Spaghetti Carbonara

By • January 13, 2010 15 Comments

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Author Notes: I don't know what it is, but I almost always think "breakfast for dinner" when I am cooking dinner just for myself. The meal is always savory, not sweet (although ENunn's Lemony Cream Cheese pancakes may change that someday), and usually boils down to a choice of either a stinky cheese and veggie omelet, or this "bacon and egg" wonder, Spaghetti Carbonara. It is a meal that I always have the ingredients on-hand for, and is a breeze to cook for one. Spaghetti Carbonara, loosely translated from Italian means “Coal Miner’s Pasta.” As legend has it, it was a favored dish of said Italian miners because they could easily carry the few ingredients required underground and cook them simply on a camp stove. I’ve even read that the liberal sprinkling of fresh ground black pepper to finish the dish is meant to evoke the coal dust that inevitably settled on each plate of the miners’ meal. The dish is rumored to have been imported to the states by GIs returning home from duty in WWII. It is said to have been a favorite meal prepared for our soldiers by recently liberated, and very grateful Italian families, who cooked with ingredients that they knew the GIs were homesick for, bacon and eggs. The recipe as written below will serve 4 people, when alone, I'll make a 1/4 version. I could eat it EVERY night!Oui, Chef

Serves 1-4

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1/2 pound pancetta (sliced 1/4 “ thick at the deli, and cut into lardons)
  • 4 large eggs (locally raised and cage-free if possible)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated parmesan reggiano to pass at the table
  1. Put salted water on the boil for the pasta, grate the romano cheese and set aside, finely mince the fresh parsley and reserve.
  2. In a very large skillet, saute the pancetta lardons in the olive oil over medium heat until the bacon has rendered much of its fat. You don’t want to cook the pancetta to the point of being crisp, it is better with a little fatty “chew” still left in it. Just before the pancetta is done, add the minced garlic to the pan and allow to cook until the garlic is golden brown. Set the pan aside to cool. (Allowing the pan to cool some at this point is important, because if the pan is too hot when you add the eggs later, they will immediately scramble, and not gently cook into the creamy sauce that is your ultimate goal. The dish will still taste fine if this happens, but it will look like someone gacked in your pan, so be careful.)
  3. Break the eggs into a medium sized bowl and whisk them till smooth. Add the grated cheese to the eggs and keep handy.
  4. Cook the pasta to the maker’s instructions for “al dente”, and as soon as it is done, quickly strain it and toss it into the skillet with the pancetta, reserving a cup of the pasta cooking water to thin your sauce later if needed. Add the cheese and egg mixture to the pasta along with the parsley, and toss to coat. The heat from the pasta will gently cook the eggs, and melt the cheese into a luxuriously rich and smooth sauce. If the sauce is too thick for your liking, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water to loosen it. Check the sauce for seasoning before plating.
  5. To serve, place the pasta into warmed bowls, top liberally with freshly ground black pepper, and sprinkle with some freshly grated parmesan.

More Great Recipes: Pasta|Pork|Entrees

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Comments (15) Questions (1)


over 3 years ago sidthecat

I got my hands on some guanciale this afternoon: wish me luck!


over 5 years ago Maria Teresa Jorge

Guanciale for me as well but then I live in Italy. I normally make the pasta exactly like you but a few months ago I went to visit a man who raises pigs from the Florence region (Cinta Senese - the ones with the white stripe) and he made an absolutely amazing carbonara - the best I have ever tasted. His trick - pour the pasta in the bowl where you beat the eggs. Absolutely amazing result!


over 5 years ago abbyarnold

Calvin Trillin has a funny and memorable story about making spaghetti carbonara for Thanksgiving, because it is so much tastier than turkey, and because Christopher Columbus was Italian. Ever since I read that story many years ago, I have tried to include something pasta, preferably carbonara, on my Thanksgiving table. Thanks for a great recipe!


over 5 years ago Oui, Chef

I had never heard this particular Trillin story, but I love it, thanks for sharing.


over 5 years ago pierino

pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.

The short version of Trillin's Thanksgiving story goes like this, at the first Thanksgiving the Indians brought spaghetti carbonara which their ancestors had learned from Columbus, who they referred to as "the big Italian fellow." Afterward the Indians left the pilgrims table muttering, "what a bunch of turkeys."


over 5 years ago TheWimpyVegetarian

This looks great! And I liked reading the history of the dish. My husband is out of town, and pasta is definitely not on his diet these days, so I might have to sneak this one in before he gets home on Saturday. And I guess this defines cheating for this 50-something-year-old :-)


over 5 years ago Oui, Chef

Far be it from me to encourage a wife to cheat on her husband, but given that we are just talking pasta here.....go ahead and do it, you know you want to!


over 5 years ago mrslarkin

Mrs. Larkin is a trusted source on Baking.

My husband's favorite! Thanks for recipe and for history lesson!


over 5 years ago gabrielaskitchen

I've been wanting to attempt this recipe for a while now but fear I might accidentally scrammble the eggs! I guess that's why the heat from the pasta, rather than the stove is what cooks 'em.


over 5 years ago pierino

pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.

Don't be fearful of the eggs. Just buy good, very fresh ones. I believe Monsieur Oui's provenance for the dish is accurate although in Rome today it would more typically be guanciale rather than pancetta as the "bacon" component. BTW there's an excellent article in today's (1/13) New York Times on the rise of Roman style restaurants in NYC. The mear mention of the word "Testaccio" makes my mouth water.


over 5 years ago Oui, Chef

Pierino is absolutely right about the guanciale, sadly, it is much more difficult to find than pancetta here in the States. I will find it occasionally in Boston's Italian North End neighborhood, but even there it can be tricky to score. Not sure what we do with our pig cheeks here, grind them into sausage I suppose.


over 5 years ago pierino

pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.

Zingerman's sometimes has guanciale for mail order as does Armandino Batali's Salumi. But don't give up hope, it is getting easier to find, as is pork belly.


over 5 years ago lastnightsdinner

We got a fabulous piece of guanciale a couple weeks back from Lionette's in the South End. You might try there?


over 5 years ago Oui, Chef

Of course....I should have known that Jamey would carry guanciale, and he is much more convenient to me than shops in the N. End. Thanks for the tip!


almost 4 years ago ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking. has guanciale for mail order, and/or you can get it in person in the shop on Richmond Street, North End, Boston.