what’s cooking wednesday: spaghetti alla carbonara

Today’s What’s Cooking Wednesday recipe is a fast (ready in a half hour) pasta dish made to stick to your ribs. It’s great for a last minute meal as you probably have all the ingredients at home right now.

What? No spaghetti? Some people sure are strange.

The origins of Spaghetti all carbonara are unclear, although it’s usually attributed to Rome. All we know for sure is that “carbonara” comes from the Italian word for coal, “carbone.” Beyond that, some suspect this tasty plate came about because:

(1) it was prepared for coalminers;
(2) it was originally made over charcoal grills;
(3) it was invented by the Carbonari, an Italian secret society (not to be confused with the carabinieri); or
(4) the pancetta and black pepper in the dish look like little bits of coal.

That last one kinda grosses me out, and you know I’m fond of conspiracy theories and whatnot, so let’s opt for the secret society explanation for the sake of this post, umkay?

However it came about, Spaghetti alla carbonara gained popularity around World War II when Italians began to eat bacon and eggs shipped over for American troops; thereafter, soldiers returning from the war took home a delicious pasta dish along with a victory.

There are many, many different recipes out there for Spaghetti alla carbonara, but I’m giving you the one we eat in our house–no cream, no bells and whistles, a real just the facts ma’am kind of plate.

And it’s wonderful if I do say so myself.

By the way, you can certainly substitute bacon here, but if you can find some Italian-style bacon, aka, pancetta, do splurge.

It’s worth it.

Spaghetti alla carbonara

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 thick slices pancetta, diced
1 tbsp chopped parsley

3 eggs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and black pepper
1 package (500 g) spaghetti

First, put on the water to boil for the pasta.

Now put the olive oil in a medium skillet on medium heat, and then add the onions, garlic, pancetta, and almost all of the parsley, leaving some for garnishing if you like. Let this cook for about 2 to 3 minutes–just don’t let the pancetta dry out. When it’s done, stick a lid on it to keep it warm.

In a separate bowl, beat together eggs, cheese, salt, and black pepper.

Tip: to regulate salt, taste a piece of the cooked pancetta and also pay attention to how salty your cheese is. Remember you’ll be cooking your pasta in salted water, so you shouldn’t need much salt added to the egg mixture. A dash of black pepper should be plenty.

Once the water is boiling, add salt and cook the pasta until al dente and drain.

Now return the pasta to the empty but still warm pot and stir in the egg mixture, letting the heat cook the eggs. You can turn the burner on low here, but just be sure the eggs aren’t sticking. If I happen to be using an undesirable egg-cooking kind of pot, I drizzle a little olive oil on the bottom before adding the pasta and egg mixture to prevent a sticky mess.

Once the eggs are cooked, transfer the mixture into the pan with the pancetta and mix together well. If the pancetta isn’t hot enough for your liking, turn the burner on low until you’re finished combining.

Sprinkle on a little fresh parsley and serve immediately.

Note that this recipe is meant for one package of spaghetti, so if you’ll be making more pasta, adjust everything else accordingly.

Buon appetito!


[tags] spaghetti alla carbonara, carbonara, pasta recipes, pancetta, eggs, cooking, what’s cooking wednesday[/tags]

21 Beans of Wisdom to “what’s cooking wednesday: spaghetti alla carbonara”
  1. Waspgoddess

    Oh, yum! Even though I’ve just had breakfast that looks (and sounds) awesome. I’m not too keen on the creamy carbonaras you get here in the UK, but this I must try.

    I’ll let you know how it turns out.

  2. Sharon

    I love this stuff.

  3. Ambra Celeste

    Mmmm yummy. My kids ask for this stuff all the time! It is one of the first (Italian food) dishes my husband taught me to cook for him. Although… he didn’t tell me about the garlic! Yum, next time I’m making it your way.

  4. Christine

    God, love this. I do without the cream or white wine too. Just unnecessary.

  5. J.Doe

    I don’t really like Spaghetti alla Carbonara because I’m not a pancetta fan, but your history of the dish was very interesting.

  6. nyc/caribbean ragazza

    This is one of my favorite dishes to make and eat.

  7. The (Mis)Adventures of a Single City Chick

    OMG, I was practically licking the computer screen with that photo! Even at 7:30am in the morning! Yum! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll definitely be borrowing this recipe! Thanks for sharing.


  8. Shirley

    You can’t beat a good Carbonara, so quick and easy and the kids love it.My recipe is very similar though I use fresh rosemary sprig instead of parsley.

  9. stefanie

    I know I am not the norm, but still I am amused by your suggestion that we probably have all the ingredients for this at home right now. I will not bother to list all the things in the recipe that I do not have on hand. Instead I will tell you the things I actually DO have: olive oil, parmesan cheese, salt & pepper, and spaghetti. That is all. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m sure it’s tasty, though!

  10. stacy

    YU-UM! That looks so good. I love that dish and your recipe looks simple and delicious.

  11. Giulia

    How weird is this. I made this very dish last night for dinner without even having seen this entry! Maybe it’s ESP? lol
    I am eating leftovers right now as I type. I know, it’s not the best dish to eat reheated, but hey, it’s lunch.

  12. Becslifeonline

    This looks fantastic! I had carbonara a few days ago but it was one of those ready made ones in a jar and i poured it over the spaghetti – it was ok but I expect it was nothing like the real Italian thing!

  13. Bongga Mom

    Oh yummy! You inspired me, guess what my family will be having for dinner tonight… ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Bongga Mom

    OK, we’ve just had dinner and your recipe is soooo delish! My family gobbled it up. Thanks for a wonderful recipe!

  15. Giuliano

    May I give a Roman’s opinion on this recipe? Though it must be wonderful, it’s not properly a carbonara, which requires guanciale (cured pork cheek) instead of bacon, pecorino instead of parmesan, and above all no onion or garlic!

    I also aa quarter of a glass of white wine to the guanciale while it’s cooking – it helps making the sauce even creamier and (relatively) less heavy.

    I *wish* I could use bacon in this…nearly impossible to find here! I accept your Roman opinion but this is a Calabrian carbonara…and it’s delicious ๐Ÿ˜‰

  16. 04.13.2010


    This one looks delicious and I’m a fan of the dish.

    Thanks Di!

    .-= Di´s last blog ..The Latest Project … =-.

  17. 04.13.2010

    I was with Giuliano on this until he mentioned adding wine…….PHILISTINES! Parsley? Onion? Cream? Wine? Carbonara FROM A JAR (which I’m sure contains everything but any of the ingredients Michelle listed)????? Oh, lordy.

    Turning the burner on once you’ve mixed in the egg? Una vera americanata!! The creaminess comes from the fact that it barely coagulates, but is gently cooked by the heat of the pasta and bacon and the already-hot-pot.

    This dish is always polarizing – everyone has their own opinion on how it’s made correctly.

    I am surprised though that your Calabrian version doesn’t include peperoncino (the suocera Calabrese used to make it that way!!!), the one acceptable veer from the original Roman recipe……..

    Rant said, spaghetti carbonara is my favorite dish bar none. Sadly, no guanciale in the house right now….

    I know…and people think there are a million different ways to make a ragรน? Please. That’s nothing like the carbonara debate! I don’t even know if P’s mom makes carbonara, but this is what we created together many years ago…works for us! Calabrian pancetta already has a little kick to it anyway, so peperoncino isn’t really necessary in this or in (gasp) amatriciana, where (wait for it) I don’t use guanciale either. It’s just not that easy to find here without special requests–and I hardly even plan meals that much in advance.

    .-= anna l’americana´s last blog ..World Nutella Day 2010โ€ฆ. =-.

  18. Yum, my compliments.

    I’m sure your recipe is different too, Julie…isn’t Italian cooking wonderful? ๐Ÿ™‚

    .-= Julie ~ jbulie’s blog´s last blog ..Six baseball sponsorships available. *Just hollar* =-.

  19. 04.13.2010

    GASP! What do you mean you can’t find guanciale? Move north immediately!!!!!!

    I’m sure they’ll bring it in for you here, but it’s just not really in demand so it’s not always in the meat counter, you know? Anyway I don’t actually go to the butcher very often…we have a butcher that comes to the village on Tuesday mornings and the pickings are definitely slim with him. A lot of times he won’t even bring fettine!

    .-= anna l’americana´s last blog ..World Nutella Day 2010โ€ฆ. =-.

  20. Jane Gherardi

    This is my son’s favorite comfort food. He wants massive quantities after soccer practice. I use guanciale when we are in Lucca, pancetta when in the States. Never cream, never wine, never parsley; my kids would never speak to me again.

    michelle Reply:

    Haha…glad you have such smart kids ๐Ÿ˜‰

Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

Calabria Guidebook

Calabria travel guide by Michelle Fabio



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