Pasta carbonara is not something you should eat every day. Let's just get that out of the way. It's cream and egg yolks and butter and bacon and cheese, and really that's all there is to say about that.
And yet, it is so unbelievably creamy and rich and satisfying that it would be a crime to not have it at least once a year.
Indeed, food writer Calvin Trillin argued in his essay "Spaghetti Carbonara Day," that we should eat spaghetti carbonara on Thanksgiving instead of the traditional turkey.
I don't know about all that necessarily, but I do know that eating spaghetti carbonara is one of the life's great pleasures, and if you're breathing, you owe yourself the experience.
Traditionally (and the recipe isn't all that old, maybe dating back to the 1940s or '50s) the recipe did not feature cream, but most of us expect a bit of cream in our carbonara, so that's the way this recipe is. If you're a purist, you can leave it out. But I find that the cream also helps prevent the eggs from curdling when adding them to the cooked pasta.
The Italians make carbonara with guanciale, which is a sort of bacon made from cured pork cheeks, but you can substitute pancetta, which like ordinary bacon is from the pork belly, or just use bacon. Guanciale is not typically smoked, so for the most classic flavor, don't use smoked bacon.
What about peas? I don't know. I'm never disappointed when I see peas in pasta carbonara, but it's not traditional. Still, if peas will make you happy, add a handful of frozen peas to the pasta in the last 30 seconds of boiling. I admit there is an element of virtue to adding a green vegetable to an otherwise thoroughly creamy and decadent dish.
Here's a video that shows how to make Spaghetti Carbonara.
- 1 lb spaghetti
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 4 eggs
- ½ lb bacon cut into ½-inch dice
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- ¾ cup freshly grated pecorino-romano cheese (parmesan may be substituted)
- Fill a large soup pot with cold water and add a handful or so of Kosher salt. Stir and taste; it should taste like seawater. Cover the pot and heat the water until it boils.
- Add the diced bacon to a cold sauté pan and cook slowly over a low heat for 10 to 15 minutes or until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and drain on paper towels.
- Drop the spaghetti into the boiling salted water and cook according to package instructions, about 6 to 9 minutes or until al dente, or tender but still firm to the bite.
- While the pasta cooks, combine the eggs, cheese, cream and olive oil in a bowl and beat with a whisk until completely mixed.
- Scoop out 1/2 cup of the pasta water and set it aside. Drain the pasta, then return it to the pot along with the bacon. With the pot off the heat, add the egg and cream mixture and stir briskly while the sauce thickens up. You can adjust the consistency with some of the reserved pasta water.
- Transfer to serving bowls and garnish with the chopped parsley and freshly ground black pepper. Serve right away, with additional grated cheese if desired.