Pasta alla carbonara (literally translated as 'coal workers’ pasta') is one of the most well-known and loved Italian delicacies: the creaminess of the eggs contrasting with the crispy guanciale makes it a pleasure to eat.
The origins of carbonara sauce are still uncertain. However, the recipe doesn’t appear until 1944, which prompts some speculations on how this delicious recipe came to be.
The most widely recognized theory is that this beloved Italian dish is an American adaptation of the traditional cacio e ova: when the Allied troops were stationed in Italy toward the end of World War Two, they got fond of pasta cacio e pepe, but to give them a “back home” flavour, they added smoked bacon to the recipe.
Roman people enthusiastically adopted the new dish, and quickly added it to their cooking.
They swapped the bacon for guanciale (the fat from a pig’s cheek) as they already had pasta recipes using guanciale and Pecorino cheese, the other two being pasta alla gricia and bucatini all’amatriciana.
Don't use Parmesan cheese for this recipe. However, if you're having difficulties finding guanciale, pancetta can be used instead.
Never add cream to the recipe: the creaminess is given by the sheer amount of grated Pecorino – so don't skimp on it!
- 360 g spaghetti
- 120 g guanciale
- 4 eggs yolks
- 1 whole egg
- 150 g Pecorino Romano cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
In a non-stick pan, fry the guanciale in its own fat until slightly crispy, taking care not to brown it too much.
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and the whole egg with salt and pepper. Stir in the grated cheese until a thick cream is obtained. Add the cooked guanciale and reserve.
Cook the spaghetti al dente. Reserve about 100 ml of the cooking water. Drain the pasta well, and immediately pour the pasta into the bowl with the eggs. The heat of the pasta will cook the egg.
Add a little bit of the reserved cooking water, and mix well so as to coat all the pasta. If the sauce is still too dense, add some more cooking water. If too runny, stir in more cheese.
If necessary, season with more salt and pepper. Serve immediately sprinkled with extra grated Pecorino cheese.
Silvana Lanzetta. Photo: Private
Silvana Lanzetta was born into a family of pasta makers from Naples and spent 17 years as a part-time apprentice in her grandmother’s pasta factory. She specializes in making pasta entirely by hand and runs regular classes and workshops in London.