Spaghetti Carbonara or The Importance of Fresh Stuff

fixings for carbonaraTo date, this is the most mediocre dish I have cooked.  Ever.  Not horrible, not spectacular.  Just good.  Different.  In my research, I learned that spaghetti carbonara  was named for Italian ‘charcoal makers’ or coal miners, perhaps for the way it was cooked in the mines or how the ingredients were readily available in most household pantries.  I have read several versions but the stories are pretty similar.  

While watching Anthony Bourdain in Rome the other night, his buddy emphasized that the key to Italian cooking is in the ingredients.  They should always be as fresh as possible and the fresher and higher quality the ingredients are, the fewer of them you will need.  This brings me to the pancetta.  We had all of the other ingredients but found ourselves at the local grocer’s to gather that one key component, rather than the local butcher shop.  What we purchased was a vacuum-sealed package of the stuff that had to air out for a few minutes, once opened, for me to be able to even get near it.  Vacuum-packed food is often like that, but it still smelled ‘off’ to me.  Not having cooked with pancetta very often, I couldn’t tell if it was just the way it was or if we didn’t get the best stuff available.  The proof was in the puddin’. 

The spaghetti tasted good and even Mr. Cheese said, it kind of ‘grows on you’.  spaghetti carbonaraHe found himself seeking out the crunchy bits of pancetta, though I was not a fan.  The meat had an almost gamey taste to it and I’m sure pancetta isn’t supposed to taste like that.  I did clear my plate but this is part of the italian Clean Your Plate Syndrome, whether you like what’s on it or not.  Cooking this left me feeling a bit uninspired and was a good reminder to me to stick with the freshest ingredients available, or don’t bother.  

I literally read through two ginormous italian cookbooks for some inspiration (both of which spoke of the origins of italian cooking and neither of which mention carbonara) and read through numerous websites and bloggies before choosing a recipe to experiment with, try on for size and tweak, twist or trash altogether.  Fellow blogger Bellalimento’s recipe was helpful, as was Antonio Carluccio’s and italianchef’s.  Thank you, Team!  

Spaghetti Carbonara 

  • ½ lb. spaghetti
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 lb. pancetta, chopped
  • 1/3 cup onion, fine dice
  • 2 Tablespoons garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup sherry or white cooking wine
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 oz. pecorino romano cheese, grated
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
  • Salt & pepper to taste 

How to Make It! 

Fill a large sauce pot about halfway with water, add salt and a touch of olive oil and heat over medium high until boiling.  Once boiling, add the spaghetti and cook for about 10 minutes or until al dente.   

While the spaghetti is cooking, add butter and oil to a large frying pan and heat over medium high heat, to melt.  Add the onion and pancetta and let cook for about 5-10 minutes until the onion is slightly translucent and the pancetta is almost crispy.  pancetta & onionAdd the garlic and let cook another couple of minutes, then add the wine.  Lower the heat to medium and let cook until the wine reduces by about half, stirring on occasion, then remove from heat and set aside.   

In a small bowl, mix together the eggs, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper and set aside.  When the spaghetti is done, set aside a cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta.  Put the pancetta back on medium high heat and let warm up.  Once warmed, add the pasta to the pan a bit at a time with tongs, turning to coat with the oil and butter.  Stir in the egg and cheese mixture but be careful not to let the eggs cook or scramble.  To avoid the pasta from becoming dry, you can add a bit of the reserved cooking water.  (yeah, so mine scrambled a tiny bit….ack!!)  Once the spaghetti is well coated with the egg and cheese mixture and heated through, you are ready to plate.  Sprinkle with extra cheese, if desired.  Serves 4. 


About tossingtheswissaround

I have been obsessed with food since I can remember. I grew up watching the Frugal Gourmet and Julia Childs in black and white repeats on TV. I made an elementary version of veal parmesan when I was all of 8 years old and even concocted a homemade version of vomit to drizzle along the hallway and oh-so-carefully in the bathroom so I could get of school whenever I wanted. Dad never caught on but I eventually came clean about that vomit recipe. About two years ago. My skills have greatly improved and my obsession has only deepened as the years go by. In the mornings, I ask my co-workers what’s for lunch, what they ate last night and what is on the menu tonight. I groan when I eat almost anything I like because I can barely contain my excitement. Because, well, because it’s food! I was technically trained and once worked as a formal chef but physically that takes its toll so I joined the much less strenuous, albeit entertaining, world of HR. Food is still at the forefront of my mind as I continue to cook and love all things food. Enjoy!
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5 Responses to Spaghetti Carbonara or The Importance of Fresh Stuff

  1. omgyummy says:

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. What a fun blog you have. I have to say I’ve had the same experience with Carbonara. When it’s made well, it’s oh so delicious but I can’t seem to make it well. I tried Tyler Florence’s recipes, which usually work great and still had mediocre results but here it is in case you’re interested:

    • Ya, thanks omgyummy! I will so try that recipe. I was seriously disappointed because I’ve always heard of how delicious and rich carbonara is, and man, what a let down. I’ll let you know how the other recipe turns out. 😉

  2. Creaminess? It depends on the kind of carbonara! Americanized carbonara uses a lot of cream and butter, and also tends to include peas, “authentic” carbonara relies entirely on the egg, and is very minimal on ingredients. I’m not sure about the addition of onion and white wine, though the rest of your recipe looks about right.

    The Tyler Florence recipe looks closer to the recipe I use– a link to that.

    Because it is so minimal, you want to get very good ingredients. I think you are right, and that the problem was the pancetta. If good pancetta is not available, maybe you should try an Americanized carbonara, with some good bacon and cream and peas and so on. Sometimes there’s a good reason that an “inauthentic” version is more prevalent than the “authentic”– certain ingredients just aren’t readily available.

    P.S., I love the blog.

  3. Caspar says:


    This story is a bit disappointing, especially since spaghetti carbonara is one of my favorite recipes. So brilliantly simple and yet so tasty!

    There are many styles of making it, I really like this simple recipe which I got from a Dutch woman who lives in Italy, a long time ago. For one person you need (roughly):

    – Spaghetti
    – One small egg
    – 50g of bacon (maybe pancetta, but I always use whatever I can find. As long as it is not smoked or salted)
    – 50g of grated parmesan cheese
    – a small clove of garlic
    – optionally a bit of chilli pepper

    Cook the spaghetti al dente. In the mean time, cook the bacon with the garlic (either chopped or just as half cloves) and pepper on low heat. The point here is that the bacon should be cooked, but stay soft. The garlic should also not get brown. Mix the egg with the cheese and stir to break the yolk.
    Drain the spaghetti, but do not rinse it and put it back into the pan. Immediately add the egg/cheese, and stir well. Add the bacon, stir again, and serve immediately.

    If all goes well, the egg sets by the heat of the pasta, and binds with the cheese and remaining water to a smooth consistency. If everything is too hot, you may get little chunks of egg, which is supposed to be bad. But, I must say I still like the taste then.

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