Guanciale (or pancetta), egg yolks and lots of Pecorino cheese. But no cooking cream, please. Carbonara is one of the most famous Italian pasta dishes, originally from the culinary tradition of Rome. We share the ingredients, the history and the traditional recipe.
If you want to argue with an Italian, just tell them that Carbonara is made with whipping/cooking cream.
We know it too, it's a stereotype. But many Italians especially care about our traditional pasta recipes, and Carbonara is one of the most famous and talked about.
Everyone has an opinion about the ingredients of realpasta alla Carbonara; and knows the "right" ingredients, those of the «original recipe».
Carbonara purists do not accept compromises: Carbonara can exclusively be made with guanciale, egg yolks and Pecorino. No onion, no garlic, no pancetta and absolutely no cream.
But in reality there is no original recipe of Carbonara: the mythical cookbook Il talismano della felicità («The talisman of happiness») by author Ada Boni contains in the recipe of Carbonara all the ingredients most hated by purists: pancetta, onion and Parmigiano cheese (but no whipped cream!).
Furthermore, the recipe of Carbonara is quite recent: it seems that it only existed at the end of the Second World War.
It also seems that the first prototype of carbonara, with the ingredients we still use today, was invented in the United States and not in Italy.
On this page of All Italian we share the "original" recipe of the Carbonara from Rome, its variations and the tricks to prepare a creamy 🔊pasta alla Carbonara.
We are Italians abroad and we write this page also to practice foreign languages. Our apologies if we sometimes write creatively. 🙂
Learning Italian 🇮🇹
A tip to make a bella figura: the correct name of the recipe is not «Pasta carbonara», but 🔊Pasta alla carbonara
De The Italian words on this page:
What is Carbonara
Carbonara is the name of an Italian pasta sauce, typical of Rome.
The modern Italian Carbonara recipe contains three main ingredients: eggs, guanciale and Pecorino cheese. Although, as we write on this page, you can also make Carbonara sauce with pancetta, Parmigiano and white onion.
The type of pasta traditionally associated with Carbonara are spaghetti and rigatoni. 🔊Spaghetti alla Carbonara is an iconic dish of the Italian cuisine; on this page we share the recipe.
Along with pizza and lasagna, pasta alla carbonara is one of the most loved (and eaten) Italian dishes abroad.
Types of pasta for Carbonara sauce
The best type of pasta for Carbonara depends of course on your personal taste.
In Italy, Carbonara is usually associated with long pasta, such as spaghetti or vermicelli, and with rigatoni as short pasta. But nothing prevents you from making penne alla Carbonara.
A type of pasta that, according to Italians, may be not suitable for Carbonara is egg pasta, precisely because the recipe already contains enough eggs in the sauce.
Despite being an endless topic of conversation for Italians, Carbonara sauce is quick and easy to prepare. If you already have the ingredients ready on hand, for example the already cut pancetta, it takes about half an hour to make a good plate of 🔊spaghetti alla carbonara.
Of course you have to gain some experience when you try it the first time: that is why we have collected the most important steps and tricks in the instructions of our recipe.
Let's start with the ingredients we use in the Carbonara sauce.
12.7 oz Spaghetti
7 oz Pancetta (of Guanciale)
5.3 oz Pecorino cheese
5 Egg yolks
1 pinch of black pepper
4 tablespoons of olive oil
Pancetta cubes (or Guanciale)
Pecorino Romano cheese
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
How many people is this recipe for?
We provide a handy tool to calculate the ingredients.
The portions of pasta in Italy are a bit different from those in other countries, especially from those recommended in the United States.
For Italians, a portion of pasta corresponds to about 80-100 grams (2.8-3.5 oz) of dried pasta per person; it is a common and accepted quantity in Italy, also confirmed by the Italian Ministry of Health.
In other countries this amount can vary. and often start from 100 grams per person.
In Northern Europe, a recommended portion of pasta often starts at 100 g. In Canada however, Barilla recommends 2 oz of dried pasta per portion - which corresponds to just 56 g of pasta: almost half of an Italian portion!
In our recipe, we stick to our roots and consider a 100 gram portion of pasta.
In Italian, someone who likes to eat a lot is nicknamed (not derogatory) 🔊una buona forchetta (literally a good fork).
Pancetta or guanciale in Carbonara sauce?
Carbonara differs from other typical recipes from Latium because it was created by the American influence as it contains pancetta or bacon - and not the guanciale typical of the region.
Over time, the recipe was adapted to Roman cuisine and pancetta was alternated with guanciale.
Guanciale is typical of Latium cuisine and is the basic ingredient of pasta all'Amatriciana.
The choice of guanciale is therefore linked to the tradition of Roman cuisine.
But outside Italy it is not easy to find the guanciale. For this reason, in our pasta alla Carbonara recipe, we just include pancetta, which you can find already diced in the supermarket.
For the same reason, it is also common in most of Northern Italy to use pancetta in Carbonara.
The difference between pancetta and guanciale
Pancetta is made with the belly of the pig. You can easily find it in the supermarket, sweet or smoked. Both are good for making pasta sauce, but many say smoked pancetta is better in Carbonara sauce.
Guanciale, on the other hand, is the part of the pig between the head and neck, seasoned with spices such as salt and pepper and allowed to mature for a few months.
To make Carbonara sauce, guanciale is fried without oil, as it loses quite a bit of fat due to the heat.
Pancetta is less fatty than guanciale; that's why we fry it in extra virgin olive oil.
The Italian pasta alla Carbonara, on the other hand, is not made with ham, cured ham or with lard.
Carbonara sauce also differs from other recipes from Latium in the use of eggs. Eggs were originally used whole; nowadays, however, among the ingredients there are only the yolks, and not the egg whites.
How many eggs in Carbonara? Traditionally, eggs are used in large quantities in Carbonara sauce, also to compensate for the absence of cream.
The custom is to put an egg yolk for each person, plus an extra yolk. For this reason we included 5 eggs for 4 people in our «original recipe».
Note: if you want, you can lay fewer eggs; 5 is ralready a big amount, and it's reasonable to make a carbonara that is just as tasty, but with a lower egg yolk count.
Being a typical recipe from Latium, traditional Carbonara contains Pecorino Romano cheese.
But in reality, many Italians make it with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
It's not too surprising: as we've written, Parmigiano is one of the ingredients of Carbonara, also in Ada Boni's book.
Furthermore, Parmigiano is much more used than Pecorino by families in Northern Italy.
With Parmigiano, Carbonara sauce may have a less marked taste than the version with Pecorino.
Types of cheese that may not be used in Carbonara:
Soft cheeses, which do not accompany well with Carbonara sauce.
Already grated cheese mixes. It is tastier if you grate the fresh Pecorino yourself.
The addition of pepper gives a distinctive taste to the Carbonara sauce. Which pepper? We use freshly ground black pepper.
How much salt? You don't need to add a lot of salt to the Carbonara sauce, because pancetta and pecorino are already salty.
Prepare the ingredients
Fill a large pot with water for spaghetti.
Long pasta, such as spaghetti, should be cooked in plenty of water: the rule in Italy is to pour 1 liter of water (about 1 quart) for every 100 grams of pasta (about 3.5 oz). So for three people you need about 3 liters/quarts of water.
If you do not use pancetta already cut into cubes, cut the meat first into strips of half a centimeter thick.
Fry the pancetta or guanciale cubes
If you use Guanciale
Put the guanciale you cut into cubes into a pan. In Italy it is tradition to use a metal pan for guanciale.
With guanciale you don't need to add oil: guanciale already contains a good amount of fat, which melts when you heat it in a pan. In the process, the fat also tends to become transparent in color.
Fry over medium heat for a few minutes.
👉 Some keep aside the fatty liquid that melts from the guanciale and mix it with eggs and Parmigiano cheese in the following steps.
We prefer to keep the recipe a bit lighter and recommend that you simply filter away the fat that forms in the pan.
Further fry the guanciale, remove it from the pan before they scorch and store the roasted cubes in a bowl.
If you use Pancetta
Pancetta contains less fat than guanciale: you can add a drizzle of olive oil to fry it in the pan.
Fry the pancetta for a few minutes, then remove it before it burns and store it in a bowl: in the following steps we will add it to the mixture of egg and Pecorino cheese.
Boil the spaghetti
When the water boils, add the salt first and then the pasta.
For pasta water, we usually use coarse salt. The rule is to add 10 g of salt (0.35 oz, about 1.5 teaspoons) for every 100 g (3.5 oz) of pasta.
Put the egg yolks in a bowl, add the Pecorino (but as we wrote: many in Italy use Parmigiano cheese) and a pinch of black pepper .
Stir with a table spoon until the mixture is homogeneous. While stirring, you do not need to heat the mixture up.
To make the it creamier, add a little pasta water: half a ladle at a time.
Though the cream should never become too liquid.
👉 As we wrote earlier, some use guanciale's fat instead of pasta water. The fat in the guanciale makes the Carbonara sauce shine and combines particularly well with the egg yolk.
Combine pasta and sauce
Are the spaghetti al dente? Using a spaghetti spoon, transfer the pasta from the pot of water to a pan. You can use the pan you cooked the pancetta in, but don't turn on the heat.
If you're using a colander, save some pasta water: you'll need it later.
Pour over the pasta the cheese and egg mixture and half a ladle of pasta water.
Mix all ingredients well. Add some more pasta water to make the sauce creamy but not liquid. Do not heat the pan, because the egg must not coagulate.
Add pancetta or guanciale and serve
When the sauce has become creamy, add the pancetta or the guanciale, mix again and arrange the pasta on the plates.
Garnish with a pinch of black pepper and grated Pecorino cheese.
Your spaghetti alla Carbonara are ready!
Just like in Rome if you used guanciale and Pecorino Romano cheese, or like in many other homes in Italy if you made Carbonara sauce with Pancetta and Parmigiano cheese.
Your Pasta alla Carbonara is ready. Buon appetito! 🍝
Did you like it? Rate this recipe
In the restaurant in Italy, when you finish eating, the waiter will ask: 🔊andava tutto bene? (was everything fine?)
Variants of pasta alla Carbonara
In Italian cookbooks, the recipe for Carbonara sauce and the ingredients have evolved over time.
The first recipes were made of pancetta, onion and parmesan cheese as ingredients. In the 1980s it was also commonly made with whipped cream, which is still used today outside Italy.
Some recipes contain parsley, others contain red pepper.
Today, the "official" recipe contains only the essential ingredients: eggs, guanciale (or pancetta), and Pecorino; decorated with black grated pepper.
Everyone in Italy agrees on one thing: Carbonara sauce does not contain garlic or onion.
Cream in the Carbonara
Cooking cream is not an ingredient in pasta alla carbonara; not the way it is done in Italy today.
The reasoning is that if you put the eggs in abundance, then the cream is superfluous. Furthermore, the pasta should not drown in milk liquid.
Cooking cream in pasta alla Carbonara was actually a trend in the 1980s and appears in many recipes published in the cookbooks of the time.
With the addition of cream, the Carbonara sauce becomes creamier. It is also more caloric, in addition to the eggs and pancetta already present.
Cooking cream is still commonly used today in Carbonara outside Italy, for example in the Northern European countries.
«The Talisman of Happiness» - Cookbook by Ada Boni
It was one of the first cookbooks in Italian, still a point of reference. It has reached its seventh edition, published in 1999.
Ada Boni's Carbonara recipe contains ingredients that today's "purists" turn their noses up at: in addition to eggs, onion, butter, pancetta, parsley and Parmigiano (the cheese from Emilia, and not Pecorino from Roma). A demonstration of how varied the "original" Carbonara sauce recipe is.
To know more: the origins of the Carbonara sauce
It seems that Carbonara was invented in Rome around 1944, with the Allied presence in the Capital.
The dish was made with pancetta or bacon, brought to Rome by the Americans.
👉 This is why Carbonara is different from other typical recipes from Latium, such as pasta alla Gricia or pasta all'Amatriciana, who used the traditional guanciale instead.
The ingredients of pasta alla Carbonara are also reminiscent of some dishes of the Neapolitan tradition, with beaten egg, cheese and black pepper.
The name «Carbonara»
It is not exactly known why Carbonara is called that way.
Carbonara literally means as the Carbonari make it. The Carbonari, in the dialect of Rome (🔊Romanesco) could be the Carbonai, the workers who produced coal in the nearby region of Abruzzo, the charcoal burners.
An imaginative hypothesis is that pasta with egg, lard and pecorino cheese was the lunch of the carbonai. However, this story doesn't seem to go much into the origins of Carbonara, which, as we've seen, is more related to the connnection between the Roman and American cuisine.
April 6: Carbonara day
Carbonara Day is not an official anniversary, but has been celebrated online for years. On April 6, share your personal version of pasta alla Carbonara on social networks with the hashtags #CarbonaraDay and #MyCarbonara.
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