Spaghetti alla carbonara
Spaghetti alla carbonara
Duration: 30 mins
Nutrition value: 350 kcal
Portions: 4
Level of difficulty: Average

 The origin of pasta alla carbonara, a Roman pasta dish,  can't reeally be clearly traced and opinions vary widely. In any case, it seems that the recipe dates only from after WW2. The most plausible story is that the Allies were partly responsible because they brought bacon, the English version of pancetta, which belongs in the recipe. On the other hand, it is often said that the dish came from the mountains of Lazio and was an invention of the carbonai (the Romanesque pronunciation of the word carbonara, meaning miners), who needed food items that were easy to carry and wouldn't spoil easily. For many Romans the dish is absolutely a classic and you should make it at least once in your life!  

An Italian chef explained to me which mistakes you should definitely not make. "Carbonara is a particularly sensitive subject. The recipe is simple, but you have to respect it, starting with the basics, i.e. using the right ingredients and the way to prepare it. Here are the 5 mistakes to avoid if you want to make a real carbonara." (See the original in Italian here).

 These are the 5 points he mentioned:

  1. "We must insist, nothing can replace pork cheek bacon (guanciale) when making a pasta carbonara. No regular bacon, no ham, no chicken (yes, some people use chicken). From a historical perspective there will always be a debate about this fundamental ingredient. Some place carbonara in a mythical rural setting somewhere in central Italy and ancient traditions. But others claim that the dish was born out of necessity from the rations of American troops brought over during World War II. I prefer the first, if only because guanciale reflects the Roman cuisine better and that is where, like it or not, carbonara originated. But if you prefer the less fatty and more delicate flavor of bacon, no one will sue you for it."
  2. "Adding random ingredients. Here we touch a painful part of the story. A few years ago, as you may remember, Carbonaragate almost caused a diplomatic incident. The French, the British, everyone was adding their own ingredients, while the Italians were horrified by the addition of garlic, onion, oil, butter, cream or crème fraîche. We wanted none of that: carbonara follows the ancient principle of "less is more". You only need a few ingredients to make it right, provided, of course, you use the right ingredients."
  3. "The final step in making pasta alla carbonara is adding the egg. However, it should be made clear from the start that we are not going to break a whole egg directly onto the pasta. Carbonara requires that you separate the yolks from the whites: you want that yellow, creamy sauce? Before beating the eggs, separate the whites and, depending on the servings, calculate a ratio of 1 yolk plus 1 whole egg for every 3 yolks each."
  4. "When you have fried the guanciale without adding oil and added the pasta and the eggs, making a creamy sauce, what is next? Surely not stirring over high heat, which causes the eggs to be scrambled instead of a carbonara. As soon as you add the eggs, turn off the heat: Article 4 of the constitution of carbonara."
  5. "When we talk about typical Roman dishes, pasta carbonara is usually first to come to mind. So why, when you cook it at home, do you season it with just any grated cheese? Carbonara requires pecorino cheese and there are no other cheeses you can use. You use the guanciale not to have to add any other fat and the pecorino not to use extra salt: in practice, the pasta prepares itself and only asks you not to mess it up."




  • 75 gram / 2.6 oz spaghetti or another ribbon type pasta per person
  • 1 egg per person
  • 25 gram / 1 oz guanciale or smoked bacon in cubes per person
  • 25 gram / 1 oz  ground pecorino cheese per person
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • salt

This is authetic Guanciale, you could use smoked bacon in cubes
Recipe steps:
  1. The pasta carbonara consists of simple ingredients; eggs, Guanciale or pancetta (preferably smoked), pecorino cheese and black pepper.
  2. Fry the bacon so that it becomes crispy and the fat is rendered. It is best to use Guanciale bacon for this but if you are unable to find it in the store you can also use an ordinary pancetta or smoked bacon, a not too lean or you will need to add some olive oil during frying. Do not throw away the rendered fat because that is precisely where the characteristic flavor comes from. Keep the pan with the bacon warm until you mix it with the pasta.
  3. Cook the pasta in salted water al dente, use a firm spaghetti or other ribbon pasta type, not a thin one like spaghettini.
  4. In the meantime, separate the egg whites from the yolks and beat the yolks until they are pale yellow and the whites just loosely, add yolk and whites to each other and whisk lightly. Again, you have the choice of deviating from the original by using, for example, instead of whole eggs, only the yolks or all the yolks plus half the whites.
  5. Add cheese to the eggs and whisk together!
  6. Drain the pasta, but beforehand scoop out a ladleful of water and keep aside.
  7. Add the hot pasta to the bacon in the pan, turn off the heat and pour the beaten egg over it. Stir everything gently with a wooden spoon. 
  8. The egg will bind due to the heat of the pasta, but remember that the pasta should not come back to boiling temperature, better even to turn off the heat completely. The carbonara should stay a soft creamy sauce, but not taste like raw egg. If it is too thick add some more cooking water from the pasta.
  9. Grind a good amount of black pepper over it and finish with a handful of ground pecorino cheese.
  10. Tip: To eliminate the taste of raw egg (if any), you can add a pinch of grated lemon rind to pasta carbonara.

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