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Carbonara can be absolutely delicicious if everthing goes perfectly; but it can also be tasteless, chewy and lumpy, if the egg is overcooked. Does anyone have what they regard as a fool proof method for preparing Carbonara?

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Isn't this a recipe request? –  user4697 May 11 '11 at 8:43
    
@Tim: The title may have suggested a recipe request but the question content was very specific in its aim. I've edited the title to clarify. –  Aaronut May 13 '11 at 13:35

5 Answers 5

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Cook the pancetta on a large pan, so that it fries in its own fat. It must turn red, but don't cook it too much as you are going to cook it a bit more later on.

Open two eggs. If you like the color of the carbonara intense, throw one white away, and keep one white and two yolks. Put them in a bowl, then add grated parmigiano and mix with a fork. The amount of parmesan should be at least the same volume of the eggs, maybe even more (twice does not hurt). This will give you a rather firm but still flowing compound. Firm is better than too liquid.

Cook the pasta. Spaghetti is the norm for carbonara, but also penne is a good choice. Get them "al dente" or some second later, as you prefer. Drain the pasta and put it in the pan you used to cook the pancetta (where the pancetta still is). Pour the egg/cheese mix on top of the pasta and put the pan on gentle heat, while you continue moving and mixing. Detach any layer of cooked egg from the bottom of the pan while you mix. The perfect carbonara must not be liquid, and it must not be clumpy solid, so keep mixing or you will get a pasta omelette.

Once you are done, turn off the heat, and take spaghetti up with a large fork, so to disentangle them while you transfer them on the dishes. move them in the dish with a small oscillating movement to disentangle a bit more. Continue like this for all the dishes you have to serve. At the end you will have the pancetta remaining in the pan, and you put it on top of each dish.

Add more grated parmigiano and some ground black pepper and eat as soon and hot as possible !

Additional notes: try to stay a bit scarce on salt in the pasta water, and do not add salt to the egg. The fact is that the pancetta is already pretty salted, and you risk to obtain a very salted final result. Carbonara should be salty, but not too salty.

I heard about modification with butter and cream, but I have never seen them used, at least in my family and circle of friends.

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Great detail! I've never made a carbonara before, but this makes me want to try. Nice tip on the salt. –  hobodave Aug 5 '10 at 20:50
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@hobodave I checked some videos on youtube. Most of them are wrong, even when made by Italians. One very important point is to "saltare" (lit. jump) the pasta on the pan while heating, and this is an operation we perform for every pasta: sauce on a pan, heat, add pasta, mix. The reason is that at the same time you mix the pasta and the sauce, complete the cooking and evaporate any excess water in the drained pasta. –  Stefano Borini Aug 6 '10 at 23:52
    
@Stefano this is definitely a great Carbonara..+1 for "eat as soon and hot as possible"! –  systempuntoout Aug 9 '10 at 13:33
    
Perfect. I also add a bit of extra virgin olive oil to the pancetta to make it fry better. –  Sklivvz Nov 13 '10 at 16:27
    
It's missing one thing! Pecorino Romano! –  devnull Mar 24 '11 at 23:26

Carbonara is a tipical roman dish and there are few things to be aware of.

First, you don't use bacon (or pancetta) you have to use "guanciale", it's similar but comes from the cheek of the pig.

Second, use pecorino, or a mixture of pecorino and parmigiano for both your beaten eggs and the final toppings.

Third: there is no cream or butter in the recipe, the creaminess comes from the eggs partially cooked by the hot pasta. If you put them, call it with another name, but stop calling it carbonara.

I like stefano's suggestions and I think rigatoni is another great substitute.

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+1 pecorino, it makes the sauce creamy –  pygabriel Aug 8 '10 at 21:30
    
+1 for guanciale :P –  systempuntoout Aug 9 '10 at 13:34
    
yep, rigatoni is also fine. It depends on the household. In mine we tend to prefer long pasta, so we are not very skilled with short options. –  Stefano Borini Aug 15 '10 at 18:00
    
+1 Pecorino romano is a must; I like a mixture of pecorino and parmigiano. –  MaD70 Oct 27 '10 at 14:45

My method has never substantially failed me in this way: take your ingredients (butter, cheese, bacon/pancetta) and add them to the bottom of your serving bowl along with beaten eggs. Drain your pasta, let it cool a little (30 seconds), add to the serving bowl, and toss. The pasta retains enough heat to cook the egg gently.

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Never substantially failed implies that you have experienced some minor fail. Have any caveats to add? –  hobodave Aug 5 '10 at 20:18
    
I haven't done this in a while so my memory is vague, but the big risk is that you can get something too liquid that might disturb people uncomfortable with uncooked egg. No major objections from me, but Stefano's method is almost certainly better. –  Dennis Aug 6 '10 at 12:57
    
This is exactly the same as I how I make Carbonara and it has never failed me either. It makes a very very tasty dinner –  Princess Fi Aug 8 '10 at 21:25
    
Ditto. fool-proof and works every time for me. –  user2215 May 12 '11 at 6:15
    
this is the canonical way to make carbonara, and it never overcooks. The only problem is that, if you make with a small amount of pasta (say, less than a half pound) there is enough heat loss that the eggs do not cook, and so you have a carbonara fail on your hand. –  Walter A. Aprile Dec 5 '11 at 23:56

I do not eat egg so at home so I make my Carbonara sauce with reduced thickened cream and grated Parmesan. Leaving out the egg eliminates all problems and I have been enjoying delicious, rich and creamy Cabonara for years.

At college I was taught that the modern Cabonara origniated in World War 2 when italian women started making it for allied soilders who's rations including little more than bacon, egg and cream.

The point I am trying to make is that although the traditional recipe calls for egg to thicken the sauce, it is a risky and unnecessary ingredient. If you absolutely have to have egg, only use the yolk and make sure that you let the liquid cool to the point that it doesn't steam before you add it or you will end up with scramble egg sauce.

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The way I do it is; Use a buttered glass, oven-safe, baking dish that's been heated, in the oven, to 350°F. Once the pasta is done drain and toss in the buttered dish, (this keeps the pasta from sticking to itself). Add the liquid ingredients and toss until thickened. The glass retains enough heat to gently 'cook' the sauce without curdling the egg.

One of the fastest dishes to make. Whilst boiling the pasta, everything else can be prepped.

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