Spaghetti alla Carbonara

June 25, 2008

Legend has it that during World War II, American soldiers in Rome would bring their Italian friends eggs and bacon and ask them to make a pasta dish, thus becoming pasta alla carbonara. Another legend claims that carbonara, a derivative of the word carbon in Italian, was made for charcoal workers. Who knows how eggs and bacon became transformed into a distinctively Roman pasta dish. For sure, with the bacon grease that's used, it is undoubtedly a meal hearty enough for a soldier or charcoal worker. If you love bacon, then take my hand and let me lead you down the long path of gluttony. It's a fine journey.

In Rome, salted pork jowl is usually used, but as it's difficult to find in the States, pancetta or any smoky bacon works just as well.

I included the optional, albeit non-traditional, addition of peas. Hear me out. During my school days spent in Italy, my girlfriends and I fell in love with the little Sicilian town of Taormina. On a windy cobblestone street was a charming family-run bistro that also happened to be a favorite of the local mafioso. Regardless of our somewhat spooky fellow guests, we dined there frequently, our favorite dish being the house Spaghetti alla Carbonara served with, you got it, peas. So, to this day, for nostalgic reasons (as well as taste), I always toss in some sweet peas.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
For 6 servings

½ pound pancetta or bacon
4 garlic gloves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup dry white wine
2 large fresh eggs
¼ cup cream
¼ cup romano cheese
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 ¼ pounds of spaghetti
3/4 or 1 package peas (optional)

Cut the pancetta or bacon into ¼ wide slices.

Lightly mash the garlic with the flat end of a chef’s knife, enough to split it and loosed the skin, which you want to toss.

Put the garlic and olive oil into a small sauté pan and heat over medium high until garlic turns a deep golden brown. Remove and throw away the garlic.

Put the pancetta slices into the pan, and cook until lightly brown and crisp at the edges. Slowly add the white wine, and let it cook a minute or two until the alcohol burns off.

Break the 2 eggs into the bowl in which you will be serving. Beat them with a fork then add the grated cheeses, a healthy grinding of pepper, and the chopped parsley. Mix thoroughly.

Briefly reheat the pancetta over high heat then remove from heat.

Add a small amount of the pancetta drippings to a small amount of the just cooked spaghetti and mix well. Add to the bowl and toss rapidly, taking care not to cook the eggs. Toss in the rest of the pasta, cream (if using), pancetta with its drippings, and peas, and toss thoroughly.

Serve at once.

Note: I've never had problems using raw eggs, which can transmit salmonella, as I've always used the freshest ones I can find. But if you are concerned, or will be serving to young children, elderly people or those with a weakened immune system, you may wish to skip the raw eggs and add cream instead.



Alison's picture

PEAS!?!?!?!?!?!?! Never!

Sheri Wetherell's picture

That's how it was served in my favorite little bistro in Taormina, Sicily and it was divine. :)

Barnaby Dorfman's picture

I like it with peas! I was first introduced to Pasta Carbonara in Turin, Italy, but the people who made it for me there used the thick Italian "panna" cream, which they insisted was the "proper" way to make it. However, I checked the
the Accademia Italiana della Cucina recipe for Carbonara and no cream. In Italy, they hold themselves out as the "official" recipe source for Italian cuisine:

The debate over what is "proper" in cooking is age old, but one thing is for certain, it's only through new combinations that the art advances.

Hanan Jalaliddeen's picture

This seems like a heavy meal, but I won't hesitate to try since peas are my favourite, so small yet so tastyy!!

Arvin's picture

I remembered the time that me and my girlfriend was making our white sauce for Penne Pasta. We were lacking on white cream. It's good that we had an extra can of cream of mushroom left on our storage and just experimented on the flavor. It still it turned out to be delicious. :) My girlfriend really loves to eat pasta, especially when its white sauce.

Melanie D.'s picture

Oooh was always wondering why this pasta is called carbonara. Now, i know. Anyway, i'll try this recipe. I've always been in search for the best tasting carbonara. So far, i've only found 2 that really amazed my tastebuds. Gotta try this one!

Marcia Feitel's picture

Calvin Trillin suggests eating pasta carbonara instead of turkey on Thanksgiving (overeat something delicious, he suggests), and one year, when I hosted, I warned that the food wouldn't be traditional and served approximately this recipe, without peas or cream and skipping a step by using garlic-infused oil. No one complained too much. More recently I've served this to groups around Thanksgiving in honor of Calvin.

Sheri Wetherell's picture

I love the idea of preparing a non-traditional Thanksgiving meal, or any holiday meal for that matter! My mom and I made an all Italian menu one year and it was wonderful, although my brother complained a bit :) What better way to create a new tradition, or honor a wonderful writer of food. Cheers to Calvin!

Darby's picture

Great recipe and suggestions Sheri.

I like to add just a small pinch of chilli powder or cayenne pepper while I'm frying the bacon or panchetta.

And don't forget to serve some wine, perhaps an <a href="" rel="nofollow">Arneis </a>or a Lagrein Rose.

Catie's picture

As a fan of spaghetti alla carbonara, this recipe looks fantastic! And I am all about the peas - a nice change and great added color. If you are going to add some extra spicy heat, an off-dry Riesling would be a great pairing and even a dry acidic Riesling would work.