Creamy, cheesy, silky pasta flavored by a touch of bacon, or maybe more traditionally, Pancetta. Utterly simple, a handful of ingredients, most of which you probably have on hand, and only a few quick minutes to make? That’s Pasta Carbonara.
Pasta Carbonara is a dish that I think should be in every cook’s repertoire, from young to old and especially in the repertoire of every cook who’s looking for a quick, budget dish to get on the table. Since it’s made from ingredients you may already have in your pantry and fridge, it’s a great toss together dish when cupboards are bare or you’ just need a simple fall back. I’m sure many times this dish has been made after the bars have closed!
About Pasta Carbonara:
I hadn’t given any thought to Pasta Carbonara for years until I was visiting my daughter, Jess, after a new baby. Boy does that get busy! We were tied up doing something and Jess called directions for the Carbonara out to my son in law from the other room. And he was cooking and juggling a toddler. That alone proves just how easy Pasta Carbonara is to pull off!
In Italy, Pasta Carbonara has a long and somewhat shaded history, and there are conflicting theories as to how Carbonara came about and much debate about what actually goes into a Carbonara. You’ll probably find Italian versions made with some type of lovely cured pork, Pancetta or Guanciale.
In the United States, these days you can do the same but it’s far more likely you’ll find Carbonara made bacon. As far as cheese, Pecorino, Romano or Parmesan are all lovely choices. It really depends on your budget and availability – I’ve used them all at one time or another & like my Carbonara with Romano; less expensive than Parmesan, more available than Pecorino. Pair Pasta Carbonara with a green side of some sort for a lovely meal. I think it goes very well with this Oven Roasted Broccoli.
Making Pasta Carbonara:
The key to making a great Pasta Carbonara is to pay attention and follow the few simple directions pretty precisely if you’re a first-timer. It’s super easy but can wrong in so many ways, and if it does, you’ll be left with something less than satisfactory. After you make it once, it’s just a no brainer and you’ll be able to toss it off anytime. You might even start showing off and start plucking the hot pasta out of the water with the tongs, allowing it to drip just the right amount and then going straight into the skillet with it.
As you boil the pasta, only to al dente, at the same time, in a large skillet cook the bacon, then remove the bacon once it’s finished. Drain out the bacon drippings, leaving a little behind then add a touch of olive oil and get the garlic going. At that point, remove the pan from the heat and let the pan cool down a bit. The egg gets mixed with the cheese and is then added to the cooled skillet and all combined.
When the pasta is done, drain it, but reserve a little water and add the pasta to the skillet. Immediately toss quickly (or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs) and this is best done with tongs, just to coat the pasta with the egg/cheese mixture It should look creamy and not dry and all the spaghetti should have the sauce clinging to it. Add a touch of the reserved liquid if the pasta looks dry. Don’t overwork the pasta or you’ll end up with a starchy mess. And don’t forget to add the bacon back and use lots of cracked black pepper, a few shavings of cheese and the parsley.
Saving Money on Pasta Carbonara:
Pasta is always a competitive item at the store goes on sale often. Since it’s a common pantry staple, always pick it up at a low. Anytime I bring a product containing flour, including pasta, I put it in my freezer for three days or the fridge for 30 days. That eliminates the possibility of any peskies invading my cupboards..
As far as the olive oil – Here is the time to break out the good stuff, the Extra Virgin if you have it. I find if I buy in small bottles and use the $1.00 off coupons, I pay the lowest price. If I don’t have coupons, I’d buy larger bottles; every now and then you can get big cans at the big box store – I’ve divided these up with another family before. Both Costco and Aldi have pretty decent prices on olive oil in more standard-sized bottles.
There’s no reason ever, that I can think of to buy bacon when it’s not on sale; it goes on sale so often, particularly around holidays. Buy it at a low and chuck it in the freezer; it takes very little room. Eggs often go on sale around holidays, too, but depending on how many you use, it might not be feasible to stock up. I do try to pick up several cartons when they’re at a low. Eggs keep about six weeks after the “buy” date so as long as you have room in the fridge, pick them cheaply. If you’d like to see other items to stock up on and what to leave behind during holiday grocery sales, check out my post, Win at the Grocers.
A wedge of cheese is the way to go here, rather than the stuff from a can, unless you’re in a real pinch. I mentioned Romano; it’s usually a little cheaper than Parmesan and packs a flavor punch. Watch for sales, buy one, get one free or half off, and check for coupons. Generally, you can apply a coupon to each of the packages. The buyer’s clubs and Aldi usually have great prices. As usual, avoid any cheese pre-grated in packages and you’ll pay a lot less when compared by the pound.Print
Creamy, dreamy, and minutes to make. It’s likely you have everything on hand!
- Total Time: 25 minutes
- Yield: 4 - 6 servings 1x
- Category: Pasta
- Cuisine: Italian
- 1 pound dry spaghetti, cooked as directed below (save a cup of pasta water in case it’s needed for the sauce.)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 ounces (slices) bacon, cut into small pieces (may use Pancetta)
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup freshly grated Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Pecorina, plus more for serving
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, for garnish
- a few shavings of cheese for garnish
Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready when the sauce is finished; it is very important that the pasta is hot when adding the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs in the sauce.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm (as they say in Italian “al dente.”) Drain the pasta well, reserving 1 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce if you need to add moisture.
Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large, deep-pan, large enough to hold your pasta after you’ve cooked it until fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Remove bacon, drain any excess dripping, leaving about two tablespoons. Add olive oil and toss in the garlic and saute to soften.
Turn off the heat and let the pan cool. In a small bowl beat the two eggs and stir in the Romano or Parmesan. Add to the cooled pan and whisk to combine. Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss. Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches desired consistency.
Season the carbonara with several turns of freshly ground black pepper and taste for salt. Mound the spaghetti carbonara into warm serving bowls and garnish with chopped parsley, shavings of cheese and the reserved bacon. Pass more cheese around the table.
Nutrition: Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 532 Calories; 22g Fat (37.3% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 106mg Cholesterol; 560mg Sodium. Exchanges: 4 Grain(Starch); 2 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 3 Fat.
Keywords: Bacon, Bargain Meal of the Week, Eggs, Heritage Recipe, parmesan, Pasta, romano, cheese