A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. This week, spaghetti carbonara turns into a frittata, perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or, ahem, Mother’s Day brunch.
Classic carbonara was a wartime invention, or so the story goes: Toward the end of World War II, American soldiers stationed in Rome brought their egg and bacon rations to local cooks, who added pasta and cheese, and created a dish that, decades later, is beloved all around the world.
I wanted to do a riff of my own but, in the name of Big Little Recipes, I also wanted to keep the same tiny ingredient list as classic carbonara: pasta, eggs, pancetta, and cheese. Turns out, if you simply change the quantities and method, you end up with a frittata.
Though carbonara is a singularly silky, creamy sauce, it doesn’t (or, if we’re getting persnickety, shouldn’t) include any cream. Instead, eggs, pork fat, and grated cheese (parmesan, pecorino, or both) team up with starchy pasta water to yield a rich, emulsified sauce that’s clingy in a good way.
In this OG version, 1 pound of pasta gets dressed with 7 egg yolks and 1 whole egg, ¼ pound guanciale or pancetta, and ½ cup grated pecorino. To become a frittata, we’re going to change that to: 5 ounces pasta, 10 whole eggs, the same amount of guanciale or pancetta, and twice the amount of cheese (yahoo!).
The instructions, of course, change a lot too. Basically, you boil the spaghetti until al dente and, while that’s going, crisp up the pancetta in a large nonstick skillet. In a big bowl, whisk the eggs with the grated cheese, the crisped pancetta and its rendered fat, and an unshy amount of black pepper. As soon as the spaghetti is done, drain it and add it to the nonstick skillet with a knob of butter for good measure. Pour the porky-cheesy egg mixture on top and bake.
The oven temperature may surprise you. A lot of frittata recipes call for you to start cooking on the stove, then finish for a few minutes under the broiler. Instead, we’re going low and slow at 300°F. I learned this method from our test kitchen director Josh Cohen, who learned it from chef Andrew Feinberg. While broiling is high-risk territory for overcooked, rubbery eggs, this gentle method produces an incredibly creamy, tender texture.
While classic carbonara needs to be eaten as soon as it’s ready (the sauce goes from silky to gloopy as it sits), this frittata is happy to wait until whenever you (and your guests) are ready. It’s as good hot as it is warm, room temperature, and even cold.
If you’re like me and making Mother’s Day brunch this weekend, here are a few recipes that would be great to go with:
If you’re a Big Little fan, maybe you’re wondering: Where’s this week’s video? We’re taking a quick hiatus—yep, just like a TV show—to cook up the next season of episodes, premiering May 28. They’re gonna be bigger (and littler) and better than ever. Stay tuned! Have you ever made carbonara before? Tell us about it in the comments!
Put down those long grocery lists. Inspired by the award-winning column, our Big Little Recipes cookbook is minimalism at its best: few ingredients, tons of flavor.
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.
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