The Perfect Carbonara

When I was 16 years old, I asked my mom to teach me how to make carbonara, so she took down Marcella Hazan’s cookbook and walked me through it at the kitchen counter, explaining how the hot pasta cooked the eggs. Since then, I’ve made it so many times that it has started to feel like my “signature” dish. I imagine teaching my kids how to make it, then them teaching their kids…it’s one of those things that makes me instantly feel better.

Here’s how I make the classic Roman dish:

Start with the best quality eggs you can find, which makes such a difference. Use your favorite spaghetti (this is mine), a chunk of parmesan or pecorino, and some bacon, pancetta or guanciale if you’re lucky. I generally settle for bacon, since I tend to keep some stashed in my freezer for carbonara emergencies.

For 1 big serving: 

1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2 thick slices bacon or pancetta
A handful of spaghetti (about the size of a quarter in diameter)
1/4 cup parmesan or pecorino

For 2 people: 

1 egg + 2 egg yolks
4 thick slices bacon or pancetta
1/3 lb spaghetti
1/3 cup parmesan or pecorino

For a family: 

1 egg + 3 egg yolks
5-6 thick slices bacon or pancetta
1 pound spaghetti
1/2 cup parmesan or pecorino

1. Crack your eggs into a bowl, give them a whisk, and set aside. Generously salt a big pot of water and put it on to boil.

2. Slice your bacon into pieces (they don’t have to be perfectly uniform in size) and dump it into a skillet over medium high heat. No oil necessary, as the bacon will render enough fat.

3. Saute the bacon until it’s just shy of being done. It should be golden brown and starting to crisp, but not that deep color yet. Turn off the heat, check your pasta water, and pour yourself a glass of wine.

4. Grate your parmesan into the whisked eggs. Grind in some black pepper.

5. Cook your pasta until it’s al dente. A minute before it’s done, start to reheat the bacon over medium high heat. When your pasta’s ready, dump it directly into the skillet with a pair of tongs, dragging some pasta water along with it. Stir it around for a minute or two, then turn off the heat. Shake the pan a few times, giving it about thirty seconds to cool down, then pour the egg mixture into the center of the pasta (making sure the egg mixture doesn’t touch the pan), and quickly toss it all together. Immediately dump it into a bowl and continue to toss it a few times before serving right away, with the rest of your wine and a chunk of bread.


4 thoughts on “The Perfect Carbonara

  1. This sounds very tempting. I never thought of pasta as a quick, solo dish, more of a big dinner, marinara sauce, with beans and salad kind of affair. And eggs over pasta with extra yolk for the body of the sauce? ok now I’m on it. We’ve got eggs aplenty (and happy to deliver if you’re interested) and fresh bacon from the farmer’s market so while Caroline is out for book club tomorrow I’ll have a chance to try this out on my Dad. Thanks for the recipe!


  2. Carbonara, take 1. Mostly a success. I went a bit off recipe and added sautéed chopped onions and red bell peppers, skimped on the bacon (it got swamped by the veggies), didn’t have fresh parmesan and used the pre-ground, canned variety instead (poor substitute). But otherwise quite tasty, quick and easy. I’m not a fan of whole wheat, dry spaghetti pasta, which is what I used. Too mealy and coarse. I’ll definitely revisit this dish with better ingredients. Thanks for the recipe, its a keeper.

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