Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Many (many) years ago, when I was a student in Rome and lived in an apartment in Trastevere for almost a year, I learned how to make Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

I remember the first time I tried the dish at a tiny trattoria. I didn’t know what it was, but ordered it anyway. I can still remember the specks of black pepper, the silkiness of the sauce coating the pasta, and the big surprise when I took my first bite. A flavor I never tasted before. A magical flavor.

Massimo, a new Roman friend, taught me and my co-student friends how to make this pasta dish. It was a sunny afternoon as we gathered at his family’s apartment in EUR– the apartment complex just outside of the city. We sat around the kitchen table as he demonstrated how to mix the eggs, add the pecorino, fry the guanciale, and toss the cooked pasta quickly with the sauce. Result? Perfection. I have never wavered from this recipe all these years — no matter how many variations are out there.

Here’s the recipe. Try it!

Roman Spaghetti alla Carbonara
1 lb. spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ lb guanciale or pancetta, diced
4 large eggs
½ cup pecorino or more as needed plus extra to serve w/pasta
2 teaspoons black pepper
salt to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When boiling, season with salt, add spaghetti. While the pasta cooks, make the sauce. In a small skillet sauté the pancetta in the oil until cooked, about 4 minutes. Set aside.
In a large serving bowl, break the eggs, add the pepper, and salt to taste. Mix together thoroughly. Add enough of the cheese to make a pasty (rather than thin & liquidy) mixture.
Just before the pasta is done, spoon out a cup of the pasta water and reserve. When pasta is al dente, drain and immediately add to the bowl with the egg mixture. Immediately, mix the pasta and eggs together quickly. Pulling the eggs through the pasta strands over and over. The hot pasta will “cook” the egg and the egg mixture will give the pasta a creamy coat of sauce. When you see the pasta as absorbed all the eggy mixture, add the pancetta in its oil, and mix through. Add a few spoonfuls of the reserved water if the dish is a little dry. Serve hot, passing around extra cheese.

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