Looking for a quick and easy meal that feels fancy? Pasta carbonara is low on effort but big on flavor! Serve it as a weeknight dinner or dress it up for a date night at home.
I love pasta dishes. I especially love pasta dishes that can be made on a weeknight but are fancy enough to serve at a dinner party or make for a date-night in.
Easy fettuccine alfredo, creamy pesto pasta with shrimp, and goat cheese pasta are all delicious and impressive but easy to make.
This pasta carbonara is another recipe to add to that list.
There are a lot of ways to make pasta carbonara, some of which make Italians cringe and some of which are much more traditional.
Even though I don’t always care about sticking to traditional ingredients or methods for a lot of recipes, I try to stick as closely as I can to tradition when making carbonara, just because I think it’s so delicious!
If you’ve ever been intimidated by the idea of making this dish at home, don’t stress: it’s so much easier than you think.
WHAT IS PASTA CARBONARA?
Pasta carbonara is a pasta dish that originated in Rome and uses pasta, eggs, cured pork, hard cheese, and black pepper.
Pecorino romano and/or parmesan are traditionally used for the cheese. For the cured pork, guanciale or pancetta are the most traditional, although bacon lardons can be used as well.
The eggs, cheese, and some of the pasta’s cooking water combine to make a rich, creamy, silky sauce.
Honestly, it’s every bit as quick and easy to make as one-pot mac and cheese, but it’s way fancier! That means you can throw it together for an easy weeknight dinner or dress it for a delicious date-night meal at home.
HOW TO MAKE PASTA CARBONARA
Don’t be intimidated by pasta carbonara. Once I walk you through this recipe, you’ll see that it’s actually not that hard, and the results are sure to impress!
What type of pasta should you use?
For this recipe, you’ll want to go with a long pasta.
Spaghetti is the most common pasta to use. In fact, you’ll often hear this dish referred to as “spaghetti carbonara.”
I also like using bucatini, although linguine or fettuccine would work, too.
I don’t recommend angel hair or thin spaghetti for this. I find that the slightly thicker noodle does better in this dish.
If all you have on hand is a short pasta, that will technically work. It’s just not traditional! (But it’ll still taste good!)
Other carbonara ingredients
In addition to the pasta, you will need:
Guanciale, pancetta, or bacon: As I mentioned before, guanciale or pancetta are the most traditional cured meats to use. You can also use smoked jowl bacon or regular bacon (cut into pieces) will work as well. If you’re using regular bacon, try to find a thick-cut bacon.
Olive oil: I like to use a little bit of olive oil while I’m cooking the meat.
Eggs: Eggs make up the majority of the sauce for pasta carbonara. In this case, we will use 3 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks.
Cheese: I like to use a combination of pecorino romano and parmesan cheese. If you only have parmesan cheese, that’s ok! Just make sure it’s fresh parmesan – not that stuff that comes in the green can.
Black pepper: Lots of black pepper is the key to a really delicious carbonara.
Salt: Because the meat and cheese are both salty and because we will heavily salt our pasta cooking water, we don’t need much salt to finish the dish.
Making this recipe
This entire recipe can be made in the amount of time it takes to boil a pot of water and cook your pasta. You can easily have it on the table in about 20 minutes!
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. While the water is boiling, cook your cured pork with the olive oil in a pan over medium heat.
Cook the meat until it is brown and crisp and the fat has rendered. Remove the meat to drain on a paper-towel-lined plate, but don’t discard the fat that is in the pan.
Once the water comes to a boil, add your pasta and cook until just al dente. This should take about 8-10 minutes, but be sure to check the box of your pasta for the recommended cooking time, since it will vary slightly depending on the type of pasta you’re using.
While the pasta cooks, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and cheeses in a bowl.
Before draining the cooked pasta, scoop out about 1 cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
Add the cooked meat and the rendered fat to the pasta and toss it to coat the pasta.
Slowly whisk about ¼ cup of the hot pasta water into the egg and cheese mixture. This will slowly increase the temperature of the eggs so they don’t scramble when we add them to the pasta.
Add the egg mixture to the pasta and toss until the sauce is glossy and creamy – add more of the pasta water a splash at a time if you need.
Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately alongside a big green salad and garlic bread. If it’s a date night, try serving white chocolate mousse for dessert!
WAYS TO CHANGE UP THIS RECIPE
Traditional pasta carbonara is simple and straightforward, without other added ingredients.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t add other ingredients – just don’t tell your Italian friends.
If you want to, you could add thawed frozen peas, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, or other similar mix-ins to your pasta.
Don’t skip the cured meat, though – that’s a key component of pasta carbonara. If you’re vegetarian, you might enjoy cacio e pepe instead.
Pasta carbonara really is best served immediately. The sauce will be the creamiest and at its best texture right after it’s made.
If you do have leftovers, you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
You can reheat pasta carbonara in the microwave if you need to. I recommend adding a splash of water or stock before microwaving to keep it from drying out. The texture won’t be the same, but it’ll still taste good.
For a better texture, your best bet is to reheat the pasta over a low stove. If you really want to be safe, place the pasta in a metal or glass bowl set over a pot of simmering water (make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water).
Keep the heat low and reheat the pasta carbonara slowly. This will help keep the eggs from curdling as they reheat. You can add a splash of water, stock, or even milk or cream if needed.
- 1 pound dried spaghetti or bucatini
- 8 ounces guanciale, pancetta, smoked jowl bacon, or regular bacon cut into pieces
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 large whole eggs plus 2 egg yolks
- 2.5 ounces grated pecorino romano cheese
- 1 ounce grated parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of heavily salted water to a boil.
- While the water is heating, add the guanciale, pancetta, or bacon and the olive oil to a pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until most of the fat has rendered and the meat is brown and crisp. Remove the meat from the pan to a paper-towel-lined plate; reserve the rendered fat.
- When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until just al dente, about 8-10 minutes depending on the pasta (check the box for recommended cooking time).
- While the pasta cooks, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and cheeses in a bowl.
- Drain the cooked pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pot. Add the cooked guanciale/pancetta/bacon and rendered fat to the pasta; toss to coat.
- Slowly whisk about ¼ cup of the hot pasta water into the egg and cheese mixture, tempering the eggs. Add this mixture to the pasta and toss until the sauce is glossy and creamy, adding more of the pasta water as needed.
- Season with the salt and pepper. Serve immediately with additional grated cheese, black pepper, and/or a sprinkling of chopped parsley.