I know there are people out there who think eggs belong on everything.
Mushroom flatbread? Egg. Nachos? Egg. Tuna melt? Yep, even there.
If you’re one of these people, you would probably be delighted to discover that for dinner, bacon, eggs, and cheese were on the menu.
Nope. It’s not what you’re thinking.
Pasta alla carbonara is Rome’s go-to solution for a super-fast supper. It’s not only one of the simplest dishes to make at home, but one that brings together a collection of basic ingredients that are likely already in your fridge.
Has anything bad ever come from whisking together eggs and cheese?
Let’s start there.
Raw eggs as pasta sauce, you ask? Trust me on this. As the silky eggs hit the hot spaghetti, the eggs slowly cook, thicken, and coat every strand to make a velvety sauce.
A hefty handful of coarse black pepper (freshly ground is best) adds heat, while parsley brings brightness.
Carbonara is one of my all-time favorites because it incorporates two of my most cherished cooking tricks.
First, the starchy water.
I’ll never forget watching Rachael Ray as a twenty-something on the treadmill in my parents’ basement. Two episodes of Thirty Minute Meals would come on back-to-back just before dinnertime, and I would faithfully watch each night as I huffed and puffed, trying to work off the weekend’s beer.
I began to notice that whenever Rachael made pasta of any kind, she would keep a mug near the pot.
Like clockwork, just before straining the noodles, she would slosh out a cup of the cooking liquid and cheerfully remind her viewers, “Don’t forget the starchy water!”
This brilliant tip was her way of making sure the sauce would adhere to the pasta. As she splashed in the water, the noodles and sauce would come together and become the carby coalition they were always meant to be.
Not only does the water add a hit of salty flavor, it also acts as glue. And for carbonara, glue is key.
Or rather, cooking water is clutch. You know I mean.
For carbonara, when the hot liquid merges with the eggs and cheese, the dial on the creaminess factor goes to max.
Trick number two: cooking things in something that another thing left behind.
Do you follow?
Me either. That was confusing. Let me try again.
Creating depth in a dish is all about layering flavors. If you’re cooking chicken with mushrooms, you probably wouldn’t wipe out your pan in between saute sessions. You’d cook the mushrooms in the same pan where the chicken left behind its delicious brown bits.
The same goes for spaghetti alla carbonara.
Once the meaty bacon has been crisped, its rendered fat is perfumed with the garlic. And that’s not the end of the story.
The spaghetti strands are then infused with the bacon-garlic oil, and just like that, you’ve created the start of a meal that will astound and tickle your taste buds with complexity.
To up the game, play with your pork!
Subtly spiced pancetta stands up perfectly to the pungent ground pepper, and while guanciale (pork jowl) is a little pricier, its rich, unctuous flavor is worth every penny.
For the cheese, classic parmesan is always a winner, but adding sharp, salty pecorino to the mix never hurt anyone.
Bacon, eggs, cheese, and pasta. Has a more beautiful tale ever been told? And they all lived happily ever after.Print
Nothing beats bacon, egg, cheese, and carbs, and this carbonara has all of the above. This quick, peppery pasta is a show stealer.
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish
- 4 ounces bacon, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves, divided
- In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghetti according to the package instructions. Before draining, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and 1/2 cup of the parmesan, stirring well to remove any lumps.
- Add the bacon to a large skillet. Place over medium heat and cook, tossing the pieces as needed, until brown and crispy, about 6-8 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set it aside. Reserve the rendered fat in the pan.
- Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low.
- Add the pasta and toss until the strands are thoroughly coated with the bacon fat, about 2 minutes.
- Pour in the egg mixture, remove the pan from the heat, and toss quickly until the eggs thicken (but don’t scramble).
- Add the reserved pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time, to thin the sauce until it reaches your desired consistency.
- Add the bacon, salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Taste and add additional seasoning if necessary. Divide the pasta among plates, and evenly garnish with the remaining parmesan and parsley. Serve immediately.
- Category: Pasta
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: spaghetti, pasta, carbonara, bacon, parmesan, egg
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Cook the Spaghetti, Mince the Garlic, Dice the Bacon, and Chop the Parsley
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghetti according to the package instructions.
Before draining in a colander, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water. The starchy water will help thin out the sauce while also making it slightly creamy.
Mince the garlic, dice the bacon into bite-sized cubes, and chop the parsley.
Step 2 – Whisk the Eggs and Cheese and Cook the Bacon
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and 1/2 cup of the grated parmesan, stirring well to remove any lumps.
Place the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, tossing the pieces as needed, until brown and crispy, about 6-8 minutes.
Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve the excess fat in the pan.
Step 3 – Cook the Garlic and Pasta in the Bacon Fat
Add the garlic to the pan and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low.
Add the pasta and toss until the strands are thoroughly coated in the bacon fat, cooking for about 2 minutes.
Step 4 – Add the Egg Mixture to the Pasta to Create the Sauce
Pour in the egg mixture. Remove the pan from the heat, and toss quickly until the eggs thicken (but don’t scramble) and a light sauce begins to develop.
Add the reserved pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time, to thin the sauce until it reaches your desired consistency. The more water you add, the creamier the sauce will become.
Step 5 – Add the Bacon, Season the Pasta, Garnish, and Serve
Add the bacon to the pasta, and season it with the salt and pepper, tasting for additional seasoning if necessary.
Add 2 tablespoons of the parsley, toss to combine, and divide the pasta among plates.
Evenly garnish with the remaining parmesan and parsley.
Can’t Get Enough Carbonara
No, seriously. This pasta was so nice, I made it twice. And the second time I ate it for breakfast. Shhh…
What’s my secret for not feeling bad about eating spaghetti at 9 a.m.? Add bacon, eggs, and cheese.
Oh, carbonara. You totally get me.
For an ultra-decadent version of this already delicious dish, whisk some cream into the eggs along with the cheese.
Go on. Do it. I won’t tell anybody.
Continuing on the carb train? Achieve pasta perfection with these other fork-swirling sensations:
- Angel Hair with Braised Kale
- Linguine with Clam Sauce
- Hearty, Tangy Pasta with Balsamic Vinegar, Mushrooms, and Goat Cheese
Carbonara is magic in its purest form, but tinkering with tradition is always fun.
Lemon zest? Roasted tomatoes? What would you toss in the mix to make this dish your own?
Share your crafty curveballs in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on August 23, 2010. Last updated: August 31, 2020 at 16:01 pm.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”