The 6th April is #CarbonaraDay, and no doubt you have already seen plenty of recipes and techniques being posted today. Well, I didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity to share my recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara at all so, here it is! Carbonara is without a doubt one of my all time favourite pasta dishes. I love its simplicity and the flavours that are created as a result of that simplicity. Over the years, I have eaten many many different variations of this dish, including versions with cream. Now, I must admit that way back when, I was a fan of the cream version, but I didn’t know any different. Now, you won’t see me ever making a Carbonara with cream. I have also made versions using the whole egg rather than just the yolk, bacon in the place of guanciale, adding onions and even a splash of wine. Today, I stick as close to the traditional method as possible.
The basic ingredients for a true Carbonara includes:
Guanciale (Pork cheek)
Egg Yolk, one per person
That’s it, there’s no oil, no cream – niente! Of course, here in the UK, guanciale isn’t easy to come by (you can get it in pretty much every supermarket in Italy) and pecorino is starting to become more readily available, so I think us Brits can be forgiven for making a few substitutes whilst keeping with the same method to make as close to a perfect Carbonara as you can. I therefore recommend subbing the guanciale for pancetta. Most supermarkets will have this already diced – but be warned that ideally you want them to be 1cm cubes and the ready diced ones are smaller. But, we will allow this! If you can’t get hold of pancetta, then you can also sub for bacon but you might not get the same level of fat rendering – in which case you might need to add a little oil. If you can’t get hold of pecorino, then simply use parmesan and add a little extra pepper. The flavour will change a touch but you will still get that creamy consistency.
The cooking process essentially takes as long as it takes the pasta to boil – around 8 minutes. I recommend cooking the spaghetti for 2 minutes less than stated on the packaging as it will continue to do the final bit of cooking in the sauce as you combine everything together. Again, if you’re out of spaghetti, you can use linguine and at a push penne, but spaghetti is where it is at! Make sure that when you drain your pasta, to reserve a cup or so of the pasta water as this is like liquid gold and will transform your sauce. I generally use a pair of tongs and pull the pasta directly out and into the bowl with my whisked egg yolks.
If you find that your egg yolks aren’t combining well, and you want to give it some extra heat to just cook through – not scramble – then you can also use the saucepan with the pasta water as a bain-marie. Just ensure that you pour out enough water so it doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl otherwise you will ruin your sauce. If you’re doing this, I recommend keeping the saucepan off the heat and just keeping the bowl on top for a minute or so before taking it off again.
Be sure to keep your egg whites too! Use them in an omelette, make meringue or use them to make cocktails if that’s your thing! Just don’t let them go to waste! I hope that this recipe will help you transform the way you make your Carbonara and that the substitutes also make things a little easier. No doubt this will become a favourite of yours like it is mine! Buon appetito!
Prep time: 5 minutes Cook time: 15 minutes Total time: 20 minutes
Ingredients 200g Spaghetti 150g Guanciale (or Pancetta), 1cm cubes 2 Eggs, yolks only 30g Pecorino, grated 15g Parmesan, grated Salt Freshly cracked black pepper
In a large saucepan, boil water, add salt and the spaghetti – cook for 8 minutes.
In a small frying pan, add the guanciale and leave to fry in its own fat until crispy. Don’t add any oil, the fat will render as it cooks and this will be used as part of the sauce.
In a medium bowl, add the egg yolks, half the pecorino & parmesan and black pepper. Whisk together until smooth and if needed add a tablespoon of the pasta water to lengthen slightly. Set aside.
Once the guanciale is nice and crispy, pour the fat into a small bowl and set aside.
After 8 minutes of cooking and reserving the cooking water, add the spaghetti directly into the bowl with the creamy egg yolk sauce and stir well to ensure all the pasta is completely coated. This will cook the egg yolk without scrambling it. Add some of the reserved water a little at a time to lengthen the sauce more.
If needed, create a bain-marie using the saucepan and pasta water to give the sauce an extra hit of heat – be careful that the water doesn’t touch the bowl and don’t let it get too hot as it will scramble the eggs.
Add the guanciale fat to the pasta along with the cooked guanciale and the remaining pecorino and parmesan. Stir once more to ensure everything is well combined and serve immediately.