Spaghetti alla Carbonara; Recipe from Rome

Authentic Italian Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

Spaghetti alla carbonara is probably ‘the’ most well known Italian pasta recipe. Well, maybe alongside spaghetti bolognese! And like spaghetti bolognese, it has been reinvented a thousand times outside of Italy. Of course, different versions of carbonara are good too. But the original recipe really needs nothing added to it because it’s delicious as is!

spaghetti alla carbonara

Some alternative alla carbonara history!

Like so many other Italian dishes, carbonara has a disputed history. The most commonly accepted theory is that it probably originated in or near Rome in the Italian region of Lazio. But how is the question!

Theory no 1; It is believed that Umbrian coal men called ‘carbonari’ ate it themselves and  introduced it to the Romans when they came to sell charcoal to them.

spaghetti alla carbonara

Theory no 2; It has also been said that carbonara was named for the ‘Carbonari’ a secret society in existence during the time of Italian unification (Dan Brown take note!)

Theory no 3, which to me may have merit since published carbonara recipes date only from the second war onwards, is that it developed as a result of the demands of American soldiers stationed in Rome after the city’s liberation in 1944 and the fact that these very soldiers supplied the Romans with bacon and eggs.  

spaghetti alla carbonara ingredients

How do Italians make alla carbonara?

Whatever its origins, it’s certain that alla carbonara has become a worldwide favourite pasta dish – although one that has many non-Italian versions!

I have always called spaghetti carbonara ‘Italian bacon and eggs’ because basically that’s what it is; eggs, bacon, pasta, grated cheese and pepper. I think it’s the combination of bacon and eggs that makes this one of the most popular pasta dishes in the West, especially with the British and the Americans.

spaghetti alla carbonara ingredients and grated cheese

No vegetables! No cream!

Over time, authentic Italian carbonara has been altered by the British, the Americans and others. I did a little experiment and searched through Instagram posts hash-tagged  #carbonara. Needless to say, I found a zillion variations including ingredients such as cream (lots of cream, sometimes the pasta is swimming in it!), peas, leeks, broccoli, tomatoes and mushrooms. It seems that these additions have become so common in America and England that it’s now considered the norm to make this dish with some kind of vegetable and cream. In Italy, it really isn’t!

uncooked guanciale (pork cheek) in frying pan

Like many Italian pasta dishes, alla carbonara is a simple dish with few ingredients. But, it’s the quality of the ingredients and what you do with them that make the difference. The majority of chefs agree that ‘true’ carbonara contains guanciale (pork cheek) and not bacon or pancetta. However, both make fine substitutes as long as they are quite fatty and cubed. Guanciale renders quite a lot of fat so you don’t need to cook it in olive oil.

cooked guanciale pieces in frying pan

Mixing the pasta to combine the ingredients is an art and the quality of the cheese (Parmesan / Pecorino) and the pasta are significantly important. Black pepper is essential! Some Italians use only whole eggs, others use yolks. My hubby sometimes makes it with just egg yolks. This gives the dish an orangey colour! The general rule is one egg or egg yolk per person.

eggs, grated cheese and ground pepper in white bowl

The Pasta. 

Spaghetti is the usual pasta for alla carbonara. However, linguine, fettuccine, bucatini and rigatoni can also be used. Rigatoni is the second most popular pasta for carbonara in Rome. The recipe I used is one that my Italian hubby follows. It is also very similar to that of the late Antonio Carluccio who was the author of 20 books on Italian cooking. Mr Carluccio said in his own recipe book “Most people I know get it completely wrong! Either adding milk or cream or letting the eggs become scrambled!”

You can watch Antonio Carluccio making his carbonara on Jamie Oliver’s You Tube channel below.

spaghetti, guanciale, eggs and grated cheese in frying pan for spaghetti alla carbonara

Even if you normally make your carbonara differently, it’s worth trying it the Italian way! I’m sure you’ll love it!

If you do try this authentic spaghetti alla carbonara recipe, I’d love to hear what you think. Please write a comment here on the blog or post a comment on the Pasta Project Facebook page.

Your feedback means a lot to me!

Buon Appetito!

Other classic pasta dishes from Rome on the Pasta Project.

  1. Pasta alla gricia
  2. Bucatini all’amatriciana
  3. Cacio e pepe
  4. Puntarelle pasta with burrata
  5. Romanesco broccoli pasta soup

(This recipe has been updated with new photos and text)

spaghetti alla carbonara

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5 from 29 votes
spaghetti alla carbonara
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
20 mins
Total Time
30 mins
 

The authentic version of the world's favourite pasta recipe! All you need is eggs, guanciale or pancetta, Parmigiano or pecorino and spaghetti to make Rome's favourite pasta dish!

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Central Italy, Italian, Rome & Lazio
Keyword: alla carbonara, carbonara, Italian recipe, Roman cuisine, spaghetti
Servings: 4
Author: My hubby and Antonio Carluccio
Ingredients
  • 400 g spaghetti or spaghettoni (14oz)
  • 250 g guanciale (pork cheek) (9oz) or pancetta (Italian bacon) cut into small cubes.
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (I don't use olive oil with guanciale)
  • 4 eggs (one per person) including one egg yolk or 5 eggs if using only egg yolks
  • 50 g Parmigiano Reggiano (2oz) or aged pecorino freshly grated.
  • freshly ground black pepper.
  • salt for pasta
Instructions
  1. Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Add salt once it starts to boil. Cook pasta al dente according to the instructions on the packet

  2. Meanwhile, fry the guanciale or pancetta until browned. (I use a little olive oil with pancetta but not with guanciale as it renders quite a lot of fat)

  3. Lightly beat the eggs and/or egg yolks in a large bowl with the grated cheese and black pepper. 

  4. When the pasta is ready, drain and add to the pan with the guanciale. Then mix well to coat the pasta. Take off the heat. Allow to cool slightly (so the egg won't be scrambled).

  5. Then add the egg and cheese mixture. Stir well to coat the pasta, but not too vigorously ( you don't want scrambled eggs!). Serve immediately with more grated cheese and black pepper as required.

Recipe Notes

As mentioned in the post, the majority of chefs agree that "true" carbonara has guanciale and not bacon or pancetta, although both make fine substitutes as long as they are quite fatty and cubed.
Spaghetti is the usual pasta, although linguine, fettucine, bucatini and rigatoni can also be used.

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spaghetti alla carbonara

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36 Comments

  • CARMEN DEGABRIELE
    April 7, 2019 7:22 am

    I never use cream with my carbonara spaghetti. I fry a chopped large onion add bacon or pancetta to it and cook it in white wine. Drain your cooked spaghetti, return to the pot and add a beaten egg or two while stirring the spaghetti fast. (stracciatella). Serve in plates with the sauce and add grated parmesan cheese although I prefer it without. A dash of red hot pepper makes it delicous.

    • Jacqui
      April 10, 2019 8:09 am

      I’ve never added white wine or onions to carbonara but it sounds good, Carmen! I’ll have to try it!

  • Tom Jacob
    April 7, 2019 4:34 am

    Apropos your reply about people who can’t eat pork: The Roman Jews make Carbonara by substituting dried beef (carne seca) for the guanciale and omitting the cheese. I’ve had it and it’s not bad. The restaurant Nonna Betta substitutes zucchini for the guanciale and keeps the cheese. I haven’t tried it but probably will when I go to Rome in May.

    • Jacqui
      April 10, 2019 8:12 am

      Thanks for your really interesting comment Tom! I hadn’t heard about substituting dried beef for the guanciale. I want to try that, plus the zucchini version. Enjoy your trip to Rome!

  • Laura
    April 3, 2019 5:30 pm

    I can’t agree more – the original spaghetti alla ccarbonara recipe is perfect. It does not need anything else added to it because it has such a complete taste! And it was super interesting to find out a bit more history about this pasta – delicious and entertaining!

  • Maman de sara
    April 2, 2019 4:58 am

    I love reading your post especially about the history of the dish. We love italian food!

    • Jacqui
      April 3, 2019 8:43 am

      Thank you Maman de Sara! Yes, carbonara has an interesting history. So many different beliefs! But it certainly is a classic!

  • Jori
    April 2, 2019 2:41 am

    So I always end up with scrambled egg. Of course you’re meant to take it off the heat and let it cool first! lol thank you for pointing that out. I made some scrambled carbonara this past weekend so trying again later this week for that creamy goodness.

    • Jacqui
      April 3, 2019 8:45 am

      I have to confess I used to make scrambled carbonara too Jori! But have got the hang of it now! I’m sure you will too!

  • Lathiya
    April 1, 2019 9:26 pm

    The spaghetti looks so delicious and easy to make. Perfect for quick dinner. This is in my to do list. Can It try with chicken?

    • Jacqui
      April 3, 2019 8:52 am

      Thank you Lathiya! If you don’t eat pork, I guess chicken would work. But I haven’t tried it. Let me know if you do.

  • Anita @ Daily Cooking Quest
    April 1, 2019 7:04 pm

    I’m so stoked to find out the correct way to prepare spaghetti alla carbonara, and it turns out to be super simple. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mimi
    April 1, 2019 1:39 pm

    Spaghetti carbonara has always been my favorite recipe to order though I haven’t made it a lot at home. I am very excited to try your recipe now because it looks absolutely stunning!

  • April
    April 1, 2019 1:35 pm

    I love spaghetti carbonara! It always makes me happy no matter how well my day goes! Definitely something I woud master at home and enjoy often! Delicious recipe that I am bookmarking for later.

  • Heather
    March 31, 2019 6:27 pm

    I love carbonara, but don’t understand why people always add cream. This is example A of how it is not needed. I mean just look how creamy and delicious your pasta is. YUM!

  • Amanda
    March 30, 2019 7:10 pm

    I’m with you — I love my carbonara without cream, and that comes from someone who generally loves cream-based pastas, but I feel like it takes away from the eggs. Your version looks delicious!

  • Sophia
    March 30, 2019 6:02 pm

    I love carbanara! This looks so delicious and easy. Thank you!

  • Linda
    March 30, 2019 3:15 am

    I love reading the history of it and now I need to make one myself. Always love a simple pasta with fresh ingredients like this.

  • Amanda
    March 30, 2019 12:34 am

    Looks like a fabulous recipe! Love this information you give about the history of the dish as well.

  • Beth Neels
    March 29, 2019 5:18 pm

    I find the history of dishes fascinating! I just love this traditional Carbonara!

  • Susan
    March 29, 2019 1:58 am

    I will vicariously live in Italy through you Jacqui! While I come from an Italian heritage, we have American-ized many dishes. This sounds like a perfect carbonara. Delicioso!!

  • Danielle Wolter
    March 28, 2019 8:30 pm

    i love carbonara so much. i mean SO MUCH! it might be one of my favorite dishes ever. so much wonderful flavor. I def have to try out your recipe!

  • Stine Mari
    March 28, 2019 5:07 pm

    I was just going to say I saw this cute old Italian man making authentic pasta carbonara like this, and then I saw you embedded that exact video! He’s the best. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m not a huge fan of the cream version, so I’m sure I’ll like the authentic version much better. And also; I would’ve loved to read that Dan Brown book!

  • Sophie
    March 28, 2019 4:46 pm

    Very informative post. I may want to create a vegan version of it. Loved reading it!

  • Kelly Anthony
    March 28, 2019 4:37 pm

    This looks simply delicious. I’m excited to try an authentic carbonara recipe because I’ve been eating wrong all along.

  • Gloria | Homemade & Yummy
    March 28, 2019 4:11 pm

    One day I would love to visit Italy. Until then, being able to enjoy the foods of the world in your own kitchen is great. We are pasta lovers. This sounds delicious.

  • Brian Jones
    March 28, 2019 9:08 am

    An absolute modern classic that tastes divine… I suspect like you that the WWII theory plays a huge part in the success of the Carbonara as a dish although suspect that in parts at least it was bubbling under the surface prior to that. But hey who knows, a huge part of the fun of food is arguing where it came from 😉

  • kim
    March 26, 2019 11:24 pm

    Such a yummy recipe! I love this one!

  • Cookilicious
    March 26, 2019 9:47 pm

    We too love a pasta for dinner on a weeknight! Its so convenient!

  • Lisa
    March 26, 2019 6:10 pm

    Wow, I just learned so much about Carbonara that I didn’t know before! And no cream! I’ll definitely need to try this with some gluten free spaghetti or zoodles.

  • Lisa | Garlic & Zest
    March 26, 2019 5:39 pm

    This is seriously one of my favorite Italian dishes. I only make it on rare occasions, but it looks like tonight might be one of them! Thanks!

  • Sandi
    March 26, 2019 5:35 pm

    I love the step by step directions…I can’t wait to try this recipe!

  • Heidy L. McCallum
    March 26, 2019 4:48 pm

    Hello, from America! Hope your day is going well. I am enjoying reading your wonderful posts on Pasta and their authenticity. My family is from Italy and I totally agree that many recipes do get altered here in America. So glad to see some original Italian recipes. Normally I usually head my recipes as American-Italian due to that fact. I can’t wait to run this by my mom and family. I bet they would enjoy it.

  • Veena Azmanov
    March 26, 2019 4:31 pm

    This is one dish my family relishes and this is perfect for me to try this weekend.

  • Noelle
    March 26, 2019 4:27 pm

    sometimes you just have to skip the veggies and this recipe was perfect without it! Thank you for sharing it was perfect.

  • Meghna
    March 26, 2019 4:17 pm

    We love carbonara & ate it in Rome for the first time. Your recipe is perfect Italian & absolutely delicious.

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