Serves a Crowd

Asparagus & Bacon Carbonara

March 17, 2023
0 Ratings
Photo by MJ Kroeger
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

Carbonara is one of the most delicious, fuss-free pastas you can make. A creamy sauce made with nothing more than eggs and grated Pecorino Romano cheese enrobes pasta in a silky blanket while crispy bits of pork provide a contrasting textural bite. It’s a masterclass in simplicity, allowing the eggs to emulsify with the cheese to create a luscious sauce that’s far more than the sum of its parts. It’s one of Rome’s most famous dishes, and this version borrows all of the fundamental elements but adapts them into a verdant version fit for spring. Pieces of tender asparagus bulk up the pasta and mingle with the sauce to create a rich, satisfying weeknight pasta that celebrates the season. It’s everything you love about traditional carbonara, reworked into a vibrant springtime meal.

While guanciale (a cured meat product made from pork jowls) is most commonly used in traditional carbonara recipes, this version relies on thick-cut bacon to provide the characteristic salty, fatty pork flavor. The flavor combination of bacon and asparagus is a staple spring pairing, so it makes an ideal (and slightly more accessible) substitute for guanciale. But if you do happen to find guanciale at your grocery store, feel free to use it in equal parts in this recipe for a more traditional take. It’s often sold pre-diced into very small cubes, so just keep an eye on it as it cooks to prevent it from over-browning. —Jesse Szewczyk

What You'll Need
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound thick-cut bacon (about 8 slices), diced (about 3 cups)
  • 1 ½ pounds asparagus, woody ends trimmed and sliced into 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more for pasta water
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided, plus more for serving
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 2 large whole eggs
  • 8 ounces freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 2 packed cups), plus more for serving
  • 1 pound dried orecchiette or other small pasta
  1. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil over high heat.
  2. As the water is coming up to a boil, heat the olive oil in a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the diced bacon and cook, stirring often, until the bacon has rendered out all of its fat and is dark brown and crispy, about 13 to 17 minutes. Transfer the cooked bacon into a large heat-proof mixing bowl using a slotted spoon, leaving behind all of the rendered fat in the skillet. Add the cut asparagus, ½ teaspoon of the kosher salt, and ½ teaspoon of the freshly ground black pepper to the pan of rendered bacon fat and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring often, just until the asparagus is tender but still has a toothsome bite, about 4 to 7 minutes. Transfer the asparagus into the bowl of bacon using a slotted spoon. (At this point you can either save or discard the rendered bacon fat.)
  3. In another large, heat-proof mixing bowl combine the egg yolks, whole eggs, cheese, remaining ½ teaspoon of kosher salt, and remaining ½ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Mix the eggs and cheese together until the mixture is thick and creamy and no streaks of unincorporated egg white remain. Set aside.
  4. Once the water has come to a boil, cook the pasta until al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes for orecchiette, and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta into a colander and add it back to the pot along with the bacon and asparagus. Add the egg and cheese mixture to the pasta and immediately and vigorously stir so it evenly coats the pasta. The pasta should be glossy and creamy. If it’s too dry, add a splash of the reserved pasta water and continue mixing. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as desired. Immediately serve the pasta with additional cheese and pepper.

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