With a bowl full of noodles, you just can’t go wrong. However, we’d like to think you can do better.
Imagine that same bowl full of noodles but with a cheesy, smokey, peppery sauce. Now you’ve gone from the basics to the Italian classic called Carbonara — Carbonara with Pancetta to be exact.
The beauty of Carbonara is its simplicity. But, as with anything that’s both simple and unbelievably delicious, the quality of the ingredients is a must. Not to get all chef-y, but those quality ingredients are how you elevate this dish special from mere noodles with sauce to a sauce you crave and a recipe you’ll want to make over and over.
Another saucy secret about this pasta Carbonara recipe is that it has just enough sauce to coat each and every noodle — which means you won’t find a pool of it at the bottom of your bowl when you’re done.
The History Behind Carbonara
The history of Carbonara takes us on a culinary journey to Italy. Even though Italy may seem like a smaller country when you look at it on a map, when it comes to cuisine, it couldn’t be bigger or more diverse. Napoli is known for pizza, Tuscany is all about bread and Veneto lays claim on Tiramisu.
So where does Carbonara fit in? The answer is Rome.
Usually when we think of Rome, we think of the Colosseum, catacombs and ornate cathedrals. Now you can add this fabulous bowl of noodles to the list.
Carbonara was not known before the second World War and it didn’t start showing up in cookbooks until the 1940s and 1950s, according to Wikipedia. But even though it’s considered a Roman dish, it became popular at a time when many Italians were eating eggs and bacon supplied by United States troops. Combine our eggs and bacon with the Italians way with pasta and you have a dish that’s the result of divine teamwork.
Here’s how the ingredients in our Carbonara with Pancetta recipe break down:
Noodles: We chose to use the classic spaghetti noodle which you can easily find at any grocery store. However, If you want to get creative, go for it! Fettuccine would be a nice alternative, but as you noodle on it (sorry! we couldn’t help ourselves!), just make sure to pick a past that can hold up to stirring and saucing. For example, angel hair is a no-go because it’s too delicate and will clump and break as you stir and sauce.
Eggs: Eggs are the the silent partner in this amazing sauce. In fact, without the eggs (and especially the egg yolks) there would be no sauce at all. Eggs are what make the sauce thicken and adhere to the noodles so nicely. At Utopihen, we know the value of great eggs. No surprise there, right? After all, eggs are our passion and that’s why we love to share our eggs and all the pasture raised egg facts we can every chance we get. As a pasture raised egg fan yourself (or someone about to be!) the perfect egg depends on the health and happiness of the hen. Which simply means when use Utopihen’s pasture raised eggs in a recipe, you and your family are not only getting high-quality protein, but also more nutrients like omega-3s than you’ll find in eggs laid by hens that are not pasture raised.
Parmigiano-Reggiano: There’s not much as wonderful as a quality Parmigiano-Reggiano. Slightly salty and oh-so creamy as it melts. This cheese is at its best when it’s bought in a small wedge or brick. In other words, don’t buy it already grated. Instead, grate it yourself with a fine grater. Grating at home will make certain your Parmigiano-Reggiano is fresh as possible, and this translates into a creamier sauce.
Pepper: Okay. We get it. Pepper is not as glamorous as the star-player ingredients above. But pepper is what will give your sauce the “pop” it needs. In fact, many dishes that have the type of mellow creaminess that Carbonara does, need that pepper.
Pancetta: If pepper is the pop, then Pancetta is the one-two punch! Pancetta is Italian bacon at its finest. Most importantly, Pancetta is the smokey, salty, finishing touch that brings this Carbonara together.
Tips for Making the Perfect Spaghetti Carbonara:
Getting Prepared: This may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure to read the instructions through at least two times before you start. This recipe has a lot of steps that happen quickly — one right after another, especially near the end. So it’s best to be prepared ahead of time, and going through the recipe instructions a couple of times will get you 100% Carbonara-making ready!
The Right Cookware: You will need a pan to sauté the Pancetta. A large pan to cook your spaghetti. A dutch oven or other heavy-bottom pan for bringing it all together. Plus, a heatproof liquid measuring cup for your pasta water.
Reserve Some of Your Pasta Water: Don’t forget the step that instructs you to reserve some of the pasta water for later. Why? Pasta water has starch in it and will act as a mild thickener. In fact, it will be the magic of pasta water that ultimately brings your sauce together.
Protect Your Cheese: If you grate your Parmigiano-Reggiano ahead of time, put it in a container with a tight lid until you need it. You want to ensure it doesn’t dry out because dry Parmigiano-Reggiano does not melt as smoothly.
Stay Away from Sticky: Once your pasta is cooked, drain it quickly and do not let it sit too long in the strainer. The longer pasta sits in a strainer, the more it will start to stick together. You may be tempted to add oil to your water to avoid this, but don’t. The oil will coat the noodles which will then prevent the sauce from coating the noodles and (if you remember what we said at the start of this recipe) perfectly coated noodles is one of the things that makes this dish so scrumptious.
Think Comfort Food: Whether you’re making this recipe for family dinner night, date night or for yourself (perhaps while sitting on your couch watching a favorite movie), Carbonara with Pancetta is just plain comforting. Elevated for certain, but comforting.
Carbonara with Pancetta
- 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 4 Chicken Egg Yolks, at room temperature
- 2 Whole Chicken Eggs, at room temperature
- 3 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
- 1/2 tsp Black Pepper
- 4 oz Pancetta
- 2 tbsp Salt (for your pasta water)
- 1 lb Spaghetti (one box)
- More Finely Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Parsely, finely chopped
- You will need a dutch oven (or a pan with a heavy-bottom), place the oil in it and set it aside. Note: This will not be the same pan you will cook your spaghetti in.
- Whisk the egg yolks, whole eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano and pepper together. Make certain that your eggs are whisked completely.
- Sauté the pancetta until cooked and until the fat has rendered out. Set aside to cool slightly. Remove 3 tbsp of the rendered fat and place into a dutch oven or heavy-bottom pan.
- In a separate pot, bring 6 qts of water to boil, add salt.
- Once the water is boiling add your pasta and cook 2 minutes less than the instructions on the box call say. Just as the pasta is finished cooking, scoop out 1 3/4 cups of the pasta water with a heatproof measuring cup.
- Add 1 cup of the pasta liquid to the dutch oven or heavy-bottom pan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
- Drain your pasta in a strainer and pour it into the dutch oven or heavy-bottom pan.
- Cook the pasta quickly and keep it moving, stirring constantly. You do not want the pasta to stick to the bottom of the pan. Pasta should be al dente and the water should reduce by half. Take the dutch oven or heavy-bottom pot off of the heat.
- Go to your egg mixture and whisk in 1/2 cup of hot water into your egg mixture.
- Stream this egg mixture into the dutch oven or heavy-bottom pot and stir constantly so the egg mixture gets evenly distributed. The cheese should melt and the egg mixture will thicken, formiing a sauce that adheres to the spaghetti.
- If you find you need to thin your sauce, add the remaining pasta water 1 tbsp at a time.
- Fold in your pancetta.
- Scoop into bowls. We find tongs work well for doing this.
- Sprinkle with extra Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley and salt andpepper to taste.