Italy Week

The Most Authentic Way to Make Carbonara, According to an Italian Chef

by:
September 19, 2018

It's Italy Week! All week long, we're celebrating everything Italian and Italy-inspired: recipes, stories, and travel tips. Today we dive deep into a simple but controversial Roman dish.


Working in food, I've learned over the years that there are certain things you do not mess with: proper Southern macaroni and cheese, New England clam chowder, and Italian carbonara.

CARBONARA.

Shop the Story

The internet hates when we muck it up, adding garlic or onion, chicken or cream, or even the sweet little pea (which never meant to harm anyone, really).

This YouTube video shines light on how we in the States have repurposed the very classic, very simple Roman dish to fit our palates. But while they might not be authentic, these other takes are just as delicious: In fact, I relish in them because they represent how food evolves and takes on cultures, especially as it travels across oceans and continents. How could something as universal as porky, eggy pasta not?

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Carbonara happens to be my son's favorite pasta. When he was younger he would often order it in restaurants, and inevitably he would be disappointed, even if in Italy. Now he knows better and he makes it himself! I was surprised to read about spaghetti or bucatini being a 'back up', but I am willing to give rigatoni a try! ”
— urbancooknyc
Comment

But I wanted to get to the bottom of things, once and for all. I sat down with Italian chef Simone Falco (who hails from Naples, Italy), owner and executive chef of both Rossopomodoro and SIMÒ Pizza here in New York City. Here's what he had to say:


ERIC KIM: So, let's do this. Chef Falco, where did you learn to cook?

SIMONE FALCO: When I was growing up in Naples, Italy (not to be confused with the city in Florida), I learned to cook at a very young age. My mother and grandmother taught me how to make classic Neapolitan dishes at home. As I got older, especially in my teenage years, I spent a lot of time at my uncle’s pizzeria. I learned the ins and outs of how to operate a restaurant, but I also had the opportunity to expand my culinary curiosity and experiment.

EK: Have you seen this video? Do you agree with these Italian chefs?

SF: Yes, I have seen the video and I agree 100%. All of the other chefs try to overdo it—but carbonara, in my opinion, is a simple recipe that should only be done with five to six components, max. There’s really no need to add onions or garlic or additional ingredients.

EK: Are there many ways to cook carbonara, or just one, truly authentic way?

SF: Although carbonara is a universal dish, I personally always like to cook the authentic and classic version (as I think this is the best).


The Most Authentic Way to Make Carbonara

EK: Delicious. In your opinion, what is the most authentic, most classic way to make carbonara?

SF: Dry pasta, Pecorino Romano, guanciale (cured pork jowl or cheek), eggs (for four people you will use 4 egg yolks and 1 whole egg), salt, and pepper.

EK: (counts on fingers) That's six ingredients! Or four, if we're excluding the salt and pepper. I've always wondered, though: Should the pasta be spaghetti or bucatini, or another shape? Also, is there any pasta carbonara should never be?

SF: Rigatoni is my preferred shape, but spaghetti is definitely a great backup. Never use gnocchi.

EK: Ack! Yes, chef. Speaking of controversy, why do you think carbonara is so controversial to Italians? Why do the food netizens yell at people who fudge it up?

SF: It's controversial because it is a famous dish that can clearly be done a lot of different ways. Everybody across the country has their opinions on how it should be made. It makes you think—you really never hear anybody talking about how they make sea urchin spaghetti...

EK: Fair. Last question: Why don't you serve carbonara at your restaurant?

SF: I do not serve carbonara at my restaurant because it is a Roman dish and my restaurant is Neapolitan. However, Roman Italians and Neapolitan Italians have very similar cooking styles: We make our dishes simply with very few ingredients.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


try this, in between plates of carbonara

How do YOU like to make carbonara? Let us know in the comments below.

16 Comments

Rohn J. November 18, 2018
I took my daughter to lunch at an italian restaurant in Sarasota on St. Armand's circle, and ordered Carbonara. When it arrived, I was presented with a large bowl of farfalle floating in cream sauce with flecks of pancetta, sprinkled with reggiano-parmigiano and romano. I choked down three or four forkfuls before the heavy cream sauce became too much. When I asked the waitress to take it back, she sniffed, "our chef is Italian, and this is the way carbonara is made in Italy." I replied, "Check his passport. This is the way carbonara is made if you're trying to kill someone with a coronary." Please! Cream and garlic are added by people who learned to eat in school cafeterias. I'm not an authenticity snob, but the dish here is rich but light, salty but not overbearing, filling but not bloating. Bene!
 
Andrea F. September 23, 2018
Possibly my favorite dish of all time when prepared in this classic, exact way.
 
Michael C. September 23, 2018
I remember Bourdain asking one time why cooks keep messing with the classics. They are great. That is why they are classics. Enjoy them for what they are... perfect.
 
Whitney September 23, 2018
Exactly...
 
Whitney September 23, 2018
MOLTO bene! Grazie. Carbonara is one of the most delicious, easiest pasta dishes to make. I will keep it kind by just saying no garlic, no onion, and no cream! If your sauce is too tight and a little pasta water. Pasta water is magic for any sauce that’s too thick.
 
Andrea F. September 23, 2018
Perfect
 
urbancooknyc September 23, 2018
<br />I am also italian and I completely agree. I also add a bit of pasta water for more creaminess as I'm stirring, and take it off the heat. Carbonara happens to be my son's favorite pasta. When he was younger he would often order it in restaurants, and inevitably he would be disappointed, even if in Italy. Now he knows better and he makes it himself! I was surprised to read about spaghetti or bucatini being a 'back up', but I am willing to give rigatoni a try!
 
Andrea F. September 23, 2018
Wholly agree!
 
Laura September 20, 2018
I’m 100% Italian and I agree with the chef...in my technique I temper the eggs with a bit of pasta water before adding the hot pasta...no scrabbled eggs...just creamy saucy delish-ness!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. September 20, 2018
Great tip!
 
Alma S. September 22, 2018
I take it off the heat before adding the eggs and stir quickly. I also add a bit of pasta water for more creaminess as I'm stirring. Either way, it is delicious!
 
Whitney September 23, 2018
So true. I use pasta water to thin any sauce that may have gotten too thick.
 
noms October 3, 2018
I add the just-cooked pasta to the scrambled egg/cheese(/guanciale (but usually not guanciale)) mixture rather than adding the egg to the pasta... never had a problem, and never even need to add pasta water beyond what was clinging to the (usually) spaghetti.
 
CameronM5 September 19, 2018
I am having a love affair with rigatoni these days. I have to try this with it. Thanks for clearing this up!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. September 20, 2018
Same here. I've never made a carbonara with rigatoni but think I may try that this weekend.
 
Alma S. September 22, 2018
Neither have but willing to give it a try!<br />