Posted by: lisetta | April 23, 2009

La Carbonara

Haven’t been writing lately, but have been experimenting: with carbonara. It all began when Jack asked for the recipe a few weeks back. He had recently declared his pasta snobbery; how could I not provide the “right” answer on how to make the “perfect” carbonara? Like just about everything else, though, what’s ‘right’ is defined in shades of grey. 

My memory of the dish was simple: fry up some pancetta, cook the pasta and toss it in the cooking pan with the pancetta, transfer to a bowl, beat an egg or two with some grated pecorino and black pepper, and pour it over some spaghetti, mixing quickly so that the egg can cook a bit over the heat of the pasta. Was that really all it was?

Decided to seek ‘expert’ opinion from some impressive folks who’ve gotten paid to write about la pasta carbonara: Biba Caggiano, Giuliano Bugialli, Hazan – Marcella e Giuliano, Lidia Bastianich, Mario Batali,  Ada Boni, Mondadori Editore, LaCucina Italiana, La Nonna in Cucina, Pellegrino Artusi! Even consulted Giada De Laurtentiis, for Pete’s sake. While their recipes came replete with reasoning, my search gave me nothing but more questions:

  • Is it better with pasta lunga (spaghetti or bucatini) or pasta corta (rigatoni)?
  • Is it better with onion or without? With garlic or without? (Empirical testing of the garlic option was off the table, of course.)
  • Is it better with or without olive oil? (Ridiculous question posed only in a fruitless effort to cut calories.)
  • Is it better with grated pecorino or parmigiano?
  • Lots of pepper I get, but is it better with or without pepperoncino?
  • If pancetta is not easily available, is it edible with smoked bacon? Where the heck would I ever find guanciale – translated as hog jowls?

Carlo, Luca, Gian Luca and Giuseppe all had different stories to tell. eGullet Forums even had a thread about it; Wikibooks too. Seems everyone, myself now included, can spin a tale about this dish.

Test One: I cooked it at my home using penne rigate, smoked bacon, sweet onion and parmigiano. Mediocre at best. Two eggs was too much for the amount of pasta I cooked. 

Test Two: Cooked it with Jack and Kate, with a shapely handmade pasta Molisana, pancetta from Parma Sausage Co, no onion, and a pecorino/romano blend. Delicious pancetta and great company.

Test Three: Cooked it home again with perciatelli (bucatini), one egg this time, mediocre imported pancetta from Carlino’s, a wee bit of onion and parmigiano. nothing special, but hit the spot after a tough workout. 


My dinner bowl.

My dinner bowl.

The winner? The Test Two pasta with Jack and Kate, of course. Eating with friends always tastes better. Why even bother with all this hypothesizing and empirical testing? Here are some pics:

It began here, with Jack cubing the pancetta.

It began here, with Jack cubing the pancetta.


Continued with moments of love...

Continued with moments of love...


And landed on our plates.

And landed on our plates.

In the end, does it even matter which method you choose? While eating tonight, I couldn’t help but think that I’d really like the dish with peas …



  1. Lisa,

    I’ve always been partial to the recipe in Giuliano Hazan’s book, “The Classic Pasta Cookbook.” I’ve made it from this recipe several times and it’s always quite satisfying. I like the use of wine and the LACK OF CREAM. Giuliano comments on this. If you want cream in your carbonara, feel free to visit the Olive Garden. But you won’t see me there.

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