From Nonna’s Kitchen to Yours: The Ultimate Guide to Pasta Carbonara

Prepare yourself for a flavourful escapade filled with joy and culinary delights as we delve into the soul of this cherished Italian masterpiece. If you’re a fan of carbonara sauce, get ready to create the authentic, Italian-approved version!

All you need are three simple ingredients: guanciale, eggs, and pecorino romano. Remember, there’s no place for cream or garlic in this traditional recipe. Let’s honour the essence of Italian cuisine and savour every moment of this delicious adventure!

Carbonara Sauce: A Culinary Gem

By: Silvana Lanzetta

I’ve yet to come across someone who doesn’t adore pasta carbonara (or pasta alla carbonara, as the Italians call it, translating to “pasta the coal workers’ way”). It’s one of those classic Italian dishes that everyone loves, right up there with Bolognese sauce, lasagna, and pesto.

Growing up, my mum and grandma would whip it up whenever they wanted to treat us to something indulgent without spending hours in the kitchen. It was often the star of our lunch, followed by fresh mozzarella, salad, and homemade chips. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water!

Nowadays, I find myself following in their footsteps, making carbonara occasionally (though my kids wish it was more frequent!). It’s the perfect dish for those days when I crave something rich and delicious but don’t have the time or energy for a lengthy cooking session.

With just a few simple ingredients, you end up with a dish that’s truly irresistible. Whoever invented it was a culinary genius. But who was that, exactly?

Carbonara sauce
Roma, landscape

Rome is the brithplace of carbonara sauce

4 june 1944, rome liberation day: an ederly lady kisses in gratitude an american gi

4th of June 1944: Rome liberation day. An elderly woman hugs and kisses with gratitude a young American G.I.

Exploring the Origins of Carbonara Sauce

The origins of Carbonara sauce remain a mystery, adding to its charm. While the recipe doesn’t surface until 1944, there’s much speculation surrounding its creation. One widely accepted theory suggests that this beloved Italian dish is an American twist on the traditional “cacio e ova”. During WWII, when Allied troops were stationed in Italy, they developed a fondness for pasta cacio e ova (cheese and eggs sauce). To give it a taste of home, they added smoked bacon to the mix. The locals in Rome embraced the new dish enthusiastically, swapping the bacon for guanciale (pork cheek) and Pecorino cheese, which were already staples in their cuisine.

According to another reliable theory, carbonara was born in 1944 at a trattoria in Vicolo della Scrofa in Rome during the days of liberation. It was whipped up by a Roman chef using ingredients provided by American soldiers.

Others say carbonara started as a hearty meal for charcoal makers (known as carbonari) working in the woods. They’d pack cured meats, cheese, and chickens for their long days. Pepper came into play later, adding a zesty kick. The original version was quite different from what we know today. 

Carbonara is part of the trio of Roman recipes featuring pecorino and guanciale, alongside Pasta alla Gricia and Bucatini all’Amatriciana.

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online pasta making classes
Eggs
black Peppercorns

Nutrition

When enjoying carbonara sauce, it’s important to be mindful of its nutritional aspects. Remember to control portion sizes to manage calorie intake and balance your meal with vegetables for added nutrients.

Enjoy carbonara sauce in moderation due to its high fat and cholesterol content . Enjoy it as an occasional treat rather than a daily indulgence.

  • Proteins 20% 20%
  • Carbs 52% 52%
  • Fats 28% 28%
Spaghetti with carbonara sauce

The Essential Ingredients For a Perfect Carbonara

Eggs

When making carbonara sauce, it’s important to use fresh, top-notch eggs, but here’s the secret: we only need the yolks! Why? Well, yolks are packed with fats and proteins that give our sauce that luxurious, velvety smoothness we all love. Plus, they add a deliciously indulgent taste that elevates the dish to a whole new level of yumminess.

By using just the yolks, we get that silky-smooth texture without any worry of the sauce turning into scrambled eggs.

Guanciale

Guanciale is a type of Italian cured meat made from pork jowl or cheek, and it’s what gives carbonara its distinctively rich and savoury flavour.

Unlike other types of cured pork, such as pancetta or bacon, guanciale has a unique texture and depth of flavour that perfectly complement the creamy sauce. It’s typically cut into small cubes or thin slices and then cooked until crispy, releasing its delicious fat that infuses the sauce with incredible taste.

The beauty of guanciale lies in its rich marbling and intense pork flavour, which adds an extra layer of complexity to the dish. When combined with the creamy egg and cheese mixture, guanciale creates a harmonious balance of salty, savoury, and umami notes that dance on your palate with every bite.

However, if guanciale proves elusive, worry not! Pancetta can step in as a worthy substitute. Yet, it’s essential to note that while pancetta can do the job admirably, the dish may lose some of its distinctive flavour characteristics without the unique richness of guanciale.

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Pecorino

Pecorino, specifically Pecorino Romano, is a traditional Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk. Renowned for its sharp and salty flavour, this cheese adds a distinctive tang to carbonara sauce, which complements perfectly the creamy eggs and savoury guanciale or pancetta.

When selecting pecorino Romano for your carbonara sauce, opt for a high-quality, aged variety to experience its full depth of flavour. Its unique characteristics elevate the dish from a simple pasta to a culinary masterpiece, capturing the essence of Italian cuisine in every bite.

Salt & pepper

When making carbonara sauce, it’s important to exercise caution when adding salt and pepper. The reason lies in the ingredients already present in the sauce, particularly the guanciale or pancetta and the pecorino romano cheese.

Both guanciale/pancetta and pecorino romano are naturally salty ingredients. Therefore, adding additional salt without tasting first can lead to an overly salty dish. Similarly, the pecorino romano cheese contributes its own peppery notes, so adding too much black pepper can overpower the delicate balance of flavours.

To avoid this, it’s best to taste the sauce before adding any additional salt or pepper. This allows you to adjust the seasoning accordingly, ensuring that the flavours are perfectly balanced. Remember, you can always add more salt and pepper later, but it’s much harder to correct an overly seasoned dish.

By being mindful of the salt and pepper levels and tasting as you go, you can create a carbonara sauce that is perfectly seasoned and bursting with delicious flavour.

How to make Carbonara Sauce

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Carbonara sauce

Authentic Carbonara Sauce


  • Author: Silvana Lanzetta
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 portions 1x

Description

Carbonara sauce stands as one of the most beloved and iconic Italian recipes, cherished both internationally and within Italy. While there exist numerous variations, the authentic Roman recipe remains simple, featuring only eggs, pecorino cheese, and guanciale. Consider trying this exquisite dish for a sumptuous Sunday lunch – it’s bound to swiftly become a firm favourite!


Ingredients

Scale

360 grams spaghetti

120 grams guanciale

5 egg yolks

120 grams grated Pecorino Romano

Salt & pepper (to taste)


Instructions

  1. To prepare carbonara sauce, begin by prepping the guanciale. Trim off the rind and any overly peppery sections to prevent burning while cooking. Then, dice it into half-centimetre cubes.
  2. In a non-stick pan, fry the guanciale in its own fat over medium heat until it becomes slightly crispy. Be careful not to brown it too much.

  3. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks. Lightly season with salt and pepper.

  4. Stir in the finely grated pecorino Romano cheese until a thick cream is formed. Add the cooked guanciale to the mixture and set aside.

  5. Cook the spaghetti or bucatini in boiling salted water until it is “al dente”. Reserve about 100ml of the cooking water before draining the pasta.

  6. Immediately after draining the pasta, transfer it to the bowl with the egg mixture. The residual heat of the pasta will cook the eggs. Add a little bit of the reserved cooking water to the bowl and mix well to coat all the pasta evenly. If the sauce is too thick, add more cooking water. If it’s too runny, stir in more cheese.

  7. Taste the pasta and adjust the seasoning with salt if necessary.

  8. Serve the carbonara immediately, sprinkled with extra grated pecorino Romano cheese and freshly milled black pepper.

Notes

For this recipe, it’s crucial never to use Parmesan cheese or Grana Padano.

If you’re unable to find guanciale, pancetta makes a suitable alternative.

Avoid adding cream to the recipe; instead, rely on the generous amount of grated Pecorino for its creaminess. 

For perfect creaminess, aim for around 20 grams of egg yolk per 60-70 grams of uncooked pasta.

If you’re concerned about consuming undercooked eggs, you can opt for an alternative method. Try tossing the spaghetti and egg mixture in a stainless steel bowl over a bain-marie at 80°C (176°F) for a short time. This gentle heat allows for pasteurisation and thickening of the mixture without reaching boiling point, thus avoiding the risk of curdling the eggs.

Traditionally, carbonara sauce is served with spaghetti. You can use bucatini or linguine if you like, but avoid egg tagliatelle: the sauce is very rich, and you want to keep its canvas (i.e. pasta) simple.

Since it contains lightly cooked eggs, carbonara cannot be stored.

  • Prep Time: 10
  • Cook Time: 10
  • Category: Pasta
  • Cuisine: Italian
Recipe Card powered byTasty Recipes

FAQs

What is carbonara sauce made of?

Carbonara sauce is made of three key ingredients: guanciale (or pancetta), eggs, and lots of grated pecorino romano cheese.

What does a carbonara taste like?

Carbonara sauce boasts a rich, creamy texture with a savoury, umami flavour that is punctuated by the subtle saltiness of the guanciale or pancetta and the sharpness of the pecorino romano cheese. The sauce has a luxurious mouthfeel, coating each strand of pasta with its velvety richness. Overall, carbonara sauce offers a delightful combination of indulgent creaminess and bold, savoury notes that make it a truly irresistible culinary experience.

Is Alfredo sauce the same as carbonara?

No, Alfredo sauce is not the same as carbonara sauce. While both are creamy pasta sauces, they have different ingredients and origins. Alfredo sauce is a simple blend of butter, heavy cream, and Parmesan cheese, resulting in a rich and smooth texture with a buttery flavour. On the other hand, carbonara sauce is made with eggs, guanciale or pancetta, and pecorino romano cheese, creating a creamy sauce with a distinct savoury taste. Additionally, carbonara sauce does not contain butter or cream, unlike Alfredo sauce.

Why is carbonara so creamy?

Carbonara sauce is exceptionally creamy due to the combination of eggs yolk and cheese used in its preparation. When the hot pasta is combined with the beaten eggs and grated cheese, the residual heat cooks the eggs, creating a smooth and creamy texture without the need for cream. Additionally, the starchy pasta water helps emulsify the sauce, further enhancing its creaminess. This unique cooking method results in a lusciously creamy carbonara sauce that coats each strand of pasta perfectly, providing a luxurious dining experience.

What not to put in carbonara?

When preparing carbonara sauce, it’s important to avoid certain ingredients to stay true to the authentic Italian recipe. Here’s what not to put in carbonara:

1. Cream: Traditional carbonara sauce does not contain cream. Instead, the creaminess comes from the combination of eggs and cheese.
2. Garlic: Garlic is not typically used in carbonara sauce, as it can overpower the delicate flavours of the other ingredients.
3. Onions: Onions are not a part of the traditional carbonara recipe and should be omitted to maintain the sauce’s authenticity.
4. Olive oil: While olive oil is commonly used in Italian cooking, it is not necessary in carbonara sauce, which relies on the rendered fat from the guanciale or pancetta for flavour.
5. Herbs: Carbonara sauce is typically seasoned with black pepper, but adding other herbs or spices can detract from the simplicity of the dish.

By avoiding these ingredients, you can ensure that your carbonara sauce stays true to its roots and maintains its deliciously authentic flavour.

What is the trick about carbonara sauce?

The trick to making perfect carbonara sauce lies in mastering the technique of tempering the eggs, coupled with using very fresh eggs kept at room temperature. When combining the beaten eggs with the hot pasta, it’s crucial to do so gradually and off the heat to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Tossing the pasta vigorously while slowly incorporating the egg mixture ensures a creamy and velvety sauce without any lumps. Additionally, reserving a tablespoon or two of the starchy pasta water and adding it to the sauce helps achieve the desired consistency and silkiness. By following these steps and using high-quality ingredients, you can create a flawless carbonara sauce that will impress even the most discerning palate.

Silvana Lanzetta

Silvana Lanzetta

“Ciao, I’m Silvana, a fourth-generation pasta artisan from Napoli with a lifetime of experience! I began making pasta at the tender age of 5 under the watchful eye of my pasta-making generalissimo, my granny. Through her guidance, I’ve become a master in crafting traditional pasta dishes. Since 2014, I have been teaching pasta making classes in London, sharing my expertise with aspiring pasta enthusiasts. I’ve also had the privilege of showcasing my knowledge on BBC and in national newspapers like The Sun and iNews, and held pasta making demonstration in Harrods. Join me in exploring the world of Italian pasta and let’s create unforgettable culinary experiences together!”

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