Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Francesca's Spaghetti alla Carbonara

4 Servings

I’ll be honest with you: I was not planning to publish this recipe for at least six months since I posted the recipe for spaghetti all’amatriciana quite recently and the two recipes share some key ingredients. However, things do not always go as planned. Last month, I “met” a new friend, Kimberly of WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot4, which was kind of an unexpected event for me because I’m not very social…to say the least 😉 Kimberly and her husband happened to be in Rome in the past months and her husband fell in love with spaghetti alla carbonara, one of the most famous dishes in the Roman culinary tradition.

She asked me to give her my recipe and her request was just sooooo lovely that I could not possibly say no. So, this recipe is my Christmas (or whatever different kind of festivity they may be celebrating!) present to Kimberly and her husband. I wish Roman Santa would go down their chimney and leave a warm dish under the tree, ready for them to eat in the morning (admittedly, not the perfect time of the day to eat carbonara, but who am I to judge?)… Since, however, this sounds just a little unlikely, I guess Kimberly and her husband will have to work something out in the kitchen on their own 🙂

Before we get to the “technicalities” of this wonderful culinary creation, let’s talk a bit about its origins. There are several theories about it.

Many believe that the carbonai (i.e., men who used to make charcoal) created the dish a long time ago. They used to work in the Apennine mountains and carry with them the necessary ingredients (cured pork, eggs, pasta, cheese and black pepper) to be cooked on an outdoor campfire.

According to a second theory, carbonara was created by a cook belonging to the Carbonari, an Italian secret society fighting for the independence of Italy from the Austrians at the beginning of the 19th century.

Under yet another theory, the origins of this recipe must be traced back to the Neapolitan cuisine. The XIX century cookbook “Cucina Teorico Pratica” by Ippolito Cavalcanti, Duke of Buonvicino, includes a recipe that, although far from the actual carbonara, presents a strong similarity to a dish that some consider to be the predecessor of carbonara.

A fourth theory is also known as the American theory: at the end of World War II, the Allied troops arrived in Rome bringing bacon with them. According to this theory, the American soldiers used to cook, or ask Italians to cook for them, scrambled eggs and bacon and combine them with pasta. Such combination reportedly gave Italian cooks the idea to create this classic of the Roman cuisine.

I cannot tell you which one of the above theories is accurate, since historians and chefs still debate about them. So, just embrace the theory that best satisfies your imagination and let’s start cooking, shall we? 😉

Francesca's Spaghetti alla CarbonaraLet’s talk about ingredients first.

One of the key ingredients of carbonara is “guanciale”, a cured meat deriving from the pork’s jowl or cheek. Unfortunately, no grocery store located in my neck of the woods knows what it is and whenever I tried to explain what I was looking for, they looked at me like I’m totally crazy (yeah, my Italian accent does not help either!) So, I had to go for a substitute which, in this case, would be pancetta, a cured meat deriving from the pork’s belly.

The other key ingredient are the eggs. In terms of number of eggs per person, every cook has their own “rule”. Moreover, some cooks use whole eggs, some cooks only yolks and some others a combination of whole eggs and yolks. Personally, I use 1 whole egg and 1 yolk for two people. When you make this dish, there is one fundamental rule to remember: under no circumstance whatsoever, should you let the eggs cook. If you let that happen, you will end up with some scrambled eggs of sort, your carbonara will be ruined and you will have no choice but to start all over.

During the years, I have heard and seen people add heavy creamy (gasp!!! May the Roman gods be lenient!) in order to make the sauce creamier: just picture me right now pushing a big red button that says WROOOOONG 😉 There is no heavy cream in the original recipe. There should be no heavy cream in your carbonara. The creaminess of the sauce is *exclusively* due to the proper use of the eggs.

As to the cheese to be used, this is an easy one: only Roman pecorino cheese.

Finally, let’s talk about seasoning. I think I have seen them all: onions, garlic, parsley, green peas and whatever the human imagination can come up with. Sorry guys. Believe me when I say that I do not mean any disrespect but once again I’m reaching for my big red button which says WRONG! The original recipe does not provide for any kind of seasoning or extra ingredients and, trust me, carbonara is just perfect the way it is – if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it kinda thing 😉

The key to the success of this very humble dish is to use top notch quality, fresh ingredients that, cooked properly, speak for themselves in a combination of flavors that creates a unique culinary masterpiece.


4 slices of pancetta, ¼ inch thick
1 Tbsp extravirgin olive oil
2 whole eggs
2 yolks
14 oz spaghetti (a little less than a pack)
6 Tbsp grated Roman pecorino cheese
Ground black pepper


Cut up the pancetta into bits (about ½ of 1 inch in size).

Cutting pancettaIn a non-stick large skillet, heat the oil, add the pancetta and fry, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta gets golden and crispy. Set aside.

Put a large pot of salted water over the stove to boil. While the water is warming up, place the whole eggs and the yolks in a bowl. Add a pinch of salt (be careful not to put too much because pancetta is already salty), 1 Tbsp of pecorino cheese, some black pepper (to taste) and whisk until you obtain a smooth mixture.

When the water is boiling, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the spaghetti, put them in the skillet with the pancetta and toss to coat.

Transfer the spaghetti back in the large pot where you cooked them. Add the egg mixture and toss to coat (being careful not to let the eggs cook!) Add 4 Tbsp of pecorino cheese and toss to coat.

Put the spaghetti into the serving plates and dust the top of each plate with the rest of the pecorino cheese and some black pepper.

Et voilà! Simple, quick and absolutely perfect the way it is!  😉


About Francesca

I am a cook and the founder and art director of Flora's Table, the fine cooking and wine blog. Check us out at :-)
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48 Responses to Spaghetti alla Carbonara

  1. Kiara Style says:

    Guanciale???? Mmmmmm, one of the most frustrating things is not to be able to find the right ingredients for Italian cooking 😦 I love Spaghetti alla Carbonara! Flora’s Table you just make me want to cook and eat and drink and be merry. Stefano, what wine would pair to Spaghetti alla Carbonara?

    • Stefano says:

      Ha! Thank you for the question, Chiara.
      Okay, I’m going to go for it, although it will kind of be a spoiler for my wine pairing post-to-be 😉
      I would either pair it with a structured white wine, such as a Chardonnay with some oak-aging (I’m thinking something like Castello della Sala’s Bramito del Cervo from Umbria or even delicious Planeta’s Chardonnay from Sicily) or go for a medium-bodied red such as a Barbera (Pico Maccario makes a great Barbera d’Asti and Batasiolo a very fine Barbera d’Alba) or a Pinot Noir from Alto Adige (something like Elena Walch’s Ludwig or St Michael-Eppan’s Sanct Valentin).
      Man, I’m getting hungry and thirsty again! 😉
      Thank you, Chiara, for your always nice comments.
      Take care

  2. GreedyFrog says:

    This looks delicious! Thanks for posting the authentic recipe with no cream, I will definitely try this soon!

    • Francesca says:

      You are very welcome, my gracious frog. I’m sure that, with your skills, it will turn out parfait!;-)

      • GreedyFrog says:

        I have just made this for dinner. It was amazing; so amazing that a simple comment is somehow not enough. Give me time to get my Little Greedy Tadpole bathed and tucked up in bed, and I shall reblog.
        Thanks for a fantastic recipe! 🙂

      • Francesca says:

        You are very welcome. You are way too kind to me! 🙂 I’m so happy that you tried it and liked it. You made my day! 🙂

  3. Francesca!!!! How flipping AWESOME are you!!,, We just went to bed and I opened up my reader and BOOM,,, there this is!!!!! we are both in bed having a good chuckle….That s sounds bad doesn’t it…or good… Depending on how you look at it!,, A laugh that is… THANKYOU so much, I will make this tomorrow! I even have the ingredients , well, almost… I brought home pasta from Italy and even smuggled in a big block of cheese… :0)… The photography makes me want to cook right now… You are the sweetest!!! Grazie, grazie,graze, ciao Bella!, you made my night!!!! Xo Kimberly…

  4. Your photos are superb. Love the roses!

  5. Dina says:

    Great post! I’m not good at cooking, I love good dining/winig and I know for sure, it’d be great fun to join cookingclasses with you. Even reading it, brings it nearer to me, mouthwatering pictures and words. Excellent winerecommandations. Thanky you for sharing so much joy!
    Have a great day.
    Love from the far North

  6. milkandbun says:

    Adore!!!!! And pancetta and pasta! Simple and fantastic!!!!

  7. Nicole says:

    I can testify that this dish might be the single best thing I have ever had out of Francesca’s kitchen and I have had some really tasty things from there. I think about this dish frequently and ways to get her to cook it for me! Thanks Kimberly for asking for it! (BTW – I REALLY want a WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot4 tee shirt!! I want to wear it to a PTA meeting …)

    • Stefano says:

      That’s actually a pretty good idea, Nicole: I can think of a couple places I would wear it too – Kimberly, if you are ever going to make it, you have two customers lined up already: needless to say, however, in my case the pink’s gotta go! 😀

  8. Josephine says:

    As a super fan of carbonara, I went overboard with a somewhat unorthodox method of ‘cooling’ the egg yolks first … you might be interested (?) since you are such a carbonara lover yourself …

    • Francesca says:

      Hi Josephine,
      Thank you for your comment. I have never heard of the yolks cooling method. How interesting! Your post is really well done and your pictures of guanciale are great! I feel like we are “carbonara” kindred souls 😉

  9. I love the history of the dish you provide in the beginning, how unique! I like the idea of working men armed with pasta, eggs, and pork ready to cook dinner over a campfire! Now that’s one step above Dinty Moore!!

  10. Thank for posting this recipe Francesa – I have to confess I have in the past used cream. Forgive me! Next time I make it I will do so without cream or other extraneous ingredients.

  11. Irene says:

    Hi Francesca! This is so weird. As I was finishing my spaghetti meal last night, I told my husband I will try carbonara sauce next time. Wada…here I found a recipe from your blog. This recipe is meant to be bookmarked. It looks gorgeously delicious! ~Irene

  12. Totally agree with you about keeping carbonara simple. Problem for me is that I can’t get same day freshly laid eggs, preferably organic and free range or cage free. So, I haven’t made this in years. What a shame as I used to love it.

    • Francesca says:

      Thanks for your comment! I sure hope you will find a way to get those fresh eggs, because I am sure that making carbonara again will bring back wonderful flavors!

  13. Will so have to try this version! Also a version at my blog where we add cauliflower. I know it is not traditional, but it is oh so good!

  14. alisitaliankitchen says:

    I just had to say I love this recipe! Tim doesnt get breakfast very often(I am a night owl) but lo and behold I would like to fix this for him! So Yummy!

  15. Gallivanta says:

    Good to learn an authentic carbonara recipe. I wonder if we have been encouraged to use cream and other ingredients to somehow compensate for the absence of flavour from “guanciale”. Until a few years ago, I couldn’t even find pancetta in my neighbourhood and it was only a few weeks ago that I saw pork cheeks for sale in a local butchery. By the way, do you have a traditional recipe that uses the extra egg whites created by your recipe?

    • Francesca says:

      Thank you for your comment: what I usually do with the extra egg whites is meringue, so beside your delicious pasta you also get a little dessert. I am planning on writing a post on how to make meringue as time permits, so stay tuned! 🙂

  16. I love how your carbonara looks so creamy , I always get lumpy eggs with my carbonara. And thanks for hsaring on the history as well, very interesting.

    • Francesca says:

      Dear RCC,
      Thank you for you kind comment. The problem could be that the eggs get cooked. Next time you make it, try to follow the procedure I describe in the recipe and your carbonara should turn out just fine.:-)

  17. GreedyFrog says:

    Reblogged this on The Greedy Frog and commented:
    I just had to reblog this recipe, because I made it tonight and I have been totally blown away by how amazingly delicious it is.
    It is very, very simple to make, with just a few ingredients, but it will rock your world, I promise!
    And please, go and have a look over at Flora’s Table for more mouthwatering recipes, you won’t regret it…

    • Francesca says:

      My gracious Greedy Frog,
      I do not know what to say. Thank you doesn’t seem enough. I come from a world of professionals where nobody does anything for nothing. Every act is calculated to get something in return. Your random act of kindness left me speechless. I’m flattered and touched at the same time. Your family and your friends are really lucky to have you in their lives. I wish you and your family happy holidays!

  18. Jeanette says:

    Made this recipe for tonight’s dinner. Delicious:-). Thank you!!

  19. I am so happy to see a recipe for carbonara and so glad that this recipe doesn’t use cream. The wine pairings are fantastic, thank you for posting this earlier than you were planning on doing so. Carbonara is one of my favorites.

  20. Pingback: Still Blowing Like a Candle in the Wind… One Year Later! | Flora's Table

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