Tagliatelle alla Carbonara | Carbonara Sauce

Tagliatelle alla carbonara - Buon Appetito!

Tagliatelle alla Carbonara

Carbonara Pasta | The authentic way to make it

Tagliatelle alla carbonara - Buon Appetito!
Tagliatelle alla carbonara (made here with home-made egg tagliatelle)

I’ve said this before (see my previous Spaghetti alla Carbonara recipe), but it needs to be said again… I may be pedantic, but if you want to cook pasta with cream, mushrooms, whatever… go ahead, it’s your food, but please don’t call it carbonara!

The origins of carbonara are unclear, with stories abounding, but one thing is certain: It is a Roman dish, and as one half of my family is from Rome and I have spent much time there (I also lived in Rome for a short time as a toddler and then again when I was around 9 years old), I have had plenty of opportunities to eat authentic carbonara over the years.  The key is in the simplicity – there may be some debate, even amongst Romans, about whether you should use the whole egg or just the yolk, or a higher ratio of yolks to whole eggs, and whether or not it contains onions. But one thing that is never disputed is this: There is never any cream in carbonara, nor does it contain vegetables of any kind!

Below is my recipe, based on the carbonara I have eaten in many Roman restaurants.  It contains just 4 ingredients: Eggs, pecorino cheese, black pepper, guanciale (it can be difficult to get hold of in the UK – I order it online – so you CAN substitute pancetta, but for the best – and most authentic – taste, try to get hold of guanciale).  And as long as you follow the steps, it is incredibly quick and simple to make.

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 6 large egg yolks (to avoid waste, why not make meringue with the left-over whites?)
  • 100-120g finely-grated pecorino cheese (enough to make a very thick paste with the egg yolks – the exact amount will depend on the size of the yolks)
  • plenty of freshly-ground black pepper (to taste, but you do want to see a ‘speckled’ effect, ideally)
  • 200-250g guanciale, cut into approx. 1cm-wide, thin strips, or into chunkier matchstick-style sticks (if you really can’t get hold of any, substitute with diced pancetta – I get my guanciale online here)
  • Tagliatelle for 4 people (approx. 600g)

Method:

Place a large pan / stockpot approx. 3/4 full of water onto the hob and turn the heat on high.

While the pasta water comes to the boil, heat the guanciale on a low heat until the fat goes transparent and a little bit crispy (watch it carefully – it can very quickly go from perfect to burnt!).  Turn the heat off as soon as the guanciale is ready (you’ll need to turn it back on again just before you add the cooked pasta to the pan).

Cooked guanciale in the sauté pan
Cooked guanciale in the sauté pan

While the guanciale is cooking, separate the eggs and place the egg yolks in a large serving bowl.  Add the finely-grated pecorino cheese (the finer, the better, as this will help make the sauce lovely and creamy) and freshly-ground black pepper to the egg yolks and stir in with a fork.  Aim for a very thick consistency.

Thick mix of egg yolk, finely-grated pecorino cheese and freshly-ground black pepper
Thick mix of egg yolk, finely-grated pecorino cheese and freshly-ground black pepper

Once the water comes to the boil, add a handful of coarse sea salt.  Add the tagliatelle when the water is boiling vigorously and cook for the indicated time on the pack, but taste it a minute or so before the time’s up, to ensure you don’t over-cook it. It needs to retain a little bit of ‘bite’ – the ‘al dente‘ consistency. If you are using home-made egg tagliatelle, like I did, these will cook very quickly in no more than 2-3 minutes (depending on long before cooking you made them, i.e. how dry they are).

Just before the tagliatelle finish cooking, when the water is full of starch from the pasta, take a spoonful of water at a time, add it to the egg, pecorino and black pepper mixture and stir it in quickly so the mixture turns creamy.  Work quickly, so the pasta doesn’t over-cook while you do this step, but just add a little water at a time, until you have the desired consistency, as you don’t want to risk making it too runny or it getting clumpy from the boiling water melting the cheese and making it stringy, or scrambling the egg!

The creamy egg, pecorino and black pepper with the cooking water
The creamy egg, pecorino and black pepper with the cooking water

Once the tagliatelle are cooked, lift them out of the water with tongs or a slotted spaghetti spoon and drop them straight into the sauté pan with the guanciale – don’t worry if some of the water comes with the pasta, this will help make the delicious creamy sauce. Stir the pasta through the guanciale and its melted fat (and any cooking water that came with the pasta) for about half a minute, to make sure it’s well coated.

Tagliatelle in the sauté pan with the guanciale and its melted fat
Tagliatelle in the sauté pan with the guanciale and its melted fat

Pour the pasta and guanciale into the big serving bowl containing the egg yolks, pecorino cheese and black pepper, quickly mixing them with a serving spoon and fork to ensure the pasta is evenly coated in the creamy mixture and no ‘clumps’ form.

Serve and enjoy immediately!

Tagliatelle alla carbonara - Buon Appetito!
Tagliatelle alla carbonara – Buon Appetito!

Tagliatelle alla Carbonara – Gloriously Simple, Gloriously Good!

Cacio e Pepe pasta

Linguine Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepe (Cheese and Pepper) is a simple, yet delicious way to serve pasta.  It is a typical dish from Rome, and can be served with spaghetti, linguine, or even short pasta such as rigatoni.

On this occasion, I made Linguine Cacio e Pepe.

Linguine Cacio e Pepe

Ingredients – Linguine Cacio e Pepe for 4 people

  • 500g Linguine
  • 200g Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Generous amount of freshly-ground black pepper
  • Drop of oil and fistful of salt for the pasta cooking water

Method

Put a large pan with water, a drop of oil and a fistful of salt on the hob and bring to the boil.  I usually advocate using the largest possible stockpot style pan for pasta cooking, but this recipe works best if you have very starchy water, so use a slightly smaller (but still ample) pan / less water than you usually would for pasta.

Once the water is boiling, add the pasta, stir after a minute or so, and occasionally during cooking, to ensure it doesn’t stick together.

While the pasta is cooking, finely grate the pecorino cheese.  The key to this recipe is the cheese.  Make sure you use a good quality pecorino romano and that you grate it as finely as you can – this will enable you to create the creamy sauce.  If the cheese is too coarsely grated, it won’t go creamy and will clump instead.

Grind plenty of black pepper into the pecorino.  How much you use, will depend on taste, but you are ideally aiming for a speckled look to the cheese, and for a good peppery kick to the sauce.

Once the pasta is nearly cooked (about a minute before it’s done), take a bit of water out of the pan with a ladle and stir it into the cheese with a fork.  Add a bit at a time (half a ladle or less) and stir each time, until you achieve the desired creamy consistency.

Cacio e pepe - the creamy 'sauce' consistency
This is what you are aiming for with the pecorino, pepper and cooking water.

Once the pasta is cooked, nicely ‘al dente’, drain it and immediately stir it through the cheese.

Serve onto pasta bowls and, if you wish, add a bit more freshly-ground black pepper.

Cacio e pepe pasta.  Gloriously Simple.  Gloriously Good! 

Carbonara Sauce | Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Carbonara Sauce | The authentic way to make it

Carbonara Sauce is possibly one of the most distorted and ‘abused’ sauces worldwide.  I admit to being a pedant and quite militant with it when it comes to Italian food, but why mess with something so simple and delicious? By all means, make pasta with a sauce that includes cream, mushrooms…whatever you want to stick in it.  Go for it!  Just please don’t call it ‘carbonara’!

Authentic Carbonara Sauce only contains a few very simple ingredients: eggs, pecorino cheese, black pepper, guanciale (it can be difficult to get hold of in the UK – I order it online – so you CAN substitute pancetta, but for the best – and most authentic – taste, try to get hold of guanciale).

Note: I have updated this recipe a little – the ingredients are the same, but the method is improved, to give you the creamiest, tastiest carbonara.  You can find this, and step-by-step photos to go along with the instructions, in my Tagliatelle alla Carbonara recipe.

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 6 large egg yolks (if you don’t like waste, make meringue with the left-over whites)
  • 70-100g grated pecorino cheese (enough to make a thick paste with the egg yolks – the exact amount will depend on the size of the yolks)
  • plenty of freshly-ground black pepper (to taste, but you do want to see a ‘speckled’ effect, ideally)
  • 240g guanciale, cut into approx. 1cm strips (if you really can’t get hold of any, substitute with diced pancetta – I get my guanciale online here)
  • Spaghetti for 4 people (approx. 700g)

Method:

Place a large pan / stockpot approx. 3/4 full of water onto the hob and turn the heat on high.

While the pasta water comes to the boil, separate the eggs and place the egg yolks in a large serving bowl.  Add the grated pecorino cheese and freshly-ground black pepper to the egg yolks and stir in with a fork.  Aim for a thick consistency.

Carbonara Sauce | egg yolk and pecorino cheese
Egg yolk with pecorino and black pepper

In a frying pan, heat the guanciale on a low heat until the fat goes transparent and a little bit crispy (watch it carefully – it can very quickly go from perfect to burnt!).

Once the water comes to the boil, add a handful of coarse sea salt.  Add the spaghetti when the water is boiling vigorously and cook for the indicated time on the pack, but taste it a minute or two before the time’s up, to ensure you don’t over-cook it. It needs to retain a little bit of ‘bite’ – the ‘al dente‘ consistency.

Once the spaghetti are cooked, drain them and immediately drop them into the big serving bowl containing the egg yolks, pecorino cheese and black pepper, mixing them with a serving spoon and fork to ensure the pasta is evenly coated in the egg, pecorino & pepper mixture and no ‘clumps’ form.

Pour on the guanciale immediately and mix in.  Serve & enjoy!

Carbonara Sauce | Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Spaghetti alla Carbonara – Gloriously Simple, Gloriously Good!