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There are four main Roman pasta dishes -Carbonara, Cacio e Pepe, Gricia, and Amatriciana and carbonara is our favorite. Our favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant has a delicious Spaghetti Carbonara that is made with onions, eggs, bacon, & Parmigiano cheese in a white cream sauce. The owners are from Italy and they have definitely “Americanized” this pasta dish but it’s still delicious. Our recipe is for authentic pasta carbonara and is made using traditional ingredients. It is the perfect go-to 30-minute dish for a busy weeknight.
Key Ingredients and Substitutions
Carbonara contains 5 ingredients…that’s it. There are plenty of pasta carbonara recipes that include garlic, parsley, onion, cream, milk, peas (or some other veg) but the original version of carbonara doesn’t so keep it simple.
The complete ingredient list and measurements are listed in the printable recipe below.
- Guanciale: This Italian cured pork is made from the jowl (or cheeks) of a pig. Guanciale is used to make authentic carbonara but you can substitute pancetta which is a cured pork made from pork belly.
- Pasta: We use bucatini for this recipe since it is slightly thicker than spaghetti and has a hole in the center which means the sauce coats both the inside and outside of the pasta. You can use any short or long pasta for this but make sure you buy bronze-cut pasta. It is made with a special die that has more friction, producing a rougher surface on the pasta causing the sauce to cling better.
- Cheese: Traditional Pasta Carbonara is made with grated Pecorino Romano, which is made from sheep’s milk, in contrast, Parmigiano Reggiano is made from cow’s milk and has a milder, nutter flavor. For our recipe, we used a freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Pre-grated parmesan cheese contains preservatives such as potato starch to prevent clumping so it doesn’t melt as evenly. Whatever cheese you decide on it’s best to grate it yourself.
How to Make Pasta Carbonara with Guanciale
Here are the quick step-by-step instructions with visuals; you can find the full instructions with the exact ingredients in the recipe card below.
Pro-tip: Use the side with the finest holes on your cheese grater since larger pieces of cheese are likely to clump.
1. Cook Pasta: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat bring water to a boil and add salt. Once the water has come to a boil add the pasta and cook until it is al dente according to the package directions. When draining the pasta reserve one cup of pasta cooking water. Fry the guanciale and prepare the egg-cheese mixture while the pasta is cooking.
2. Cook the Guanciale: Cube the guanciale into small cubes about 1/4-1/2-inch sizes. While the pasta is cooking heat a medium skillet over medium heat and cook the cubed guanciale occasionally stirring to get even cooking. The guanciale should cook until it is crispy and its fat has been rendered then turn off the heat.
3. Prepare the Egg and Cheese: In a medium-sized bowl whisk together one whole egg, one egg yolk, the grated Parmegiano Reggiano, and freshly ground black pepper until a creamy sauce has formed then set it aside.
4. Prepare the Pasta Carbonara: Once the pasta has cooked to al dente, reheat the guanciale over medium-high heat and add the drained pasta to the pan. Toss the guanciale and pasta in the rendered fat to get the pasta well seasoned then turn off the heat. With the heat off add the egg and cheese mixture and stir. The texture should be creamy and not runny. Add the reserved pasta water a tablespoon at a time if needed for creaminess. If the carbonara is too runny stir in some grated Parmegiano Reggiano.
5. Serve: Carbonara should be served immediately with additional grated cheese, pepper, and any guanciale remaining in the skillet along with a simple salad.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Make-Ahead: Carbonara is such a quick and easy dish that there is no reason to make it ahead of time. Plus it just tastes better fresh. However, the pasta can be cooked ahead of time. Cook the pasta just to al dente, remove it from the pot (don’t forget to save some pasta water), and toss it with a little olive oil. Once the pasta has cooled, place it in a ziplock bag and store it in the refrigerator. When you are ready to make the carbonara bring a pot of water to boil then add the pasta to the water for about 30 seconds to warm it back up. Be careful not to allow it to sit too long in the hot water or the pasta will get mushy.
How to Store: Pasta carbonara is best enjoyed immediately after being cooked. But if there are leftovers, they can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
How to Reheat: Leftover carbonara can be reheated on the stove over low heat. Add little butter or olive oil to the pan and then once it is hot add the carbonara and cook for about 5 minutes or until warm. Be sure to stir constantly to redistribute the sauce.
Recipe Tips and Notes
- If you have runny carbonara sauce stir in more grated Parmegiano Reggiano to help make it creamy.
- If your carbonara is not creamy stir in some reserved pasta water a tablespoon at a time.
- Let the eggs come to room temperature before starting the carbonara.
- Do not rinse the pasta. The starch helps with the consistency of the sauce.
- Remove the pasta and guanciale from the heat before adding the eggs and then mix well. Avoid letting the egg mixture sit on the bottom of the pan for too long or you will get pasta and scrambled eggs.
- The thick “skin” layer of the guanciale is tough, so trim it off before chopping it.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you can’t find guanciale, pancetta or even bacon can be used as a substitute. Both pancetta and bacon are saltier than guanciale so be careful adding too much salt to the pasta water or to the final dish.
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Pasta Carbonara with Guanciale
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- 2-3 ounces guanciale, cut into ⅓ inch cubes
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 1 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 0.5 ounces Parmegiano Reggiano, finely grated
- 6 ounces bucatini
- black pepper, freshly cracked
- Bring a large saucepan of salt water to boil (about 1 teaspoon of salt) over medium-high heat. Once the water has come to a boil add the pasta and cook according to the package directions until it is al dente. Drain pasta reserving one cup of pasta water.
- Prepare the egg and cheese mixture and cook the guanciale while the pasta is cooking.
- In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the egg, egg yolk, grated Parmegiano Reggiano, and black pepper until a creamy sauce has formed. Set it aside.
- In a large skillet over medium heat cook the cubed guanciale. Stir occasionally to get even cooking. Guanciale should cook until it is crispy and its fat has been rendered then turn off the heat.
- Once the pasta has been cooked and drained, reheat the guanciale over medium-high heat and add the drained pasta to the pan. Toss the guanciale and pasta in the rendered fat to get the pasta well seasoned then turn off the heat.
- With the heat off add the egg and cheese mixture and stir. The texture should be creamy but you can add the reserved pasta water a tablespoon at a time if needed for creaminess.
- Serve immediately with additional grated cheese, pepper, and any guanciale remaining in the skillet.