How to Make Pasta alla Carbonara (quick video)

This video by Chef Gino D'Acampo, demonstrates what I consider to be an authentic Italian spaghetti alla carbonara. The dish comes from the latium region in Italy, more specifically to Rome. Pasta alla carbonara means "pasta made in the style of the carbonari, or charcoal (carbon) workers' style." It is essentially a quick-to-make peasant dish that is made from cheap, available ingredients. While there are many variations of this dish, the essential ingredients are simple: bacon, pancetta, or guanciale (pork jowls), eggs (the yolks, whole eggs or a combination of the two), Pecorino Romano (a gamey, sheep's milk cheese similar to Parmegiano Reggiano) and lots of fresh ground black pepper. This is an excellent late night supper or quick lunch. It might just be the perfect comfort food.

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According to wikipedia..."Pasta alla Carbonara was included in Elizabeth David's Italian Food, an English-language cookbook published in Great Britain in 1954. However, the dish is not present in Ada Boni's 1927 classic La Cucina Romana and is unrecorded before the Second World War. It was first described after the war as a Roman dish, when many Italians were eating eggs and bacon supplied by troops from the United States." Leave it to the Romans to craft such a creamy, comforting concoction from simple bacon and eggs.

Bowl of pasta carbonaraThe carbonara recipe is pretty simple but requires some finesse. The challenge with this dish is to keep the eggs from turning into scrambled eggs once the pasta is added to the hot oil and the eggs are blended in. If you remove the pan from the heat just before combining, you may have better luck. You can always put it back on low to warm through once the sauce is incorporated.

Here are the basics: While your pasta water is heating, brown the diced pancetta, (or guanciale or bacon) in a little bit of olive oil in a large saucepan. Start with a cold pan to render the fat and keep the pancetta from sticking to the pan. When the meat is crispy and dark brown, turn the heat to low but keep the pan hot. Wisk the eggs, half of the grated cheese and the parsley in a small bowl until fully combined. (No salt is needed as the bacon is quite salty as is the cheese) Add a couple grinds of fresh ground black pepper to the egg mixture and set aside.

Here's the tricky part...Once the pasta is done, reserve a half cup or so of the starchy water and set aside. Drain the pasta (DON'T RINSE!!) and add it to the bacon in sauce pan, tossing quickly to completely coat the pasta with the hot oil. Add in the egg mixture and continue to toss and mix quickly. The heat from the oil and the hot pasta will cook the eggs and form a nice creamy sauce. However, if the pan is too hot, you could end up with scrambled eggs. They'll taste fine but the texture isn't what you want. Best solution? More practice and keeping an eye on the heat under the pan during the final step. Add a bit of the reserved starchy pasta water to smooth it out as needed. Garnish with the remainder of the cheese.

TIP: Take the eggs from the fridge early and allow them to come to room temperature before mixing with the cheese.

TIP: Grate the Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese using the small setting so the cheese is light and fluffy. This will help it incorporate with the eggs and produce a smoother, creamier sauce.

TIP: Make sure you use a sauce pan that will be large enough to hold and mix all the cooked pasta.

ALT METHOD: I drain my pasta and return the hot pasta to the hot cooking pot, off the heat. I then add the hot bacon and oil to the pasta, using a plastic spatula to scrape up all the delicious bits. I stir to coat the pasta with the oil, then add the egg mixture.

TIP: If you are using bacon, you may want to drain some of the grease from the pan (1 tbs. or so) so the dish isn't too greasy. For a slightly lighter, somewhat heathier version, drain the bacon fat completely and replace it with good quality olive oil. Scrape up the bits on the bottom of the pan and allow the bacon pieces to flavor the oil over low heat. Make sure the oil is nice and hot before adding the pasta.

TIP: Use some of the starchy reserved pasta water to smooth out your dish.

TIP: The pasta will continue to absorb the sauce even after being plated so it's OK if it seems a tiny bit runny when first served. If it seems too dry, add in a bit of the pasta water and mix gently to smooth it out.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: Serves 4

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Quick and simple (not necessarily easy!) this is a great late night supper, quick school night dinner or decadent lunch. Pasta, bacon, eggs and cheese...what's not to love about this recipe?!?

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. (16 oz.) pkg. dried spaghetti (can use fettuccini, linguini, farfalle or shells)
  • 1/2 lb. pancetta, guanciale or bacon, diced small
  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil (if using pancetta or guanciale)
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, FRESHLY grated on the fine setting. Reserve some for garnish.
  • 1 tbs. FRESH ground black pepper
  • 1-2 tbs. kosher salt for the pasta water only.
  • 1/2 cup reserved pasta water for later.

Instructions

  1. Start with a cold pan to render the fat from the meat. (Otherwise, the meat may stick to the pan and not brown sufficiently.)
  2. Drizzle the olive oil into a medium sauce pan and add the diced pancetta. Cook slowly over medium-low heat until brown and crispy, stirring occasionally. (no oil needed for bacon)
  3. Once the pancetta is cooked, turn the pan to low and KEEP IT HOT. Do NOT drain the pancetta...you need the oil to cook the egg sauce. (If using bacon, you may drain it a bit but leave at least 3 tablespoons of oil for the sauce.)
  4. While the pancetta is cooking, put your pasta water on to boil in a large pot with at least 4 quarts (liters) of water. Once it is at a rolling bowl, add 1-2 tablespoons of Kosher salt. Anne Burell, celebrity chef at the Food Network, likes her water to taste like the ocean but you can adjust it to your taste. The pancetta and the cheese have plenty of salt so there is no need to add more to this dish. Cook the pasta according to the package directions but check it for doneness about a minute before the time is up. The pasta should be just al dente, still firm with a bite to it. Keep in mind, the pasta will continue to cook in the hot pan once it has been combined with the egg sauce so don't overcook it! Carefully reserve a half cup or so of the starchy pasta water for later.
  5. While the pasta is cooking, crack 6 eggs into a medium bowl, add the grated cheese and lots of freshly cracked black pepper and wisk together until fully incorporated. Set aside.
  6. Drain the pasta quickly and keep it fairly moist. Dump the hot pasta carefully into the saucepan with the hot oil. Anne dumps her pasta into her pan this way, adds the egg mixture and tosses everything together quickly with tongs.
  7. NOTE: I prefer to put the hot pasta back in the hot pot, add in the oil, mix until fully coated and then add the egg mixture. Find what works for you.
  8. KEEP THE PASTA MOVING QUICKLY to prevent the eggs from scrambling!! You can remove the pan from the heat if necessary to slow down the cooking process. The heat from the oil, the pan and the hot pasta will cook the egg sauce and form a lovely creamy texture.
  9. Add a splash or two of the reserved starchy pasta water to smooth out the texture. Keep in mind that the pasta will continue to absorb the sauce even after it has been plated so it's OK if it seems a tiny bit runny when you serve it. By the time it hits the table, it will be perfect! Anne garnishes hers with sliced scallions (green onion).
  10. Personally, I add a healthy garnish of more grated cheese and a generous grind of fresh black pepper and serve immediately.

Notes

Make sure the oil is hot and the eggs are well combined before assembling the dish. The last 2 minutes are key! Keep the pasta moving quickly as it cooks to avoid making pasta with scrambled eggs. If you fail, don't worry, it will taste fine, it just won't have the correct texture. Try and try again!

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