Spaghetti Carbonara

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I couldn’t figure out why I’ve been craving spaghetti carbonara lately until I started making another custard base for the ice cream machine. Tempering all those yolks to make a thickened and delicious sauce… Carbonara is basically the savory version of ice cream! At least to the part of my brain that decides what to have for dinner.

One of the things I vowed to do this summer was to make guanciale specifically for this dish. This isn’t our usual dinnertime fare since it’s fairly rich in its own way and the closest thing to a vegetable in it is peppercorns, so when I made it again, I wanted to make it special. Unfortunately, I never got around to obtaining the curing salts required for such a preparation when the craving hit and therefore had to resort to putting other cured pork products in its place. I’m sure the real deal will happen someday.

The first time I had spaghetti carbonara blew my mind. I tried several times to get it right at home and failed miserably, curdling the eggs every time with every recipe that I attempted. They each insisted you could finish a sauce of egg yolks in a hot pan with noodles quite successfully. I’m now well aware of a better method and will carry on doing things this way from now on.

I can’t be certain, but I’d swear that fettuccine Alfredo is simply a lazy bastardization of this dish. All that Parmesan cheese and luxuriousness, but too much timing required to get right, so copious amounts of butter and cream were added to reduce the margin for error. This is a seriously simple and rustic dish that isn’t much to look at, but it’s the kind of dish that lets you appreciate good pasta for what it is and offers nothing more than purely flavored accents of that. Although untraditional, the flavor of wild mushrooms is very welcome here, and if a nice bowl of pasta doesn’t suit your fancy, this would make a nice introductory or accompanying course for steak au poivre or any meal involving roasted root vegetables and/or chevre. Because, you know, lots of pepper cannot possibly overshadow those things, and lots of pepper is a must to make this dish what it is.

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara


  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces (120g) pancetta, cubed
  • 1 pound (454g) spaghetti
  • 4 ounces (120g) Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
  • 1 egg plus 3 egg yolks
  • salt and plenty of freshly cracked black pepper


Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil in a large pot over high heat.
Heat extra virgin olive oil and pancetta in a skillet over medium heat. Cook until the fat has been rendered and pancetta begins to crisp, then crack a generous amount of black pepper into the pan and cook for a minute or two more. Set aside to cool.
Begin cooking your spaghetti for the length of time specified by the package, probably around 8 or 9 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together parmesan and eggs to make a smooth paste. Once the pancetta and oil have cooled, mix this in as well and set aside.
When the spaghetti is cooked, reserve a cup of the pasta water and drain in a colander.
Temper the egg mixture with a few tablespoons of the hot pasta water, whisking vigorously. Add the spaghetti, then add as much pasta water as necessary, tossing often, to make a smooth sauce to coat the pasta. Serve immediately with a few extra cracks of black pepper, additional parmesan and perhaps a grating of fresh nutmeg as desired.
This recipe makes a lot of pasta, so feel free to halve it if you’re feeding less ravenous appetites. Note that spaghetti carbonara can bring out ravenous appetites. This recipe is adapted from a seriously amazing issue of Saveur magazine on Roman cuisine.

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