If you want to stay true to carbonara’s Italian roots, skip the cream. That’s right; the cream-based carbonara that most Pinoys know and love is more chicken alfredo than carbonara. Want to learn how to cook carbonara the way they do it in Rome? All you need is a handful of ingredients, patience and practice, and this essential guide. Are you ready to dig in?
What Is in Carbonara Sauce?
The core carbonara ingredients are fresh eggs, cheese, fatty pork, black pepper, and pasta noodles. That’s it! Some people like to add garlic to their carbonara, but it takes away from tradition (though it is delicious). The secret behind the velvety cream-less sauce lies in the egg yolks.
Many carbonara recipes call for no less than four egg yolks plus two whole eggs. The yolks, mixed with shredded cheese and pasta water, make for an ultra-indulgent sauce. If you’re feeling fancy, you can even top individual servings of carbonara with another egg yolk. Make sure the pasta remains piping hot so you can mix in the yolk without curdling.
How to Cook Carbonara Like an Italian
Step 1: Cook the pasta noodles.
Before anything else, prep your noodles. Spaghetti is ideal for carbonara, but you can also opt for fettuccine and other strand pasta.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add enough salt to make it taste like pure saltwater. Alternatively, you can throw Knorr Chicken Cubes into the water to infuse your noodles with extra umami. Once the water is boiling, add your pasta noodles to the pot. Let cook at least two minutes short of package directions. It will finish cooking in the pan in Step 4.
Step 2: Prep egg and cheese mixture.
A 2:1 ratio of egg yolks to whole eggs should work. Separate the desired number of yolks from the whites, then whisk with the whole eggs. Whisk vigorously until all the whites are incorporated and no streaks remain. You want a silky, homogenous mixture.
Next, add grated cheese. Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano (a.k.a. Parmesan) are the two top cheeses for carbonara. The former is salty and tangy, while the latter has a nuttier flavor. Both are hard, crumbly cheeses that cut through the richness of the eggs. Mix the cheese into your egg mixture until well-combined, then set aside.
Step 3: Fry up the pork in oil.
Guanciale, or salt-cured pork jowl, is the traditional pork product used in Italian carbonara. But if you can’t get your hands on some, good ol’ bacon is a great substitute. Cut the strips into cubes and toss them in a pan with a few tablespoons of oil. Cook until the meat is slightly browned and crisp. Turn off the heat, then transfer the cooked meat bits into a separate container. Discard most of the rendered fat, leaving just 2-3 tablespoons of oil in the pan.
Step 4: Finish noodles in the pork fat.
Check on your noodles. Before draining, reserve 1 to 2 cups of boiling pasta water. Make sure you use a heatproof cup to avoid any accidents. Pour the pasta water into the pan from Step 3, then bring to a boil. Add the drained noodles and stir until al dente. Take the pan off the heat.
Step 5: Stream in the sauce and stir.
Time to bring it all together! Slowly pour the egg-cheese mixture into the pan while tossing the noodles in the liquid as it flows. Keep stirring until the sauce has fully coated the noodles. You can add more pasta water to thin it out if it looks too thick. Make sure to work fast during this step, or your sauce could turn into scrambled eggs in a flash.
Step 6:Add the fried pork.
Before plating your pasta, add the cooked guanciale or bacon bits and lightly mix them into the saucy noodles. If desired, set a small amount aside to garnish later.
Step 7: Top with freshly ground black pepper
Transfer pasta to a plate and grind black peppercorns on top. Garnish with the leftover guanciale or bacon bits, more shredded cheese, and a sprinkle of salt, if needed. Enjoy! Your homemade, Italian-style carbonara is ready to eat.
Top Tips for Making Carbonara
Use quality ingredients.
Since Italian carbonara requires few ingredients, be sure to get the best of each. Go for farm-fresh chicken eggs and cheese by the block so you can grate it yourself. Some carbonara aficionados like to use duck eggs for an even richer sauce.
Save the pasta water.
Now that you know how to cook carbonara sauce, you should appreciate pasta water even more. It’s better to have too much of it than too little, especially when you’re cooking carbonara. That starchy, salty water goes a long way in creating a silky sauce for this simple dish. Make sure you save enough!
Take the pasta off the heat.
Combining the noodles and sauce off the stove is easier since you can control the heat better. Your pan will retain enough heat to cook your dish through without getting so hot that it scrambles your sauce. This method leaves less room for error.
Pour egg mixture gradually, but toss quickly.
You want to pour your sauce over the cooked noodles in a slow, steady stream while tossing everything together quickly. It’s a delicate balancing act that lets you achieve the velvety texture everyone wants in a delicious carbonara.
Serve hot and fresh off the stove.
Homemade carbonara is best consumed right after cooking. Otherwise, the sauce may continue to thicken until it becomes less creamy, more custardy. So, don’t wait too long to dig in — enjoy your pasta while it’s hot. You deserve it!
Learning how to cook carbonara the Italian way requires finessing, but it’s easy once you get the hang of it. With a bit of patience, practice, and simple yet good-quality ingredients, you’re sure to make a stunning carbonara. Master this dish, and you’ll have a new go-to recipe for satisfying weeknight dinners.