Home - Dinner - Pasta - Ultimate Pasta Carbonara

Ultimate Pasta Carbonara

5 from 11 votes

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.

The classic Italian pasta carbonara recipe, tested and perfected! This comforting dish features spaghetti in a creamy sauce with eggs, bacon and two kinds of grated cheese.

Photo of a white bowl with a fork full of pasta, bacon, cheese and parsley.
Linguine with carbonara sauce.

Pasta carbonara is a classy meal with humble origins — it’s a crowd-pleaser for good reason. It’s fast, made with simple ingredients and most important, it tastes sooo delicious!

This is what I consider the ultimate recipe for pasta carbonara — spaghetti (or other long strands of pasta) tangled up in a creamy sauce with bacon and grated cheese. It’s soul-satisfying, and absolutely one of my all-time comfort foods.

Jump to:

Close up photo of a plate of spaghetti carbonara, with a fork.

I grew up in an Italian family, but my mom and grandmothers mostly cooked red sauce and meatballs to go with our pasta. It wasn’t until I went to Italy and tasted this phenomenal dish in Rome that I was able to perfect the recipe to a “T”!

My kids have always l-o-v-e-d what they’ve endearingly shortened to “carbonara.” To this day it’s still the most requested dinner on their birthdays.

I even included a version in my cookbook, but I’ve perfected the recipe to show you how to make this restaurant-quality dish at home.

Photo showing ingredients to make pasta carbonara, with a package of bacon, eggs, grated cheese, black pepper, pasta noodles and parsley.

Ingredients in this recipe:

  • Dried pasta: You can use your preference of spaghetti, bucatini or linguine. Long strands of pasta noodles are the best for slurping!
  • Cheese: Use fresh hunks of Parmesan cheese (or Parmigiano Reggiano) and Pecorino Romano cheeses and grate them fresh for the very best flavor.
  • Bacon or pancetta: Look for thick-sliced unsmoked bacon, if possible. You can also use pancetta if you want to be very close to the original. Ask the meat or deli counter to slice it into 1/2-inch thick rounds, then slice it yourself into 1/2-inch cubes.
  • Eggs: My recipe uses a higher ratio of large egg yolks to whole eggs (3 to 1), which is true to the authentic Roman-style carbonara.
  • Peas: Not at all a traditional ingredient in carbonara, but frozen peas are an add-in option. I started adding peas to pasta carbonara when my kids were little for an extra hit of vegetables and green color.
  • Fresh Italian parsley: Sprinkle it on as a garnish.

The story of pasta carbonara

One of a few stories from Italian food historians say that “pasta alla carbonara” originated during WWII. With the help of regional Italian cooks, American soldiers based in Rome took familiar staples from home (eggs and bacon) and turned them into a simple pasta sauce.

It’s a classic, satisfying dish that people all over the world enjoy, because when you’re hungry there is nothing better than carbs, fat, protein and cheese!

Cream in carbonara: Yes or no?

The reason carbonara sauce is kind of magical has to do with chemistry. It happens when the heat of the cooking water and hot pasta quickly “cook” the egg mixture. That’s all there is to it!

The egg proteins thicken when you combine hot pasta with raw eggs, transforming into a creamy-textured sauce that coats the noodles.

My recipe stays true to the classic method. It’s rich-tasting and satisfying with egg yolks alone. Heavy cream would make the dish feel a bit too rich, more like an alfredo sauce than a humble carbonara sauce.

Whisk eggs, cheese, and black pepper with hot pasta water to make carbonara sauce.

Heavy cream in carbonara sauce: This much is true — the authentic recipe for carbonara does not contain heavy cream. I imagine that if you told an Italian to pour cream in a carbonara sauce they would moan dramatically while rolling their eyes. In other words, it’s considered a no-no.

That said, I can see why cream is often used by cooks. Americans like lots of sauce on their pasta (and on food in general), where Italians are a bit more light-handed in that department.

But honestly, people can find carbonara sauce tricky to master. In my opinion, adding cream is a way to get around executing the recipe properly. I hope this recipe will encourage you to give true carbonara sauce a try!

Bacon or pancetta in carbonara

American-style smoked bacon isn’t really a thing in Italy. Cured pork jowl — guanciale — or pancetta is most often used in traditional carbonara recipes. Outside of Italy, it’s become common to use bacon which is more readily available.

Photo of cooked bacon lined up on baking tray.

Pro tip: Bake your bacon!

I learned how to cook bacon in the oven when I worked in restaurant kitchens, and I never looked back.

It’s so much easier and way less messy. Here’s how:

  • Lay the strips in one layer on a baking sheet
  • Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, flipping the slices halfway through.
  • Drain on paper towels, then chop into pieces.

When I don’t have any bacon or pancetta, I also love to top pasta carbonara with crumbled pieces of crunchy, crisp prosciutto!

If you’d like to use pancetta instead of bacon, bake 1/2-inch cubes 5-8 minutes at 400 degrees until they’re crisp.

How to make spaghetti carbonara:

  1. Boil water in a 4-5 quart pot and salt the water generously — this helps season the pasta from the inside out.
  2. Cook your spaghetti, bucatini or linguine until it’s al dente. Check the timing on the package and taste-test. Scoop out some of the starchy cooking water before draining
  3. Whisk 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water into the beaten egg and cheese mixture. This tempers the eggs so they’re less likely to curdle.
  4. Immediately add the hot pasta to the eggs and toss quickly and thoroughly. Sprinkle the chopped bacon and parsley over and toss again.
  5. Serve it up hot, with more cheese!

What if carbonara sauce curdles?

There’s always a chance the eggs in your sauce will “cook” too much, and almost look like bits of scrambled eggs.

First of all, don’t worry! What causes it is the heat of the piping-hot pasta coming into contact with the eggs without enough room for it to steam. Your carbonara will still taste great, but try these steps to master the technique:

  • Whisk the hot pasta water into the eggs just before adding the pasta.
  • Mix the sauce and pasta in a large shallow bowl (as opposed to a deep mixing bowl) so that the heat doesn’t concentrate at the bottom of the bowl.
  • Toss the egg mixture and pasta quickly and repeatedly until all the strands are coated.
Photo of three serving bowls of spaghetti and bacon, with tumblers of wine on the side.

What to do with leftover pasta carbonara

  • It’s a must that you serve pasta carbonara as soon as it’s done — hot pasta waits for no one!
  • For the same reason, pasta carbonara does not reheat well. Once it cools, the pasta soaks up all the egg sauce and the delectable creamy texture will be absorbed. It still tastes good, though.
  • If you DO have any leftover pasta carbonara, make this brilliant recipe for Pasta Frittata that uses leftover spaghetti.

Get creative with these variations:

Here are some ideas to jazz up the basic recipe for carbonara sauce:

  • Add a small grated garlic clove and a pinch of crushed red pepper to the eggs.
  • Toss a tablespoon or two of soft butter to the pasta (it’s not traditional but very delicious).
  • Throw in 2 cups frozen peas to the pasta during the last 2 minutes of cooking.

More pasta recipes to bookmark:

FOLLOW ALONG! Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest for all the latest recipes and content!

Ultimate Pasta Carbonara Recipe

Karen Tedesco
This tested and perfected classic pasta carbonara recipe is a winner! The best family-favorite dish with spaghetti, eggs, bacon and cheese.
Print Pin
5 from 11 votes
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 35 mins
Course Pasta
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 servings

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces (225 g) thick-sliced bacon
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 large whole egg
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • ½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound (450 g) dried spaghetti, bucatini or linguine pasta
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Instructions 

  • Preheat the oven to 400 (200 C) degrees and line a large tray with paper towels.
  • Arrange the bacon on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, flipping the pieces halfway through, until the bacon is deeply colored and crisp. Transfer to the tray to absorb excess fat. Chop the bacon into small pieces.
  • Whisk the egg yolks, whole egg, Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses, ¼ teaspoon salt and black pepper in a large mixing bowl. If you have a large pasta serving bowl, use that to mix and serve.
  • Bring 4-5 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan or pot and add 1 tablespoon salt. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente (usually about 10 minutes.) Scoop out 3/4 cup of the cooking water before draining the pasta.
  • Whisk ½ cup of the hot water into into the egg yolk mixture — this tempers the eggs so they won't scramble.
  • Immediately dump the hot pasta into the bowl, then toss it all together quickly and thoroughly, using tongs or two spoons. You can add more water if the sauce seems dry. Sprinkle the bacon and parsley over the pasta and toss to combine. Serve right away, with additional grated cheese on the side.

Notes

Variations:
  • Add a small grated garlic clove and a pinch of crushed red pepper to the eggs.
  • Toss a tablespoon or two of soft butter to the pasta (it’s not traditional but very delicious).
  • Throw in 1 1/2 cups frozen peas to the pasta during the last 2 minutes of cooking.
  • If you’d like to use pancetta instead of bacon, bake 1/2-inch cubes 5-10 minutes at 400 degrees until crisp.

Nutrition

Calories: 810kcal | Carbohydrates: 94g | Protein: 33g | Fat: 32g | Saturated Fat: 12g | Sodium: 586mg | Potassium: 561mg | Fiber: 7g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 1079IU | Vitamin C: 27mg | Calcium: 209mg | Iron: 3mg
Did you make this recipe? Mention @Familystylefood or tag #familystylefood on Instagram!!

Web story: https://familystylefood.com/web-stories/ultimate-pasta-carbonara/

Hey, I’m Karen

Creator of Familystyle Food

I’m a food obsessed super-taster and professionally trained cook ALL about making cooking fun and doable, with easy to follow tested recipes and incredibly tasty food! Read more about me here.

Leave a comment and star rating

Do you have a cooking question? Leave your comment below and let me know how I can help.

Did you love this recipe? Just click on the stars to leave a rating!

Recipe Rating




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

3 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I just love carbonara, and especially this recipe and the incredibly clear instructions! You take all the worries away.

  2. I learned this recipe from some Italian soldiers I was working alongside. They had a robust discussion amongst themselves about the strategy to use to keep the eggs from curdling. Their collective conclusion was to add the pasta water to the egg mixture one tablespoon at a time as the pasta was cooking and beat that mixture (by hand with a fork with vigor) until it was creamy. Then add another tablespoon of pasta water and beat until fully incorporated continuing to add water until the mixture was “perfecto” (in my mind=consistency of cream) They focused a great deal on achieving a creamy texture and light color with the egg mixture. They also drained the pasta in the cook pot and immediately added the egg mixture. Swirled the pasta for a minute and plated. It was delicious so I committed myself to their technique. Love seeing the recipe here So many good memories