The Simplest Pasta Carbonara Recipe Ever

Just about everyone loves a bowl of pasta alla carbonara. The dish originated in Rome in the mid-20th-century, and it's still one of the most popular pasta dishes in Italy and the United States. Registered dietician Kristen Carli is also a food writer and recipe developer, and she shared her easy recipe for pasta carbonara with Mashed. Traditionally, pasta carbonara (also called spaghetti carbonara) has only a handful of ingredients, and Carli's recipe sticks to that tried-and-true formula. 

She uses Italian techniques for whipping up this incredibly satisfying dish in less than 30 minutes. Carli takes a couple of shortcuts that will save you even more time, so her pasta carbonara recipe can be made any night of the week as a family meal or as a separate course for a special date-night dinner. If you've never made pasta carbonara before, you'll be amazed at how something this simple can taste so delicioso!

Gather together the ingredients for this simplest pasta carbonara recipe

You may have had pasta carbonara at an Italian restaurant that's creamy and very rich, so you might be surprised that there is no heavy cream in Carli's recipe. Other recipes that have cream are not authentic. Italians actually consider it an insult to the eggs and Parmesan, which when combined with the pasta water, create the sauce for pasta carbonara. 

For this dish, Carli recommends spaghetti  the most commonly used pasta for this recipe  but any long noodle, like fettucine or linguine will do. Long noodles are traditional for pasta carbonara, but they also serve a practical purpose. There are raw eggs in this recipe, and the longer noodle will help them cook. Shorter pasta, like penne, will capture the egg inside and keep it raw. The only other ingredients you'll need are bacon, shredded or grated Parmesan cheese, and garlic. Once you've got all of the ingredients together, you're ready to begin cooking.

Cook the spaghetti for the pasta carbonara

The first step is, of course, cooking the pasta. Carli calls for eight ounces of spaghetti to serve four people. This may seem skimpy to you, but it's an accurate proportion, if you want to eat like an Italian. In Italy, pasta is almost always served as a small first or second course and never as a main course. Why fill up on pasta when there are so many other delicious dishes on the menu? But if you want to serve larger portions, then simply double this recipe.

To cook the spaghetti, fill a large pot with four to six quarts of water, and stir in two heaping tablespoons of salt. Some chefs say that the pasta water should taste like the sea. It's a myth that the salt will make the water boil faster, but heavily salted water does add a lot of flavor to the pasta. 

Once the water has come to a boil, add the spaghetti, and stir it around for a few seconds to make sure that every strand is submerged. Lower the heat a little, so the pasta's released starch won't foam up and boil over. You'll want the pasta to be al dente since it will continue to cook when drained, so follow the package instructions. Before draining the pasta, lower a heat-proof measuring cup into the water and scoop out a cup, which you'll use for finishing the sauce.

Fry the bacon until crispy for the pasta carbonara

In Italy, carbonara is made with guanciale (pronounced "gwahn-CHA-lee"), which is a cured pork product made from pig cheek or jowl. Guanciale has a distinctive porky flavor and the right amount of fat for giving the sauce a silky texture. But it's hard to find except at an Italian import food store, so a good substitute is bacon or pancetta. If you don't want your carbonara to have a smoky taste, you can do as Julia Child did and blanch the bacon first by simmering it in water for eight minutes. But if you don't mind bacon's smokiness, simply chop it into small pieces. 

Heat a large skillet, and add the chopped bacon. Fry the bacon until it's crispy, then take the skillet off the heat. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon — retaining the rendered bacon fat in the skillet — and set the bacon aside in a small bowl or on a small plate.

Combine the pasta carbonara's eggs, cheese, and seasonings in a bowl

As mentioned earlier, the recipe has raw eggs that will be cooked by the hot pasta. But if you're concerned about raw eggs, Julia Child coddled the eggs for her Caesar salad recipe before mixing them into the dressing. 

Simply bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer. Use a pushpin to prick a small hole on both ends of each egg. Gently lower the eggs into the water, and simmer for exactly one minute. Crack the eggs open in a bowl, and add the shredded Parmesan, salt, and pepper. You can use grated Parmesan (not the canned stuff), but it won't give the sauce the same texture. Now add 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water. Whisk everything together until well-combined. As Carli told us "the reserved pasta water provides starch to incorporate the cheese and eggs into a creamy sauce."

Add the cooked bacon and cheese sauce to the pasta

Heat the skillet with the bacon fat over medium heat, then add the minced fresh garlic. One of Carli's shortcuts is to use jarred minced garlic instead. It's not as pungent and has a mellower garlic flavor. Sauté the garlic for a few seconds, then add the drained pasta and the bacon to the skillet. Toss it all together until combined. 

Now stir in the egg-and-cheese sauce, and toss to combine. If you want to increase the creaminess of the sauce, add more reserved pasta water, about 1/4 cup at a time, and keep stirring. If you're using fresh pasta, Carli recommended "be careful when mixing with the sauce as the noodles will be more delicate." Once the sauce is creamy, you're ready to serve. For a professional presentation, use tongs to lift a portion out of the skillet and then twirl the pasta into a tight little nest. The pasta carbonara will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days, but it's best fresh. Buon appetito!

The Simplest Pasta Carbonara Recipe Ever
5 from 43 ratings
Few foods are more comforting than a heaping bowl of warm pasta. This pasta carbonara recipe comes together in just 30 minutes and delivers big Italian flavor.
Prep Time
5
minutes
Cook Time
20
minutes
Servings
4
servings
pasta carbonara recipe
Total time: 25 minutes
Ingredients
  • 8 ounces spaghetti, linguine, or other long noodle
  • 4 strips bacon, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
Directions
  1. Boil a large pot of water, and cook the spaghetti according to the package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, cook the chopped bacon over medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl or plate. Keep the bacon fat in the skillet.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, Parmesan, salt, pepper, and ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water.
  4. Heat the bacon fat in the skillet over medium heat. Add the minced garlic, and sauté for a few seconds.
  5. Add the drained pasta and cooked bacon to the skillet -- toss to combine.
  6. Add the egg-and-cheese sauce to the pasta, and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry, add more pasta water, ¼ cup at a time, until the sauce is creamy. Use tongs to serve individual portions on plates.
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 444
Total Fat 20.9 g
Saturated Fat 8.3 g
Trans Fat 0.1 g
Cholesterol 159.4 mg
Total Carbohydrates 42.0 g
Dietary Fiber 2.0 g
Total Sugars 1.6 g
Sodium 490.4 mg
Protein 21.1 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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