Spaghetti Carbonara is probably my all-time favourite meal. It was one of the very first recipes I posted on Grubdaily, almost 8 years ago, and I think it’s well overdue an update. Back then I used to put cream in it, but these days I opt for a purer and more authentic approach and use the starchy pasta cooking water as a basis for the sauce instead. A lot changes in 8 years, and so has my carbonara, too. The secret to this sauce is whisking some some of the starchy cooking water into the parmesan and eggs, before adding it to the pasta and gently cooking it over a low heat until it’s thick - much the same as the technique for making egg custard, or crème anglaise.
This dish is Italian cooking at it’s 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.
- 75g pancetta, diced into lardons
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 180g spaghetti
- 2 generous pinches of cracked black pepper
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 30g parmesan, finely grated
- sea salt
- olive oil
Get a large pan of water boiling to cook the pasta in. Add a couple of generous pinches of salt.
In a frying pan or sauté 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 and egg yolks into a jug or bowl and add most of the finely grated parmesan (leaving some 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. Whisk the eggs and cream together to make a thick paste, then pour about 4-5 tablespoons of the pasta water in, while still whisking. Now add the pancetta and garlic, pasta and egg mixture back into the pasta pan and place over a medium-low heat. Add about 100ml more of the pasta water and, using a plastic spatula, stir continuously, scraping the bottom of the pan until it’s the texture of custard. Be very 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 parmesan and eat immediately.