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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

(For Real) Authenti Spaghetti alla Carbonara

I enjoy a little Maggiano's every now and then, but I've always been curious as to what real Italian food was like. So, last weekend I thought I'd see what I could find using my Spanish to work through some recipes written in Italian. With the help of to translate the names of veggies and such, it wasn't bad at all. In fact, I took a liking (or maybe even a mild obsession) to learning Italian recipes. I only got a chance to try one recipe because I'm really not much of a pasta eater. My carb of choice would be rice or bread. Sometimes pasta really weighs me down and I'm not a fan of that stuffed-to-the-limit feeling.

Anyway, the recipe I chose was pasta alla carbonara because it was easy to make with what I had at home. When I say easy, I mean absolutely shockingly easy. I had no idea any sauce could be made so quickly. So here goes the translated recipe and here's the link to the original video recipe with a text recipe at the bottom, if you want to see the technique for yourself or work through it with your Italian (or your Spanish or Portuguese) It's a recipe for four persons. 10 minute cooking time, 15 minute prep.

I kind of fell in love with this particular website for Italian recipes, by the way. It's very thorough and great with teaching technique. If you find yourself developing an obsession and want to know how to weed through the Italian recipes written in English, type the name of the dish into using the following format: "name of recipe in Italian + ricetta" That automatically puts you in an Italian search because you included the Italian word for recipe (ricetta).

Oh yea, and here's the metric conversions list You shall need it, friends ;). Just use the measurement for whatever is closest to what you're using.  If you find yourself using Italian recipes often, consider purchasing a food scale.  I have this very affordable one myself (

By the way, this recipe is WAY better the next day. I recommend making it the night before and reheating. It'll look sticky and thick, but trust me, you won't need to add water. It'll melt down and become creamy in the cooking process. Gross (only to your ears, not to your mouth :), but true, you add in half of the bacon fat from cooking, so you know fat is stiff when cold.

Preliminary tip: Read this recipe THOROUGHLY before preparing or you will surely put something down the drain that you actually need for making the sauce and there's no way to get it back or substitute once it's down the drain.

Spaghetti alla carbonara
150 grams of guanciale or pancetta (or substitute thick-cut smoked bacon like I did--about half a pack, cut in thin slices (about half the length from where your nail begins to the tip of your finger) then cooked in a skillet ) (jowl bacon, whatever that is, is the closest thing we Americans have to guanciale, which comes from the cheek of the pig)

100 grams pecorino (I just used shredded parmesan that I crumbled by with my hand before adding it. I think the bagged shredded is probably better than the can for freshness and lower sodium--don't want it overly salty)

350 grams of spaghetti --I think this turned out to be 3/4 packet or so
4 egg yolks and 1 whole egg--some recipes use as many as 7 or 8, I chose to do 5 yolks and an egg, but 4 should work just fine as well.

2TB bacon fat --about half of the fat from cooking the bacon (see video to get an idea of how much she uses--bear in mind we won't use it all because bacon makes way more fat than her guanciale did)

***pasta water*** This is essential!! You MUST add pasta water to make the sauce. It needs to be pasta water, not regular water because the starch is essential to the thickening process of this sauce. See video for visual of the amount. Maybe it was around 1/2-1 cup. I don't remember but you'll see what it should be when you're doing it. You'll see in the video that the lady just opts to not fully drain her pasta to incorporate her pasta water into the sauce. I don't know about you, but I'm no expert at this dish, so I just opted to drain it closer to fully drained and saved the water in a bowl, from which I added more water to the sauce, as needed to get it to the right consistency. If you add too much water, there's no turning back, but if you don't add enough, you can add from your bowl of pasta water that you have set aside.

Fresh parsley (don't pull out your dried stuff on me, it is SO not the same. Just sprinkle a handful of the fresh stuff and mix it in. You actually can taste a difference. This particular video didn't use it, but many others did and I think it's necessary or else it'll be bland)

Salt and pepper (freshly ground is best --with a dish with so few ingredients, the fresher, the better because you can taste the difference)

Now, here's a surprise for you. Where on earth is the garlic, right?! I don't know, but I'll tell you this, no one used it. Not one person, and I searched for recipes for hoursss. So what's my take on this? Mince up a small clove or even half a clove (or else you will easily overpower the this dish), sautee it, and put it in the sauce or shake a bit of garlic powder.

Where's the chicken, you ask? Well, this is spaghetti alla carbonara, not pollo alla carbonara. Nonetheless, my mom insisted that the chicken be incorporated, as opposed to cooked separately and served alongside the pasta, so she took one of those giant bone-in breasts and chopped it down to bite-sized pieces and prepared it with a garlic clove, salt, and pepper in a skillet with olive oil. My recommendation for incorporating the garlic would be via the chicken you add in. The garlic flavor is just right that way. Not overpowering at all. So that's just one clove with the chicken and none with the pasta sauce.

By the way, this amazing sauce cooks with the heat from the pasta and the pasta water, so don't start boiling your pasta too early in advance. Be sure that everything else is prepped and ready to go (eggs, cheese, bacon grease, bacon, salt, and pepper should already be blended in a bowl before the pasta is done, but you can wait to add chicken after or with pasta).


Beat all of the eggs together (yolks and whole), add cheese and beat together until well incorporated. Add salt and pepper. Add bacon and bacon fat. Add freshly cooked, lightly drained pasta, draining at least a cup of the water into a bowl. Add more pasta water, if necessary. Incorporate all of the ingredients and continue to stir until the sauce has thickened. The sauce will continue to thicken. If you leave it to eat for the next day, the flavors blend and intensify and the sauce is able to nicely thicken as well.


  1. I love cooking carbanara since a friend tutored me through it one time. Now I alter it and add to it depending on what's in the fridge, mushrooms and seafood go well. It is easy and fun to make.

  2. I'm way late on noticing your comment, so my apologies for that. Sounds like some yummy add-ins! I'm always up for mushrooms and the seafood sounds great, too. Hmm...I do have shrimp in the freezer as we speak :). Thanks for the tips!