Carbonara – Authentic recipe

Lazio crestFrom Lazio.  What is Carbonara? If You ask an Englishman they’ll probably tell you it’s a dish prepared with cream and ham! Nooooooo!!!!! ;-) More crimes against Italian food have been committed under the name of Carbonara than any other dish.
So, in an attempt to set the records straight, I present the authentic recipe (as deposited in the archive of Acadamia Italiana della Cucina). No cream! No ham! And don’t you dare cook the eggs! :-) Serves 6.

  • 600 grams spaghetti or bucatini
  • 120 grams guanciale or pancetta — diced or cut into strips
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 medium eggs (very fresh)
  • 100 grams mixed Parmesan and pecorino Romano (or all pecorino) – grated
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Cook the guanciale in a pan along with the whole peeled garlic clove and a little oil, until the guanciale is well coloured. Discard the garlic.
  2. Beat the eggs in a bowl with a little of the cheese and a pinch of salt.
  3. Cook the pasta until al dente, drain and add to the pan with the guanciale.
  4. Lower the heat to a minimum and add the egg mixture. Mix well. Be careful not to let the eggs set. If the dish is a little dry, beat in a little of the pasta cooking water. This is not mentioned by the academy, but some people say it’s essential for the “creaminess” of the sauce.
  5. Remove from the heat and add the rest of the cheese. Mix again and serve immediately.

Here’s a quote from Kate/Susan over at Kate, Katie, Susan, Sue who cooked the recipe as part of an Italian evening.

“That carbonara was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, certainly the best pasta dish I’ve ever eaten. I would rank it above lasagna in my estimation.”

And this one’s from Cui at Equipoised.

The bottom line… carbonara typically feels too heavy and sickening after a while because of the addition of cream (an American adulteration). The egg way produces a much lighter, more palatable dish. And it was really the best carbonara I’ve ever had, ever. I tend to serially order carbonara at Italian restaurants because it is by far my favourite pasta, and I’ve had a lot of carbonara, but I feel like I can’t have it with cream any more after trying this.

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79 thoughts on “Carbonara – Authentic recipe

  1. Sorry to hijack this recipe – but I have an emergency!!!! I can’t find your pesto recipe …………………….. Has it disappeared or am I just being more dense than usual :-D

    Apologies too for the gender error on the BBC:-\

  2. Oh and another thing …………. you should do an ‘all about me’ page on here! England, Italy, Czech Republic …………… you should tell all:)

  3. Hmmm… I’d be thrown out of the secret agents’ club if I gave too much info away. ‘M’ would never forgive me :lol:

  4. Ohhhhh fab recipe – found you on food chat – you are going to give me another fab recipe when you go to Bari – you lucky thing! Thank you – cant wait!!

  5. Hi, I’ve ended up with a confusion with carbonara, some italian friends advice to use only the egg yolk, without whites. I’ve tried it and like it, it’s really creamy but then another friend saw me cooking it like that and said it was better toi use the whites and a bit of chillie.. What do you think?
    Mixing on everything said to me I ended up making it with a bit of chillie, only egg yolk, olive oil, a bit of parsley and parmesan..

    • Hi Chio

      Although I posted the recipe as ‘Authentic’ there may be as many authentic recipes as there are cooks in Italy :-)

      I’ve seen recipes that use only the yolks and I’m sure it will be fine. The same for adding parsley. You don’t mention pancetta. It would make a big difference if you left it out. Bacon is a good substitute.

      I have never heard of chillie being used, but some people use LOTS of freshly ground black pepper to give it a kick. Some people say this is how the dish got it’s name as the pepper resembles coal dust. I’m not sure of the truth of that, but it’s a nice story :-)

      Your version sounds like it would be delicious, I may try it with chilli sometime.

      Thanks for dropping in.

      DJ

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  7. Truthfully, there are better pasta recipes out there. This is an authentic one, just try to fix a carbonara for Italians with cream, chicken, peas, etc. that Americans have added here and there in order to jazz up the flavor. This one is relatively staid, if you like plain pasta this one won’t disappoint. You definitely need the waterfall of pepper to add flavor. Overall, if you’re looking for a great pasta recipe, especially one for a dinner party, go with one with a nice pesto, marinara, or white sauce. That’s what Americans are familiar with–that explosion of flavor. I made this recipe with just parmesan (I don’t like romano), egg yolks and wheat pasta. I used less than half the pasta called for and half the cheese and I still added pasta water to break up the pasta. Also, it may be a good idea to wait a couple minutes instead of timing everything so the pasta goes in right when the pancetta is done and then immediately have the egg/cheese mixture ready, because I didn’t let the eggs sit but I still got a little bit of scrambled egg.

    • Hmmm… Well ash… I don’t really understand why you left your comment here. The recipe you describe has very little connection to the one listed above, or indeed to anything you could find in Italy. Why would you leave such a comment on a post which is very clearly labled “Authentic recipe”. This is not a site for Americans who like “Jazz up the flavor”. What in the world is white sauce? Do not accuse the recipe of being bland (which I assume is what you mean by “staid”) until you’ve actually cooked it. By all means eat whatever you want, but please don’t imply you know how to prepare a classic Roman dish better than the Italians.

      • Touché, or I should say Tocca! You could not have more appropriately described my reaction. As an American who loves authentic recipes, I cannot eat most “Pasta dishes” at most “Italian restaurants” here in the USA. Carbonara is at the top of my list as the most misunderstood recipe, though I include anyone who thinks “Spaghetti and Meatballs” is an Italian dish. There should be a new genre of restaurant… call it “Jersey Immigrant”, “Italian-American”, whatever… there should be not confusion between the cuisines of Italy and the US but unfortunately we get very little right.

        _____________
        Thanks Demetrio. I still haven’t found out what he meant by white sauce! Lol Besciamella do you think?

        Djkrysa

      • Tank you to protect goods recipes ,i find your site because i am writing a book in french about original italian food.Congratulations you make a good effort and hope all non “Jazz up” people will appreciate.
        By the way i am Italian cook living near Milano,if i can help tour site in any way please let me now

        Have a good day

        Giovanni Martines

  8. Thanks for posting the real deal here. I hope it catches on since, speaking as a long time resident of Rome, a true carbonara is truly delicious. The versions you find abroad are a different dish altogether. I remember once my partner and I were traveling in Greece and, homesick for pasta, ordered a “carbonara” that was oozing with cream, ham, peas and all that stuff. The pasta, needless to say, was totally overcooked. What a disappointment.

    Carbonara may be simple but it is not easy to master. Getting just the right balance of ingredients and seasonings, and achieving the right texture to the sauce can be pretty tricky. It takes practice. If the results are disappointing, it is probably because the cook hasn’t yet mastered the technique. (Although one adjective that I had never heard attached to carbonara before is ‘staid’!)

    By the way, there is a different dish called fettuccine alla papalina that is made with cream, ham and peas, very much like the adulterated forms of carbonara you will find outside Italy. I wonder if there hasn’t been some sort of confusion between the two dishes?

    • I have to say after having had a really good authentic serving of that great dish, which mostly was inhaled after the first bite, was wonderful here in Rome. My partner had always said of those ‘carbonara’ versions in the states that said blah..blah..’cream’….it as over and I was not allowed to order. After having been here and had it, I NOW know why I was not allowed to order back in the states. This recipe will be framed and hung in the kitchen so I will always remember how good ‘real’ Italian food is. The hardest part of eating here in Italy….taking the plane flight back to the USA. :) Thanks for the recipe and I am now looking for a Gnudi recipe like that for which I suffered the best food and wine coma I have ever had in my life which was food from the Trattoria I’Parione in Florence, Italy this past Friday (17/9/2010).

  9. This is a fantastic recipe, I studied in Rome for 6 months and had actually beautifully authentic Rigatoni alla Carbonara every chance I could. Now that I’m back in the states trying to find a recipe that actually tastes like the Italian dish has been murder until now. Really great help, thanks so much!

    (Also a side tip to make the dish more Italian, try using a robust/dry white wine to get the consistency of the sauce that you’re looking for instead of using extra olive oil, it really makes a difference!)

  10. I have some very minor quibbles with this recipe …

    First, I like to add a single egg yolk to the two whole eggs. For me, this adds a richness that is absolutely vital in such a simple recipe.

    Also, it’s important to reserve some of the cooking water from the pasta. If the final mix is too dry and sticky, you add some HOT leftover cooking water to cream it up.

    Finally, plenty of fresh-cracked black pepper is a must for me. I dunno if it’s the reason the dish is called “carbonara” or not. I just know it makes it more awesome!

  11. This is how I’ve always made my carbonara, I didn’t know there was any other way and why mess with a good thing. This is Italian comfort food, at least for me. Any changes or additions would just not be the same dish. One helpful hint, have someone pour the egg/cheese mixture over the pasta while you toss the pasta with two forks or spoons. This eliminates the need to add anything to break up the perfectly balanced sauce. Thanks for posting the recipe.

  12. Pingback: Carbonara | ruanicolson.com Carbonara | a collection of recipes that i like

  13. Absoloutly starving just got in from college needed something quick and easy, found this recipe couldnt believe the simplicity of it so i thought i may try this. 10 mins cooking time 0 prep, probably the best carbonara i have every tasted and i dont have that heavy sickly feeling i get from most recipes with cream. Mate you should teach cooking to college kids i give this 10/10 and will easily become one of my most cooked meals :) thank you so much.

  14. This looks delicious! Will definitely give your recipe a try as I love, love, love Carbonara.

    I recently did a little experimenting and came up with a great recipe for Carbonara Made with Farm Fresh Eggs, Topped with Pork Belly

    http://wp.me/puWta-cj

    Give it a try if you like!

    Great blog by the way.

  15. How shameful! I always thought it should have cream…trying this tonight! I found it useful with carbonara to make sure you warm your pasta bowls as it goes cold quickly!

  16. Thank you for the save with this recipe!! I thought I could go on memory however it has been longer than I thought…. Wow I tried to stay as true to the recipe as possible and even have my own farm fresh egg source as I live on rural Camano Island in WA state. Had to drive a bit to get my hands on some decent panchetta and the romano and parmesan were not the best I’ve ever had access to. Yes it was Reggiano however the quality of those wheels is so different depending on how long it has been aged, the feed of the cows at the time, etc… So using ingredients that were sort of last minute and not making my own pasta to save time and out of sheer laziness I have to say I still had a great result!! Now, I hate everything I make and I am never happy about anything if I can help it. Others in the party that night were more than pleased with my cooking and everyone made comments on simple food and how they want to get back to that kind of ideal. My younger guest who normally gets his food from a freezer and microwave asked me if I could teach him how to make this sort of dish and then he asked me about my travels, which he usually has no interest in!! So on that note I really considered it a hit and kind of thought I was hip for about 10 minutes until everyone started talking about rap music and I faded back to my humble self.
    I have to say my real motivation other than pleasing guests was watching Meryl Streep and Jack Nickelson in a comedy in the 1980′s where she feeds him spagetti carbonara in bed after their first date and he says he never wants spagetti any other way when they get married!! She comes into the bedroom with this great big Italian pottery bowl full of carbonara and it was all so quasi yuppi and such a “thirty something” moment. I was way too young at the time to really get it, but it made a huge impression on me. I always thought that when I moved out on my own that I was going to have my own bowl of spagetti moment. Alas it took many more years than I thought and here I was on an island and far from the city where I thought it would happen!!
    The whole egg thing really is true. It totally makes the dish and the fresher the eggs the better. I remember in Italy they made a big deal about the egg yolk and that was the dish. No distractions here just fresh ingredients made to a perfection we do not get so easily anymore in food or life. The whole thing about simple in Italian and all other regional foods is so true. We really can not escape this concept anymore and yes I think by now we have all done the fusion thing and the raw thing and the nouvelle thing and somehow good old Italian dishes keep right on truckin.
    I plan to go back to this recipe and I might even get all wild and try adding a few elements when I’ve got them fresh from the garden. It might just be some red onions added to the panchetta when cooking or whatever. Maybe squash blossoms when in season. I’ve seen it served with fresh peas. Back to simple for now and I was so happy and you really saved my dinner party and let me focus on the friends I invited because the food was so easy. Maybe that is part of the reason everyone seemed to linger and have such a good time. For once I was not a total mess running back and forth from the grill to the kitchen to the table. Isn’t that what sharing good food is all about is having a good time and enjoy the people you have invited over and in my case most of them have just driven about 50 miles to get here!!

    Thank you for an experience that I am sure to continue on with, and one that I will not soon forget!! This whole blogging thing I am late to the table but it is catchy and I plan to tune in to yours more often now!! See google works!! La Dolce Vita!!

    • Wow. That moment from the Nicholson/Streep movie has stuck in my memory as well. Actually didn’t event remember who the actors were, just the moment! Anxious to try this dish out. Happy eating!!

  17. Also in Roma I think they just go to the cafe and order pepe? Like the cracked pepper is the star here and maybe that is just a different dish but in any case the pepper is huge here too and I would not use any of these smoky black peppers or smokehouse or whatever they are. Just good old fashioned black pepper is the star of this show. Does anyone have a brand of just top of the line Romano cheese for me to look for? I have noticed such a wide variety of quality with the ones I have available in my local Whole Foods or other supermarkets. I do drive in to the city and I can get to an Italian Market if anyone knows of one to suggest? I have to say that most people I serve like it mixed 50/50 with parmesan. Some folks have to gradually make changes in taste and what tastes good to them.

  18. Thanks a lot! I once had carbonara in a small restaurant in Venice, the chef whipped it up in minutes and it was heaven! Since then I’ve tried to recreate it myself but never came close. Of course, I was using recipies with cream, even though I did think there was little or no cream in the Venetian version. Now I know for sure! If this works, you’re my hero!

  19. Fantastic Carbonara. We had an Italian night at our house and this was one of the dishes we made. It was fantastic. Making it again tonight with the kids. Best Carbonara I’ve had.

  20. You did not specify dry or fresh pasta. Of course you can use either, but one needs to know which you mean to understand how much you are calling for. My guess is you mean fresh given the quantities, but even so, your recipe is on the light side in terms of quantities of egg, cheese, and pancetta compared to many other authentic carbonara recipes (in particular the quantity of egg seems to vary quite a bit). I don’t mean to imply there is anything wrong with this recipe, I’m just making note of the variation out there. I would expect most Italians make it by eye and the balance of these ingredients is adapted to each person’s taste.

    Garlic is often not included in cabonara and I would have thought it was an acceptable optional addition and not a standard part of the classic recipe, but who am I to argue with the Acadamia Italiana della Cucina.The flavor this adds may be why it has less of the other ingredients. I would also note that the amount of cheese needed is affected by the kind of cheese used. You may want less with a really sharp pecorino, more with a younger milder pecorino or with parmigiana.

    Also, I think the addition of a little pasta water is very helpful to getting the consistency of this sauce right. But that is true of so many classic Italian pasta sauces, that perhaps the Academy just assumes it goes without mention. More a matter of good technique than a part of the recipe. But it is a helpful tip for those less steeped in Italian cooking traditions.

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  22. I’ve just noticed your comments. The quantities are for dry spaghetti. If you see “fresh” spaghetti avoid it! It was invented by supermarkets outside of Italy to try and fool their customers that “fresh” is always better. It doesn’t exist in Italy. 100 g of dry pasta makes a large portion, fell free to serve less if you wish. I’ve cooked this recipe many times and the quantities have always worked for me. It provides enough sauce to coat the pasta without making it sloppy. There is enough pancetta to provide a good bacon flavour, which is what you’re after.

    I think you are probably right with your comments about the pasta cooking water. I think the academia doesn’t want to teach nonna to suck eggs :-)

  23. I found this originally when I was researching carbonara recipes. (It’s fairly amazing how much the proportions vary between various authentic and credible recipes.) I somehow ended up subscribed, but I’ve enjoyed your recipes, so have kept the subscription. :^)

  24. With no claim to authenticity at all, I’ve found that the knack to getting creaminess without heaviness (without cream) is to form an emulsion between the fat from the rendered meat, oil, and egg yolks, and a little of the pasta water. That is, remove the pasta to the meat pan with tongs, don’t drain it too carefully, have a ladle standing by to add a little more of the pasta water now and then, while cooking out the eggs, constantly moving.

    A definitely inauthentic addition, but one I love to make, is a little rubbed fresh thyme, right at the end.

  25. Lovely recipe that captures the simplicity which so much great food features (even english food! (done properly)).

    Whilst I love this version – I do prefer a little cream (basically the same as original with 2-3 fl oz of cream). Add also I am a mushroom “adder” – usually some regular just open cup mushrooms and some rehydrated porcini (I can feel Italians fainting at the heresy) with the rehydrating water added to the recipe.
    I so also sometimes make a more “bechamelly” version, which is more unctuous but less original, but has its own joys.
    Also I am am often a nutmeg adder (is that a béchamel hangover?)

    Food is for enjoying – not a religion, variety is the spice of life – though I agree the classic, is well a classic. If you like a recipe – eat it! Just try stuff/other ways whenever you can.

    Seen some recipes with vermouth – great for an emulsion even before the eggs go in!

    • Hi Ben. I agree that food is for enjoying. The dishes you describe are probably very nice. I would argue however that you can’t really call them carbonara.

      Dj

    • Just add what you will, codify it as Linguine al Ben, and watch people argue over how many of which mushrooms go into a traditional Ben sauce!

  26. I was looking for a good carbonara recipe and happened upon this blog and was immediately drawn to the picture of the top of the page. It shows Trulli’s!!! You can only find this type of building/home in the Puglia region of Italy which is where my Grandmother is from. I’ll be following this blog from now on. This carbonara recipe is simple and authentic – just like my Grandmother use to make…e ora grazie – mangia, mangia!!!

  27. I am seeing alot of variation to the number of eggs required. Most receipes suggest 2:1 ratio of yoke to egg whites. So 2 x eggs plus 2 x egg yokes. Can you confirm the traditional ratio of egg used in carbonara? I noticed you aonly suggested 2 eggs. Thanks.
    Cheers,
    Tanya
    Melboure, Australia

    • Hi. Italian recipes are a lot less precise than British or Australian recipes. They assume a basic knowledge of Italian food and are more of a guide than a fixed prescriptive list to follow. A lot depends on how big the eggs are, how fresh they are, what the chickens had for lunch etc. It would never occur to an Italian cook to think about ratios. My advice is to follow the basic recipe and experiment until you get a result you like. DJ

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  29. Thank goodness, an authentic recipe! After travelling to Europe last year I’ve had the most intense cravings for a good carbonara; something almost impossible to find in the U.S. I’ll be making this tonight and stopping back in to let you know how it goes over with the family. Hopefully they aren’t too caught up in all this American Jazz! :P

      • Glad you enjoyed it Kelly. I usually remove it from the heat almost immediately. If the pasta is hot there should be enough heat. The eggs are virtually raw. That is why the eggs have to be very fresh.

    • Looks like Jen is attempting to commit another crime against Italian cuisine :) Do you think she even read the introductory paragraph to this topic?

  30. This is superb! Just like I was taught how to make by an old Italian woman who lived down the block. Why would anyone add cream to this? It’s so rich and tasty as it is. Thanks for posting this to the web so that people can find out how this is truly made. Cheers!

  31. Oh I forgot to add, it really should be made with bucatini. It ‘s what really makes the dish I think. Something about the hole in the pasta really sucks up and holds the delicious sauce. This is my go to recipe whenever I have no idea what to make for dinner. The ingredients are always on hand, and I have yet to find anyone turn their noses up at this. Yummy!

    • So you use bucatini? Interesting, I haven’t seen that. You see rigatoni carbonara quite a lot though. I’ll have to try it.

  32. We’ve tried bucatini carbonara in Venice recently and loved it which led me to look up your recipe. Thanks! I’ll try this soon.

  33. Love the recipe, good to know I’ve been doing it right at my pub all these years!
    I must confess to a guilty pleasure. I would never do this at work but at home I toss through some roughly chopped avocado (I luuurv avocado) with the last bit of cheese after it’s off the heat. Soooooo yummy. I like to be generous with the pepper too.
    Far from authentic, I know, but awesome after a big night out!

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  38. Not wanting to eat tomato sauce spaghetti one time, I thought of making something out of a raw egg, salt, pepper, and grocery-type processed cheese (yes, the cheap kind, but we have no pecorino on this side of the world). Note that I do break a raw egg on my freshly cooked rice on occasion (like a bastardized congee LOL), so that’s where the experimenting stems from. I whisked the raw egg, salt, pepper, and cheap cheese together, then dumped a serving size amount of pasta on it, mixed it, and got something decent. Without any cream at that (which I love to death). The egg mixture clung to the pasta (no sauce mop at the bottom of the bowl!). I swear this happened WAY before I landed on your authentic carbonara recipe here – I’d like to think I came halfway close to making authentic carbonara by accident LOL! Not the most authentic thing, yes (no guanciale, and I USED CHEAP CHEESE!), and instead of mixing the egg sauce while it cooks in the pan, I got lazy and dumped the freshly cooked pasta in the bowl with the sauce. But I’d like to think it wasn’t all bad HAHAHA!

    One other thing: is one egg per pasta serving a decent ratio, or is that too much (then again, I eat a lot)? If so – save for the cheeses and the guanciale (which will prove to be cheaper in the long run since you’ll not be using much after all) – the surprise here is that carbonara is actually simple, deadly tasty, and relatively cheap :D

    • One egg per person would probably be ok, if a bit on the generous side. Try it and see. If you stick to roughly the right ingredients, you can play around with the ratios until you find a result you like.

  39. I tried this sauce last week, but did not do a very good job. I had three problems.
    1: Too salty.
    2: Very fatty taste from the Pancetta.
    3. Eggs started to cook.

    How much of the pancetta fat should be left in the mix? There was a lot of it in the pan. Also, I assume that I should not have put the usual amount of salt into the pasta water that I use for other pasta dishes.

    Thanks for your help.

    • I think the first two problems are related. The dish will taste of the pancetta that you used. A lot of supermarkets sell cheap “pancetta” which is really just cheap “bacon bits”. They can get away with this as “pancetta” is just the Italian for “bacon”. If you use good quality, dry cured bacon, the dish will be much better. This should solve the second problem too. It is never going to be a diet dish, but if you use a good bacon or pancetta, the fat will provide a wonderful flavour to the dish. You can drain some of the fat if you like, but you will be losing a lot.

      For the third point…erm…don’t cook the eggs ;) Just add the raw egg and cheese to the hot pasta and pancetta.

  40. Pingback: Classic Carbonara (with Pancetta or Guanciale) | Cat's Kitchen

  41. Hi. I found your website yesterday and cooked the carbonara last night. However, because of the number I was cooking for, I increased the ingredients by 1/4. Totally delicious.
    Cannot understand why anyone would adulterated a carbonara with cream.

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