Did you know that the best pasta alla carbonara is the one you make yourself?
Allow us to explain: At fancy Italian restaurants, the portion of carbonara you’re likely to get is nowhere near how much you crave (especially considering your fellow diners, who will no doubt poke their forks into your bowl). It’s one of those dishes of which you can never get enough—and when you don’t order it, you’re consumed with regret when someone else does. So make your own, in the volume you crave and deserve.
As Italian-American test kitchen cook Belle English explains in this video, it’s easy to make carbonara if you keep a few simple tricks in mind. You want to be conscientious about heat levels so your eggs don’t curdle. You want to be sure to include pasta water, aka “liquid gold.” Check out the video below, and the recipe here, then read on for Belle’s top tips.
1. Keep Eggs at Room Temperature
Those eggs are the most challenging part of the dish, but if you consider their heat level as you cook, they present zero headaches. Get them to room temperature, and whether you’re whisking hot water into them, as in this recipe, or adding a cheese-egg mix to the sauté pan as Belle does, keep temperature in mind. Don’t add something ice-cold to something very hot, or things will get a little messy.
2. Yes, Pancetta and Bacon are O.K.
Sure, guanciale—a peppery cured meat traditional in this dish—is delicious, but you can absolutely use pancetta or bacon if that’s what you’ve got. (Guanciale is often available at specialty Italian shops.)
3. Pecorino, Not Parmesan
Parmigiano-Reggiano is an Italian national treasure. Full stop. But its sibling pecorino romano is what you want here. It’s salty and pungent and melts beautifully in this dish, lending itself well to a silky texture in the sauce.
4. Don’t Dump Your Pasta Water
Belle likes to use tongs to pull al dente noodles straight from their sauce. Awesome if you can do that, but if it sounds like a recipe for disaster—say in a small kitchen—use a measuring cup to carefully rescue at least half a cup of cooking water. The starchy, salty water is just the thing to bind your sauce.
5. Twist the Dish, Not the Tongs
Want everyone you’re hosting to feel like they spent $30 on pasta? Twirl each bowl before serving the carbonara. Hold the tongs steady; let the bowl’s movement do the work. Hooray; you now have a restaurant-worthy nest of noodles. Tell guests they can look at the check whenever they’re ready, no rush. (Really, this recipe is that good.)
Pasta Alla Carbonara
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups finely grated pecorino romano cheese, plus more for serving
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 6 oz. diced guanciale or pancetta
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 lb. dried spaghetti
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and the 1 1/2 cups cheese. Set aside.
In a 13-inch French skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the guanciale and cook until it is browned and the fat has rendered, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, according to the package instructions. Drain, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water.
Slowly whisk 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking water into the egg-cheese mixture.
Return the skillet with the guanciale to medium heat and rewarm. Add the pasta and 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water and toss to combine. Remove the pan from the heat, pour in the egg-cheese mixture and toss well to combine. Season generously with pepper. Serve immediately and pass additional cheese alongside. Serves 4.