Carbonara has always been one of my favorite Italian dishes, and ever since living in Rome, it has become one of the staples of my diet. During my first month in Italy, I learned how to make homemade Carbonara during a cooking class and now I whip this dish up almost every week. It is delicious and surprisingly easy to make.
Rigatoni alla Carbonara (4 person serving)
- 1 pound of dry rigatoni
- 1 table-spoon of olive oil
- 1/3 pound of guanciale (Italian cured jowl bacon) -substitute pancetta or American bacon if needed
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup of pecorino romano cheese (or more if you love cheese like me)
- fresh ground pepper
- hot crushed red pepper (not traditional in Italy)
Cook time: about 20 minutes
Begin by boiling a large pot of water. It’s good to start with this because cooking the pasta takes the longest time. While you wait for the water to reach a boil and for the pasta to cook, you can finish all the other prep-work. Once the water is boiling, add a few pinches of salt and dump in the pasta. I like to use mezze maniche rigate (a shorter, stout rigatoni pasta) but you can use any pasta depending on personal preference. Timing is essential for making the carbonara cook properly, but eventually you will boil until the pasta is al dente after 8-10 minutes.
Cut up the guanciale into small cubes. If you are buying the jowl-bacon fresh, make sure to cut off the rough skin. Sometimes I like to buy vacuum-sealed packs of the bacon already cubed from the butcher at the local farmers market for convenience. Heat up a skillet and add a splash of olive oil (a little under a table-spoon) — the bacon will produce enough oils on its own — but the olive oil increases the amount of unhealthy fat that is released from the meat. Cook the guanciale over medium heat until it is crispy and the fat is translucent and rendered. When finished, the guanciale should look something like this
While the meat is cooking, prepare the sauce. Timing is extremely important because the pasta needs to be ready and hot when it mixes with the sauce. The heat from the pasta cooks the sauce and if it timing is not correct it could not fully cook the raw eggs.
Separate 3 of the yolks and place just the yolks in a mixing bowl large enough to fit all of the pasta. Add 1 additional full egg (so 3 egg yolks + 1 full egg in total) and add in the cup of pecorino romano cheese and mix together until the sauce is smooth and consistent. Sprinkle in some fresh ground black pepper and some hot crushed red pepper.
Once the egg and cheese mixture is ready, drain the boiling water and quickly add the hot al dente pasta to the sauce. Save half a cup of the pasta water just in case you want to add a little more liquid to the sauce. Rapidly stir the steaming pasta evenly to cook the sauce. As the sauce thickens, add in the guanciale. Grade some fresh cheese on top, add any more of the spices if needed and then serve!