instead of putting everything in the pot you just cooked the pancetta in, try putting everything into a separate bowl that is at room temp.

I learned to do this by first whisking the eggs and cheese in a bowl, add pepper, and then adding the cooked bacon and then the wet pasta to the mixture.

The only hot stuff hitting your mixture is the bacon and the hot wet pasta so your eggs shouldn't overcook this way. I've never had a problem.

Cello said...

Thanks for the recipe, it's delicious. I'm just annoyed that my parents want the version with cream *rolls eyes*

Hope said...

Oh my goodness YES!! This is exactly how my neighbor taught me to make when I lived in Italy and the way I still make it today. For a few years it was hard to find pancetta here but not too hard now. And Chef John, let's face it - this is one dish that, as delightful as American bacon is, it just doesn't work in!

Thank you!!

mdb139 said...

Fast, easy, great tasting, and healthy! Three out of four ain't bad!

I've been wanting to make this one for a while and I'm really glad I did. I used bacon because I was eating alone and it's what I had on hand. Turned out wonderfully, definitely something I will make again!

Thanks for yet another great recipe Chef John!

Urbane Legend said...

This worked for me too, not half an hour ago. No scrambling for me, I'm proud to say. I completely removed the pan from the heat before adding the eggs so that might have helped. And plenty of water - and stir stir stir. Don't let it stop moving until the pasta is coated and creamy.

Enry Danil said...

Awesome receipe :)

but Chef, what if in the end I still could see the cooked egg white sticking to the pasta here and there? not enough cheese or is the pan too hot?

thanks :D

Chef John said...

Hard to say, but sounds like you need to beat the eggs more thoroughly so the white combine with the yolks better.

Colin Tan said...

Hi Chef John,

Made this easy, delicious recipe for dinner and it turned out marvelous. Just a quick question, if I were to make it for four portions, do I still use 1 cup of pasta water or 2 cups?

Thanks in Advance! Keep Rocking!!

Colin Tan said...

Hi Chef John,

Made this easy, delicious recipe for dinner and it was scrumptious! Just a quick question, if I were to make this for 4 portions do I still use 1 cup of pasta water or 2 cups?

Thanks in Advance!! Keep Rocking!!

Chef John said...

Theoretically yes, you need 2, but you may need a little less.

JC said...

I've been using this recipe to make carbonara for dinner a couple of times a month ever since you first posted it but I had to come back and comment today. I actually like the smokey taste that comes with using bacon, so that is my go to meat. Tonight though, I kicked it up several notches by adding a can of smoked scallops to the bacon and pasta before adding the eggs. Oh boy was that amazing! Thanks for posting this simple but tasty recipe that's become a staple for me. I always keep the ingredients for it on hand and can whip it up in no time at all.

A quick question - do you have any suggestions for a good vegetable to pair with my smoked scallop version? I'm trying to make a point to eat my veggies every day and am running out of ideas.

Chef John said...

Asparagus. Thanks!

Michele Cryan said...

Cheese Crisis.....I looked up the measurements and grated 3/4 cup the italian cheese. I put in with eggs and beat it all together. Than I see you put more cheese in after the goupy cheese/egg/pepper mixiture was added. I think half the cheese was supposed to go in with the 2 eggs and the other half at the end. I'll see how my turns but you may want to clarify that on your measurements.

Thanks,
M