Spaghetti alla Carbonara

This is more or less of a followup to a previous post. I walked you through how I used some fettuccine di farro that I bought at the Troy Farmers Market in a style similar to carbonara, or what I like to call “Bacon, egg, and cheese pasta.” I got a little flack from the foodies for not using guanciale and using fettucine instead of spaghetti, as the classic “Spaghetti alla Carbonara” prescribes.

So to give the closest thing to righting the wrongs, and, more importantly, to illustrate the ease of preparation and robustness (ability to achieve an acceptable version with minor variations) of the recipe, here’s a quick walkthrough with some changes.

Lay out your ingredients: guanciale (face bacon), eggs, romano cheese, black pepper, and whole wheat spaghetti (hey, I’ll take the fiber where I can get it. And don’t judge the Great Value pasta; it’s the best tasting whole grain pasta I’ve come across and doesn’t have a whole bunch of junk in it.).

Put a large pot of water with a copious amount of salt on to boil. Dice up a bit of guanciale. I don’t know how much; whatever you want. Render the diced bits in a frying pan. Crack your eggs into a bowl with lots of cracked black pepper. Grate up about 2/3 cup of pecorino Romano cheese. Lay out your serving of pasta (20-25% of a box)

Boil your pasta.

You’ll have about 8 minutes to do the rest.

Remove the crispy, diced bits of guanciale from the frying pan and discard some (not all) of the oil. Mix the cheese into the eggs and pepper.

When the pasta is done boiling, transfer it directly to the frying pan on medium heat with some tongs. Let some of the pasta water come with it. Toss for 30 seconds. Add the crispy guanciale bits and toss. Add the egg, cheese, and pepper mixture and turn the heat under the frying pan off. Mix well. If it starts to tighten up, add some more pasta water (you shouldn’t have drained it down the sink; I told you to use tongs).


You just cooked a delicious pasta dish in 12 minutes.

But the key here is that if you don’t want to hunt down a fairly special piece of pork, I’m not going to hit you over the head. It’s perfectly acceptable to use bacon or pancetta if that’s what you have around. And it’s ok to use a different cut of pasta. It’s really the method that you’re going for here, and, while the classic form is the classic form for a reason, it shouldn’t deter you from trying something. Hey, maybe you do try it your way and that makes you eager to seek out everything you need to try the classic recipe. If it gets you cooking and thinking, you’re doing something good for yourself.


6 thoughts on “Spaghetti alla Carbonara

  • Daniel B.

    I concur about the Great Value spaghetti. Not all varieties of their whole grain pasta are created equal though. It should also be noted that this 100% whole wheat pasta is a lot more sensitive to cooking times.

    A little under and it’s gritty.
    A little over and it falls apart.

    I’m not sure about calling guanciale “face bacon” unless you were going to start calling ham “leg bacon”. It’s cured pork jowel and it is not smoked.

    Also the method I use for carbonara as prescribed by Marcella Hazan does not involve putting the eggs back on the heat and forming curds. Rather the eggs coat the hot pasta strands in their serving bowl and then get “cooked” when the hot fat (with a little wine mixed in) is dumped over the dish and tossed to combine.

    • derryX

      I shouldn’t take credit for the face bacon designation. It’s actually something I’ve heard and seen Mario Batali use to describe it.

  • scsi

    I learned to make spaghetti carbonara from someone who grew up in Rome, and certainly would not put the eggs back on the heat. The hot pasta (and bacon fat) cooks the egg enough to make it sticky, not scrambled, and the cheese (added later) adheres nicely. We also sprinkle on some italian hot pepper flakes (diavolochino) with the cheese.

    • derryX

      Yea, I’ve tried it that way. In general, I tend to overcook my eggs because I don’t really like the runny (even if it’s silky and cooked) texture. I did intend for this to be more like that, but the pan was a bit too hot when I added it all. There’s obviously plenty of opportunity for human error in this preparation, but the good news is that the flavor doesn’t change much, only the texture.

  • mr.dave

    I find the smooth, buttery nature of the sauce-like coating of eggs when this dish is prepared as it should be to devine. My favorite way to have this dish served is where they put the egg yolk in a little pasta divot and you stir it into the hot pasta yourself.

    If you are squeamish about the egg why don’t you omit it? Use a bit of pasta water to make a bit of sauce out of the residual bacon fat and the cheese, or maybe just use a bit of cream instead of the eggs… Your dish wouldn’t be “alla Carbonera,” but it would capture the essence of the dish and omit something that you don’t enjoy. Why try to wedge the eggs in?

    To my sensibilities, pasta with scrambled eggs like the pictured dish would be something that I wouldn’t enjoy so much.

    • derryX

      It’s actually a great point, and it’s really my fault for not wanting to part with the egg whites. I really should be using just yolks, but I never really sit down for a meal with that far of a balance skewed toward carbs and fat.

      Leaving the whites in there makes it easier to screw up, but I don’t mind it.


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