Spaghetti Carbonara for Busy People
This creamy, crowd-pleasing pasta is the perfect weeknight meal. Quick to prepare with pantry staples, the spaghetti is tossed in an eggy-cheese mixture and studded with pan-fried bacon and garlic.
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Before today’s culture of food media and writing, there were food blogs. Home cooks everywhere shared their favorite recipes along with amateur photos and robust comment sections. I was an enthusiastic member of that late-aughts phenomenon, sharing my favorite bites as a single girl in my early 20s. Spaghetti carbonara was one of the first recipes I ever wrote about. Fast forward 15 years, and that hobby has blossomed into a career. I’m still making spaghetti carbonara, this time for my family of four.
The recipe I used all those years ago called for imported guanciale, white wine, and both Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses. And it is still very good. But I’ve also made room in my repertoire for pasta recipes that cater specifically toward the time and budget constraints I am often up against today. This version of spaghetti carbonara leans on pantry staples like bacon and Parmesan cheese. It means I can have pasta carbonara on the table pretty much any night of the week. No trip to the gourmet market required. While it's a little different than what you may find in Italy, there’s no denying it is authentically delicious.
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What is spaghetti carbonara?
Spaghetti carbonara is a classic pasta dish that reportedly originated in Rome. It’s a simple, very quick dish that comes together in the time it takes to boil the pasta. Comprised of just a handful of ingredients, it’s way more than the sum of its parts. Hot pasta is tossed with fatty cured pork, and a mixture of beaten eggs, fresh parsley, and lots and lots of Parmesan cheese. The hot pasta cooks the eggs, creating the creamiest sauce, no cream needed. Black pepper, a signature Roman flavor, adds a subtle tingle that balances the creaminess. Fresh parsley helps to cut through the rich flavors. With a quick prep time and only 30 minutes of total time needed, this shortcut version is pure luxury on a weeknight.
How to make 30-Minute Spaghetti Carbonara
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. While the spaghetti boils, cook diced bacon in a little extra-virgin olive oil in a large pan until crispy. Turn off the heat, and add five thinly sliced garlic cloves — the garlic will cook in the hot bacon fat.
Cooking the bacon and garlic; photograph by Meleyna Nomura
While the bacon cooks, whisk four large eggs, grated Parmesan, and fresh parsley together in a bowl.
Just before you drain the pasta, reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. Whisk half of the reserved pasta water into the egg mixture. Toss the drained, hot pasta with the bacon, garlic, and remaining pasta cooking water in the pot off of the heat (key to avoiding scrambled eggs). Pour the egg and cheese mixture over the pasta. Toss vigorously with tongs. As the hot pasta is tossed with the sauce ingredients, the egg cooks and the cheese melts into a luxurious, creamy sauce that coats the noodles. Sprinkle freshly ground black pepper over the top. Garnish with extra grated Parmesan cheese and parsley as desired.
Adding the egg-cheese mixture to the cooked pasta; photograph by Meleyna Nomura
What is the difference between guanciale, pancetta, and bacon?
Guanciale, pancetta, and bacon are all cured pork products. They’re often used interchangeably in carbonara recipes. Salty and fatty, they all add delicious flavor to whatever you’re cooking.
Guanciale is a distinctly Italian ingredient. Made from pork jowl or cheek, it’s fattier with less meat. It’s cured with salt and often flavorings like herbs and garlic. Guanciale is more often used to add flavorful fat to dishes rather than eaten on its own. It can be harder to track down stateside — you will likely have to visit a gourmet store or Italian specialty market to find it.
Pancetta is made from pork belly. It’s also cured with salt, and sometimes with spices like fennel and coriander. It can be found sold in cubes for sauteing, or in paper-thin slices to wrap around roasts or vegetables. Pancetta can often be found in well-stocked grocery stores.
Bacon is also made from pork belly, and cured with salt and sugar. Bacon then gets smoked, often over hardwood like applewood or hickory. It’s added to dishes for flavor as often as it is eaten on its own next to a morning plate of pancakes.
How do I reheat spaghetti carbonara?
Pasta carbonara does not reheat well. It is best eaten immediately while hot and the egg-rich sauce is silky and supple.
What goes with spaghetti carbonara?
Spaghetti carbonara is a richly flavored dish. A simple, sharp salad of lemon-dressed arugula would be a great complement. Any other steamed green vegetable would go nicely with the creamy, cheesy pasta dish.
Get the recipe: 30-Minute Spaghetti Carbonara
With just a few pantry staple ingredients and 30 minutes, you can have a taste of Rome on your table with this easy spaghetti carbonara.
More Italian food dinner ideas
What other classic Italian dishes can you add to your Meal Plan? How about lasagna, tortellini, and meatballs.