Spaghetti Carbonara For Beginners

July 29, 2008 | By | COMMENTS

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I frequently have to remind myself that there was a time when any exotic-sounding, technique-heavy recipe would fill me with terror. Cook the pasta until al dente? How will I know when it’s al dente? Toast the garlic until golden brown? What’s golden brown? How’s that different from brown brown?

And by facing my fears head on, tackling recipe after recipe, the fear is gone and now I love to cook. But I remind myself of my old fears because I imagine there are many among you who experience similar fears: “Me? Make spaghetti carbonara? Oh no, I couldn’t. Me? Little old me?”

But spaghetti carbonara is a good recipe for beginners because the payoff is huge and the techniques required are basic and quickly learnable. Here, let me prove it.

To make spaghetti carbonara, you will need:

- a box of dry spaghetti (1 lb)

- pancetta or thick bacon, but preferably pancetta (if you can’t find either, regular bacon will work too)

- two raw eggs

- freshly grated parmesan (and lots of it!)

- freshly ground pepper

- four whole cloves of garlic

- white wine (Pinot Grigio works well; you can drink it with the dinner later)

- chopped parsley

1. Get a pot of water boiling. I use a dutch oven because it’s wide and holds the spaghetti neatly.

2. Cut the bacon/pancetta into cubes. (How much bacon/pancetta? A few strips of bacon—eyeball it. In a recipe like this, the more bacon the better… but don’t overdo it.)

3. Add the cubes to a non-stick skillet with some olive oil and the garlic cloves. Turn on the heat (about medium-low, not too hot) and wait for the sizzle, as it sizzles shake the pan around and cook until the garlic is golden brown (golden brown IS different from brown brown; look for hints of gold) and then remove the garlic–or, if the bacon finishes at the same time as the garlic you can keep the garlic in there. Keep cooking the bacon/pancetta until it’s crispy and it’s released lots of its fat. When you taste a cube and it’s delicious, add a glass of white wine. The wine will bubble up but then it’ll calm down and let it bubble away for a little bit until it reduces and you have a nice winey, bacony sauce. Smell it, you’ll love it.

4. Is your water boiling? Add lots of salt and then add the box of spaghetti. Stir it around a bit so it doesn’t stick.

5. Now, in a big bowl crack two eggs. Grate in a TON of Parmesan cheese–at least one cup. Grind black pepper over it all and then stir it together with a fork.

6. Your preparations are done! Now the fun part.

7. After six or seven minutes of boiling, taste a strand of spaghetti. I’m a wimp, so I use tongs to remove a strand of spaghetti, take it to the sink, run cold water over it and then taste. How is it? Undercooked? Just cooked enough? You want it to be al dente–which means to the tooth. You want to feel the bite but you don’t want it to be raw. Keep tasting and checking and you’ll know: when the spaghetti tastes like how you’d want spaghetti to taste–resilient and snappy, not spongy or wormy–add it to the bowl with the eggs and cheese and black pepper.

8. Stir, stir, stir! The heat from the spaghetti is cooking those eggs but you don’t want those eggs to scramble. So keep stirring, you fool. STIIIIIIIIIIRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!

9. Now add that winey bacon mixture and stir again.

10. Finally, and I think this touch is essential, chop some parsley and add lots of parsley to the bowl and stir one last time. Now grate more cheese on top, grind some pepper, and you are done.

Aren’t you proud? Look at this amazing dinner you just made. Pour yourself a glass of wine and go pig out in front of the TV. Or share it with your friends, your parents, your domestic partners, your children. Aren’t they proud too?

Cooking can be tiresome, cooking can be frustrating, but when there’s a reward like this–when you taste your own creation–it’s all worthwhile. So oooh and ahhh and enjoy with my blessing. Keep facing your fears and you’ll be eating like this forever and ever more.

Tags: , , ,

Categories: All-Time Greatest Hits, Pasta and Risotto, Recipes

  • Amy

    Nice and non-intimidating recipe, thank you! Though you forgot to mention straining the spaghetti before adding with the carbonara mixture.

  • Patrick R

    I’ve been making a lot of this lately. The great part is that it’s easy to adapt and use as a basis for other creations. I recently made something similar to this, but also added fresh peas and some julienned carrots. Both were perfectly tasty raw, so I added them late in the process for just a little cooking.

  • http://manoftruth.net/blog/ John L

    Do you leave in all of the bacon fat? or get rid of it?

  • Kerri

    Is there any possible way to make carbonara without the raw eggs? I like for my toddler to eat what I do, but I don’t want to off the poor thing!

  • http://thefoodmonsterblog.blogspot.com The Food Monster

    http://thefoodmonsterblog.blogspot.com

    I love your directions, especially when you ask questions, like is your water boiling? then you should do this.

    or when it isn’t even a direction like # 6.

    6. Your preparations are done! Now the fun part.

    I remember you did this in the song you made up.

    I would love to reiterate that chopped fresh herbs help immensely for a beginner chef, and it is minimal work and exponential payoff, so chop that parsley. Great recipe as always.

  • http://tastynewengland.com TastyNewEngland

    I love this dish, especially because I usually have the basic stuff around but I can take out or add in based on what’s in the cupboard. Sometimes some fresh herbs go in, sometimes it’s a different cheese, maybe some bread crumbs on top.

  • CJ

    Kerri – your toddler will never know that there is eggs in there! The eggs are fully cooked by the heat of the other ingredients, and when combined together just creates a wonderful creamy, rich sauce. BOTH my pre-schooler and toddler love pasta carbonara – it’s a great go-to-mom-of-little-kids recipe!!! :-)

  • CJ

    Kerri – your toddler will never know that there is eggs in there! The eggs are fully cooked by the heat of the other ingredients, and when combined together just creates a wonderful creamy, rich sauce. BOTH my pre-schooler and toddler love pasta carbonara – it’s a great go-to-mom-of-little-kids recipe!!! :-)

  • CJ

    Kerri – your toddler will never know that there is eggs in there! The eggs are fully cooked by the heat of the other ingredients, and when combined together just creates a wonderful creamy, rich sauce. BOTH my pre-schooler and toddler love pasta carbonara – it’s a great go-to-mom-of-little-kids recipe!!! :-)

  • Jenni Loves Adam

    Kerri – if it’s salmonella you’re worried about, boil the eggs for 10 seconds before you crack them into a bowl.

    Salmonella is usually found on the eggshell and not in the actual egg itself. (Ok, it’s in 1 out of every 10,000 eggs– slim odds.) The boiling water will kill all bacteria on the eggshell without cooking the whites and yolk.

    You can go to http://www.aeb.org for more information.

    Your little one should be fine :)

  • http://abbiebabble.blogspot.com abbiebabble

    Please excuse the drool.

    I love spaghetti carbonara. A lot.

    And it is so easy!

    If only it were also so healthy. . .

  • http://abbiebabble.blogspot.com abbiebabble

    Please excuse the drool.

    I love spaghetti carbonara. A lot.

    And it is so easy!

    If only it were also so healthy. . .

  • http://live2cook.wordpress.com Priya

    There is one more point left.

    11. Take a picture and blog about it. ;)

  • Lisa

    I love to make this with hot capicola (sp?), it’s there in the deli by the pancetta. Also, save some pasta water just in case your sauce is a little thick. It will completely smooth out the sauce and make it like velvet.

  • http://joshkramer.wordpress.com Josh Kramer

    Good job, but two notes:

    This is a Roman dish, so Pecorino Romano please. Parsley? Really?

  • http://www.lifeisafeast.com Natty

    Thank you for not using cream! You’re a good man.

  • hannah

    I guess your post really spoke to me because I went home and made a version of this last night. I added roasted asparagus in hopes of increasing the health factor by a slim margin.

    @John L – I poured off all but ~2 tablespoons of the bacon fat and was really pleased with the results.

  • http://www.onehealthylifestyle.com Pasta Lover

    Great article! I love it, and plan on making it this weekend!

  • http://epicures.wordpress.com/ Michael

    An important point is that the bacon with its rendered fat should be very hot when added. That is what cooks the eggs, not the heat from the spaghetti.

  • http://www.hamboneandspice.blogspot.com Jennifer @ Hambone and Spice

    Thanks for the reminder! It’s been far too long since I’ve had spaghetti carbonara, a favorite chez H&S, especially with my six- and eight-year-old boys.

    Kudos on the clear, conversational, easy, encouraging voice you’ve taken in this recipe. When can we expect a cookbook with more of the same?

  • Alan

    I wasn’t reading carefully and added the pasta to the bacon then the eggs on top, still came out great. Though, I did add the secret ingredient I saw Giada use on her Carbonarra that was to add some cinnamon to the bacon..it was way good.

    Your blog is great fun.

  • http://www.cookingwithamy.com Amy Sherman

    Thank you thank you thank you, Adam, for not including heavy cream in your recipe. Although I do think adding parsley is very Martha of you.

  • Martin Stein

    How to tell when the spaghetti are al-dente? I saw a documentary about a Italian spaghetti company. THey test doneness by taking a short piece and squishing it between two glass plates. Exactly when no hard parts are visible (when it is just cooked through) the pasta is done. About when the cooking time is up I take a strand out of the pot and bite/cut through it. If there is a white center visible the pasta is not done yet.

  • http://steveandangiealston.blogspot.com Alaska Teacher

    I tried this dish out today, and it was great!!! I had to make a lot of substitutions to allow for my distance from fresh cheese and meat. :( It was still lots of fun and very yummy.

  • From Afar

    Your recipe is very well done for the beginner. I beg to differ though on testing the pasta for doneness. Just freakin’ taste a strand to see if it is done you your taste! Stop already with the squishing it between two glass plates! No Italian in Italy checks pasta for doneness in this manner. No throwing against the wall. Taste it! It’s the only way!

  • http://www.familyfriendlyfood.com/ Nurit – 1 family. friendly. food.

    This is so on my to-make list for years now. I got to get to it.

  • Maika

    Easy to follow recipe butParsley ….. ???? Not sure about that on Carbonara.
    I’m Spanish but been around Italians for long time , the wine , ok maybe I can see but definitely not parsley !!!

  • http://blissnbalance.com/ Jessica

    I made this for my boyfriend last week. He loves carbonara, and I wanted to make it but had always been terrified. I mean stirring raw eggs into hot pasta? That just sounds scary! It turned out perfectly! He loved it, and I love it. It was shockingly easy to make. I have a new dinner to add to my list! Thank you!!