Carbonara is a classic pasta dish from Rome, and probably the most misunderstood dish in Italian cuisine.
The carbonara sauce is really typical of roman cuisine because it’s incredibly simple and uses only 4 main ingredients: eggs, pork, cheese and black pepper – NEVER cream! The American and British versions made with double cream are pretty awful and have completely misunderstood the point. Carbonara is not a general term for a creamy pasta sauce, it’s a specific dish. So despite popular belief and current advertising from Philadelphia cheese, there is no such thing as a ‘carbonara-style’ sauce. You cannot add cream, soft cheese, garlic, onions, peas or mushrooms and still call it a carbonara. Adding cream is completely pointless – it just washes out all the flavour and makes it really unhealthy. A proper carbonara should feel creamy and indulgent, but this comes from the egg rather than cream, and is balanced by the salty pancetta, rich parmesan and plenty of spicy black pepper.
Guanciale (cured pork cheek) is used traditionally, however it’s really hard to get hold of in the UK so pancetta (cured pork belly) makes a great alternative. With so few components, the quality of ingredients is key. You need really fresh eggs, unsmoked pancetta, genuine parmigiano-reggiano and freshly ground black pepper.
This recipe can be made from start to finish in 10 minutes and if you follow my handy tips, you should get it perfect first time!
Ingredients (Serves 2-3 people):
– 250g pasta (Spaghetti and Rigatoni work well)
– 50g parmesan or pecorino romano (finely grated)
– 100g diced pancetta
– 2 whole eggs + 2 egg yolks
– freshly ground black pepper and salt
- Set the pasta to boil over a high heat and season the water generously with salt.
- Crack the eggs into a small bowl, add the extra egg yolks, 3/4 of the grated parmesan, a small pinch of salt and plenty of black pepper, then whisk it all together with a fork.
- Start frying the pancetta over a medium-high heat in a small drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, stirring occasionally. Once it is crispy and golden (about 5 mins), remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
- Drain the cooked pasta and tip into the frying pan with the warm pancetta and mix together.
- Add the egg mixture to the pan keeping it off the heat and stir into the pasta rapidly. The residual heat of the pasta and the pan will cook the to egg just enough to make a rich, smooth sauce. TIP: The trick is to be quick and have the pan at the right temperature. The pancetta needs to be off the heat for about 2 minutes to allow the pan to cool slightly. If you’re too slow to mix it in or leave it in a hot pan too long it will just scramble.
- Serve immediately with the remaining parmesan and a little more black pepper sprinkled over the top.