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What Is Pasta Carbonara?
Spaghetti alla carbonara is an Italian pasta dish made with egg, cheese, and crispy pork belly. To make it, combine al dente pasta with raw egg yolks, grated cheese, and a little reserved pasta water to make a sauce that coats the hot pasta strands as it cooks. The addition of tiny cubes of guanciale, or cured pork jowl, adds a crispy pop of flavor. Unlike pasta Alfredo, carbonara does not incorporate heavy cream—the creaminess comes from the emulsion of egg yolks with cheese and starchy pasta water. Authentic carbonara must be made quickly, so although it only has a few ingredients, timing is everything.
What Are the Origins of Pasta Carbonara?
The word carbonara comes from the Latin carbo, or charcoal, though how the word came to be associated with a creamy, eggy pasta recipe is somewhat of a mystery. It may be related to carbonata (salt pork cooked over charcoal), or it may be named after a restaurant in Rome; the Roman restaurant Carbonara claims to have invented the dish in 1944 in response to an influx of bacon-and-egg-hungry American soldiers. The relatively new style of pasta likely evolved from an older dish made using the same method (minus the guanciale): pasta cacio e uova.
What Type of Pasta Is Ideal for Carbonara?
The traditional pasta shape for carbonara is spaghetti. Spaghetti carbonara is easy to manipulate in the pan with tongs, and the sauce coats each thin strand of pasta beautifully. But carbonara can also work with other long pasta shapes, like flat fettuccine, elliptical linguine, and hollow bucatini. Once you've swapped bucatini for spaghetti you might not go back: The carbonara sauce fills the skinny tubes, providing extra sauce in every bite. Just make sure to use a long pasta—you need the additional surface area to get the texture of the sauce just right.
Italian Spaghetti Carbonara Recipe
Prep Time10 min
Total Time28 min
Cook Time18 min
- 4 ounces guanciale (or substitute pancetta or bacon), diced into ½-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- 1 pound spaghetti or bucatini
- 2 ounces grated pecorino Romano (or substitute Parmigiano Reggiano)
- 4 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks, beaten together
- Freshly ground black pepper
- In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté guanciale until crispy, about 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, leaving some of the guanciale or bacon fat in the skillet.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add pasta and boil until al dente, about 6 minutes. Remove 1 cup of pasta water and set aside. Drain pasta and transfer to the skillet with pasta water and cook over medium heat.
- In a medium bowl, combine grated cheese with egg mixture. Season with plenty of black pepper and whisk to incorporate. Pour the egg mixture over the pasta while tossing continuously with tongs. Continue to toss until the carbonara sauce is glossy and coats every strand of pasta, about 1–2 minutes.
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