Spaghetti alla carbonara – carbonara

Blue plate with spaghetti alla carbonara
“I am beautiful as I am” – please leave the cream behind.

Spaghetti alla carbonara is a much beloved national dish that is regularly the highlight of the day for millions of Italians, wherever they are, whatever place they call home. A bowl of spaghetti alla carbonara usually relieves any kind of bad mood and spreads so much pleasure and joy through all the cells in your body. Who doesn’t like carbonara, honestly?

It is because it is such a loved pasta dish that I am overlooking its Roman origins and the fact it is not strictly a southern Italian recipe. But just as for the recipes for tiramisù and supplì al telefono, I am making an exception, motivated by a recent article that saw the outrage of some Italians towards Nigella’s lastest ‘carbonara’ recipe. I even wrote an article on this matter which was published recently in the HuffPo: “Why Italians have no right to be outraged by Nigella’s carbonara recipe“. Have a read and a laugh….

I thought it was time to share the recipe for what Romans consider an authentic carbonara. Understandably – and just like any other popular dish – it is object of controversy and endless debates on what the ultimate and authentic recipe is. As a result there are different schools of opinions, but from my extensive chats with Romans and lots of reading there seems to be consensus on five key points:

  • Pancetta or guanciale? Guanciale is mandatory for amatriciana, but there is some flexibility for the carbonara
  • Oil to cook the pancetta or guanciale? No
  • Onions or garlic? NONE!
  • Use of spices? Forbidden!
  • Cream? Prison for anyone who adds cream, wine, ham, salami or any other ingredient!

Carbonara is made with eggs, pancetta, pepper and pecorino (the only flexibility there is to opt for parmesan if you cannot stand pecorino).

Spaghetti alla carbonara
Have mercy, don’t pour cream on me!

There really is no more that this pasta dish requires to delight hearts and souls.

Ingredients for spaghetti alla carbonara

Serves 4

  • 400g spaghetti
  • 250g guanciale or pancetta
  • 5 medium-sized egg yolks + 1 medium-sized egg
  • 100g pecorino (or 50g pecorino and 50g parmesan for a less strong flavour)
  • Ground pepper


  • Salt for boiling water
  • Parmesan to sprinkle on individual portions (to taste)


Chop the pancetta or the guanciale into small chunks.

In a large frying pan, whithout adding any oil or butter, garlic or onions, add the pancetta/guanciale and cook on medium heat until crispy. Set aside and leave the meat in the frying pan as we will be using it again when the pasta is cooked. Cover with a lid to keep warm.

Frying pan with cooked pancetta
Look how much oil comes from the meat – I don’t need extra fat!

In a bowl mix the eggs, add ground pepper as though there were no tomorrow and 80g of grated pecorino. Mix well until you get a thick, smooth cream. Set aside.

Plate with eggs and pecorino
Stunning colours!

Cooking the pasta

In a large saucepan add more than 2 litres of water. (Pasta needs plenty of water to cook properly.) Bring to the boil. Add some salt (to your taste, but traditionally Italians add a fair amount of salt. We like our pasta to be on the salty side. Start with a little salt and then taste the pasta while it is cooking. Add more if required).

Place the pasta bowls in the oven so they’ll be warm when you serve up.

Add the spaghetti to the pan when the water is boiling and cook al dente.

Remove the pasta from the water using a ladle with holes in it (make sure the pasta is drained, but leave the water in the pot) and transfer it to the frying pan where you previously cooked the meat.

Add one or two tablespoons of the water you cooked the pasta in to the egg mixture and mix well.

To season the pasta

Mix the spaghetti in the frying pan where you cooked the meat. Hobs off. Coat the pasta well with all the condiment in the frying pan.

Away from the hob, pour the egg mixture over the pasta and mix well. The egg should be like a cream and should not start cooking like scrambled eggs.  If required, if you think it is too dry, add a bit more of the pasta cooking water and mix well. Sprinkle some more pepper and the remaining pecorino.

Bring to the table immidiately or, if transferring to plates, add an extra sprinkle of parmesan or pecorino and some more ground pepper.

Dish of spaghetti alla carbonara
Simple but extra sexy and delicious!

There might be a fight towards the end to get the last pieces of crispy pancetta or guanciale at the bottom of the sauce. Don’t feel you have to share: the quickest fork deserves the last bites of happiness!

Spaghetti alla carbonara is delicious like that. Nothing more is required! You will see, once you’ve tried this recipe, that the addition of cream will become a thing of the past…:-)

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