Tagliatelle alla Carbonara
Carbonara Pasta | The authentic way to make it
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)
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).
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.
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!
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.
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!