Pasta Carbonara

Pasta Carbonara is so misunderstood.

I misunderstood it for years.

{OK, to be fair, I haven’t known pasta carbonara for that long. In fact, I first knew the name as a server at MIT. Yes, MIT named its servers after pasta dishes, likes Primavera, Carbonara, you get the picture.}

But even after I knew that it was a pasta dish, I always thought I hated carbonara. Why? I really don’t care for cream sauces. Fettuccine Alfredo makes me shudder, and I would choose a rustic tomato or simple olive-oil sauce any day over a cream sauce (with only a few exceptions).

But then I tried carbonara in Rome.

It’s so different there.

In Rome, we tasted some of the best carbonara we’d ever had in our lives. At Roscioli, a restaurant known for obsessing about the source of its ingredients, it’s all about the eggs. The pasta carbonara at Roscioli is much “eggier” than any carbonara we’ve ever had. The intensely yellow-yolked eggs come from Paolo Parisi, a well-known egg farmer whose free-range hens feed on goats’ milk.

We also learned that pasta carbonara in Rome has absolutely no cream.

In fact, the ingredient list for this rich, velvety pasta is ridiculously short and simple.
A true carbonara consists of only the following: eggs, guanciale (smoked pork jowls), pasta, cheese, and fresh, ground pepper.  That’s it! Forget the garlic, white wine, parsley, and butter. Definitely forget the cream.

Because of the recipe’s simplicity, it’s crucial that you buy the highest quality ingredients. You can easily be disappointed by this recipe if you don’t use good ingredients.

So we went all out. We went to Formaggio Kitchen, one of the nicest gourmet stores in the Boston area known especially for its incredible cheese selection. We picked up a really nice, eggy dried pasta from Italy called Marco Giacosa.
We bought the house-cured guanciale (cured pig’s jowls), a mix of Pecorino Romano and pure Pecorino from Italy, Chip-In eggs, and a blend of pink, white, and black peppercorns. For fun, I threw in some Sichuan peppercorns that I had as well.
Once you have your ingredients, it’s really, really easy to make this simple dish. Cook the guanciale over medium heat until the fat is rendered. The original recipe says don’t let it brown, but definitely ignore that! All of the guanciale we had in Rome was super crispy. It was one of our favorite parts of the dish, so I would definitely let it get nice and crispy. Drain the oil and put the guanciale in a separate bowl. Mix in your glorious bowl of (mostly) egg yolks, and stir!
Meanwhile, on the side, cook your pasta until perfectly al dente (make sure to salt the water a lot, til it “tastes like the ocean”). Grate some cheese, crush some pepper, and then get ready to assemble!
Add in all the goodies (including some reserve guanciale fat and pasta water!), taking care to add the cheese in small quantities (and mixing in between) so it can melt and distribute evenly.

Toss everything together!

Serve on warm plates, as the dish does cool pretty quickly.
Add extra fresh ground pepper and grated cheese to taste.


Bryan, definitely my toughest critic by a long shot, thought the dish was really good and happily volunteered to eat all the leftovers the following day.

This one’s definitely a keeper.

Pasta Carbonara
Serves 4-6
adapted from Barbara Lynch (of Boston’s No. 9 ParkMenton, among others)

1/4 pound guanciale, cut into 1/3″ cubes
7 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 pound pasta (I used pappardalle)
Kosher salt
1/2 – 1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano (original recipe said 1/2 cup, but we added more)
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground green peppercorns
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pink pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
[note: I just used 2 tsp of one of those pre-mixed sets of peppercorns]
Freshly ground black pepper

Cook guanciale in a large skillet over medium heat until fat renders and the guanciale is nicely browned and crispy, about 10 minutes. Pour into a fine-mesh sieve set over a small bowl; reserve drippings. Transfer guanciale to a large bowl and let cool slightly. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks and egg.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water (I made the water pretty salty, “like the ocean.”), stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid. To the egg mixture, immediately add pasta, 2 tablespoons pasta cooking liquid, and 1 teaspoon guanciale drippings; and toss to coat. Working in 3 batches, gradually add the cheese, stirring and tossing to melt between batches. Add the fresh ground pepper and toss until sauce thickens, adding more pasta water by tablespoonfuls if needed. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Divide among bowls. Garnish with additional Pecorino and fresh ground pepper.


Note: I halved the recipe (it could still easily serve 3 people), so I used 3 egg yolks and 1 egg, which still worked out fine.

Related Posts
Deconstructed Spaghetti Carbonara with Sous Vide Egg
Roscioli Restaurant (Rome)

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  1. says

    Here’s how I always make carbonara:

    ingredients per person –
    1/4lb pasta, cooked
    1 egg
    1/4c grated parmesan
    2oz pancetta/bacon/guanciale cooked, fat reserved

    add the pasta and a bit of pasta water to the pan that you cooked the meat in. Then add the cheese, egg whites and stir until the egg whites begin to cook from the heat of the pasta. Season with s&p.

    Put the pasta on plates and make it into a nest with a hole in the centre that you put the egg yolk into.

  2. Minnie Gupta says

    I dislike white sauces too, and not too fond of Italian. Maybe a trip to Rome will change it some day. This looks good though.

  3. DeliciousDish says

    That looks just perfect. I don’t understand why people always try to add cream to carbonara. It’s all about the creaminess from the eggs.

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