A classic Roman dish, pasta with carbonara sauce is a fundamentally simple and easy dish to make. Made by coating pasta in a rich, creamy sauce of eggs, cheese, pork, and freshly ground black pepper. Making the sauce of mostly yolks has a richer, silkier, tighter texture than one made with whole eggs. And the mixture of Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese delivers that essential Roman flavour without making the pasta taste excessively salty or sharp. Add to that plenty of freshly cracked black pepper, a spice that is so deeply woven into Roman cuisine and you have the perfect carbonara.
While it is a simple dish, the challenge of carbonara is cooking the sauce just enough to form a thick, silky coating on the pasta without accidentally scrambling the eggs. But first there are a few smaller decisions you’ll have to make before starting—namely, choosing your cut of pork, and picking your cheeses.
My favourite meat for this dish is guanciale, a cured pig jowl that has a great ratio of fat to lean meat. When cooking this dish with guanciale it renders the most liquid fat as it cooks, creating a more unctuous sauce. It’s also often cured with a more generous amount of warm spices rubbed onto its surface, so this adds another dimension of flavour to the dish. We buy our guanciale from Peter Hannan in Moira.
If you can’t find guanciale then I suggest pancetta or smoked dry cured bacon which you will find in all grocery stores. Pancetta, delivers a great pure porky flavour. And smoked bacon, as you can imagine, adds a hint of smoke, which is pretty darned tasty in its own right and definitely worth considering. It’s also an undisputed natural partner for eggs, even if that’s not how carbonara came to be. If smoked bacon is all you can get, there’s no reason to let authenticity stand between you and a filling bowl of carbonara. So pick your favourite and just go with what works for you best.
Last up are the cheeses. This is a Roman pasta dish so, to me, it just won’t taste right without the salty tang of Pecorino Romano, an aged sheep’s-milk cheese. But Pecorino Romano alone has an assertive flavour, which is why I and many others like to cut it with the sweeter, fruitier flavour of Parmigiano-Reggiano. I use equal parts of each and whisk them into the eggs and yolks in a mixing bowl, along with plenty of coarsely ground black pepper.
Okay, now it’s time to actually cook the dish.
- Maldon salt
- 600g freshly made semolina tagliatelle
- 100g diced guanciale, pancetta, or smoked bacon
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 whole large eggs plus 6 yolks
- 25g freshly grated Pecorino Romano, plus more for serving
- 25g grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, the pot big enough to hold the pasta comfortably.
- Combine guanciale (or pancetta or bacon) with 2 tablespoons olive oil 30ml in a large frying pan and cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat, until fat has rendered and guanciale is crisp, about 7 minutes.
- In a large metal heatproof mixing bowl, whisk together whole eggs and yolks, Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and black pepper.
- Add the fresh pasta to the pot of water and cook for 2-2½mins stirring, until al dente.
- Strain the pasta and transfer pasta to the pan containing the crisped guanciale and its fat; be sure not to totally drain the boiling pasta water as you will need a little of the cooking water to help emulsify the sauce. Add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil 15ml to pasta and toss through. Scrape pasta, pork, and all the fat into the bowl containing the egg mixture. Toss all the ingredients together with a pair of tongs and add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water to help create a sauce. Stir well to combine until the heat of the pasta and pork has cooked the egg mixture and the sauce looks glossy and is coating the pasta.
- Season with salt if needed. Divide into bowls. Serve right away, topping with more grated cheese and freshly ground pepper as desired.