This recipe has been through a number of alterations since I started making carbonara, many years ago. This is the most recent update, and I think, as pretty close to perfection as a plate of pasta could be. Spaghetti carbonara is still my favourite meal of all time – I don't think I will ever grow tired of it. My more recent changes include a reduction in the amount of egg; I now include one whole egg per person which, when combined with the starchy pasta water and a knob of butter, makes for a beautiful silky sauce.
This dish is Italian cooking at its best; simple, quick and with an emphasis on quality ingredients. It can be deceptively tricky to perfect however; too much heat when adding the eggs can result in scrambling them instead of gently cooking them to get the desired silky smooth sauce. If you can, get a hold of some good quality spaghetti that's been made with a bronze die, as it'll hold the sauce much better.
- 2 large eggs
- 75 g pancetta, diced into lardons
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- sea salt
- olive oil
- 180 g spaghetti
- 2 generous pinches cracked black pepper
- 15 g parmesan, finely grated
- 15 g pecorino cheese
- 15 g butter
Get a large pan of water boiling to cook the pasta in. Add a couple of generous pinches of salt.
To fry the bacon, use a deep-sided frying pan or cast iron casserole pot, as you will need enough space to stir together the pasta to thicken the sauce at the end. In the pan, heat a glug of olive oil and place over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the diced pancetta and fry until lightly caramelised. Turn the heat to low and add the chopped garlic, along with a pinch of cracked black pepper. Cook gently for 2 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic, then remove from the heat and set aside.
Add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes less than it says on the packet's instructions. This is because after draining the pasta we're going to heat it again as we make the sauce, so it'll continue to cook.
While the pasta is cooking, start to prepare for the sauce; place the eggs into a jug or bowl and add most of the parmesan and pecorino (leaving a little for garnish at the end), along with a small pinch of sea salt.
When the pasta is about 2 minutes away, drain it over another jug or bowl, making sure you reserve about 200ml of water. In another separate jug or bowl, whisk the eggs and cheese together to make a thick paste, then pour about 4 - 5 tablespoons of the pasta water in, whilst still whisking. Now add the drained pasta to the pan you cooked the bacon in, and add another 4 - 5 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water, along with the butter. Stir briskly for 30 seconds or so. The pasta should absorb some of the water, and some of the starch will be massaged out of the pasta, thickening the liquid slightly. Add the egg and cheese mixture, and place over a low heat, stirring continuously, being careful to scrape the bottom of the pan so that it doesn't stick. Keep heating gently until the sauce is the texture of custard. Be careful not to overheat it as the eggs will scramble. If it gets too thick, add a little more water - you should have a nice sauce consistency that just clings to the pasta.
Divide into pasta bowls, garnish with the remaining grated cheese and eat immediately.