Finding the perfect recipe for one specific pasta dish is like finding good coffee in my hometown: impossible. It’s not that there don’t exist any good Carbonara recipes, quite the opposite is the case. There are simply too many.
For example, I once posted a Ragù alla Bolognese (don’t you dare calling it pasta Bolognese, the Italians will behead you!) on my Instagram account and I am not kidding you, I received messages from every single Italian following my account. ‘No, ragù shouldn’t be made with red but with white wine’, ‘No, the milk needs to be added earlier’, ‘No, the milk needs to be added later’, ‘No! Why do you use milk?’.
See the dilemma? Every Italian has a recipe they’ve once received from their grandmother and so every Italian has one or two traditional recipes for EACH DISH that exists in la cucina italiana. I’m shit at maths (or at least I pretend to be whenever suitable), but you can imagine how many Italian recipes there is out there in the wide world of ’00’-wheat and Barolo – A lot!
Therefore, if you’re Italian, please don’t judge for the following recipe. It’s a combination of many nonna’s recipes and tips I got from friends. If you have your very own special recipe you want to share with us at Travel Tomorrow email us, or send me a message on Instagram.
Here comes my attempt to the perfect Spaghetti alla Carbonara.
1. The base
Ok, so the base most of the time is: oil and guanciale, which is pork cheek (more on that below). Marcella Hazan, an important figure in Italian cooking and author of one of my favourite Italian cookbooks, adds a garlic clove to the oil, too. She then fishes it out, so the oil just gets a slight hint of the garlicky taste. It’s not a must, I do it. It’s up to you!
2. The pasta
Spaghetti. Sometimes Linguine. But let’s stick to Spaghetti. No other pasta allowed. Basta. Why? It’s the Roman tradition, but I also think Spaghetti are best suited for being coated by all that creamy, melted cheesy eggy thick silky sauce.
3. The ingredients
A Carbonara doesn’t have many ingredients, which is why it’s important that all of them are of top quality.
GUANCIALE: Aka pork cheek. NOT pancetta, which is part of the pork belly. Both are cured, not smoked, but the traditional way is to use the first. If you can’t get hold of pork cheek, the Italian pasta masters might allow you to use pancetta instead.
Guanciale is more savoury, richer, more luxurious and cooks down different, because the fat is firmer than pancetta and later melts in your mouth with a very delicate chew and crisp that don’t overtake.
PECORINO: Many recipes call for Parmigiano, which is ok, but you should aim for Pecorino in your pasta, if you can get hold of it. Again, it’s the Roman tradition. Pecorino is made from sheep’s milk and is stronger and more tangy than Parmigiano.
PEPPER: Crack your pepper, will ya? Please do me a favour and buy whole peppercorns. Crack them with a mortar or pestle or in absence of these with a rolling pin. It makes a difference to pre-ground pepper. Trust me!
EGGS: Use great, fresh eggs! Now, there is two ways to get this right. As with other egg dishes, where a hot mix is poured into eggs, or the other way around, you need to temper your eggs. Meaning: you need to get the eggs used to the warmer temperature by slowly heating them up. What happens otherwise, is that you get scrambled eggs and we don’t want that. Not now at least.
There is two methods to do this, one fool proof, one depending on residual heat of your pan which shouldn’t be too high.
For the fool proof version, you can cook your pasta and in a bowl mix your eggs and cheese. On a pan you fry your guanciale or pancetta. Once the pasta is done, you drain it and mix it in the bowl with the egg mix as well as the hot guanciale and oil. Mix, mix, mix and serve straight away.
For the second method, you add a bit of pasta water into your egg mix, before adding all of it to the pan with the pancetta and pasta. Your pan should be off the heat. This is my favourite version, so I’ll go more into detail in the recipe below.
- 250g Spaghetti
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 whole garlic clove, peeled
- 85g Guanciale or Pancetta, cut into cubes
- 1 egg plus 2 yolks, whisked together
- 60g Pecorino, grated
- 1 tsp pepper corns, toasted in a pan and then crushed
- salt to taste
Bring a pot with water and 1 heaped tablespoon salt to a boil. Heat two plates in which you’ll serve the pasta in your oven (you want them to be warm once you serve your pasta).
In a bowl, mix egg yolks with 2/3 of the Pecorino and pepper, set aside.
Heat a pan on medium heat. Add olive oil and fry garlic clove and guanciale in it until both are crispy and golden brown. Discard the garlic.
In the meanwhile, boil your Spaghetti until al dente, reserve 1/2 + 1/2 ladle of pasta water, drain pasta. Add the pasta to the pan with the guanciale along with 1/2 ladle pasta water. Mix well and let cook on low heat until everything is creamy and silky. Take the pan from the heat.
Mix the remaining 1/2 ladle of pasta water into the egg and cheese mix, whisking constantly and then add into the pan that’s off the heat. Mix constantly until all is combined, creamy and thickens. Serve in hot bowls with the remaining Pecorino and freshly crushed pepper.