Pasta carbonara is one of my favorite weeknight meals. It whips up in a snap — and once you’ve mastered the basic recipe, the variations are endless! I’m presenting the traditional version to you here along with three variations, but keep in mind that all of the ingredients on the “extras” list can be mixed and matched for more variety. Plus, you can feel free to experiment and add whatever else you dig out of your pantry — onions or shallots, mixed veggies, goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes, a splash of white wine, a bit of chicken…
Traditional Pasta Carbonara (+Variations)
- Large pot
- Large saute pan
For traditional pasta carbonara:
- 4 oz guanciale, pancetta, or bacon
- 1 tsp olive oil extra virgin
- 3 large eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 cups grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan Reggiano cheese and extra for serving
- 12 oz spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine
- Salt to taste
- Black pepper to taste
- Butter or olive oil as required
- 1 tbsp dijon mustard (such as Grey Poupon)
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 bag frozen peas
- 2 cups spinach
- 2 oz chorizo sausage
- 3 cloves garlic
Preparation, traditional pasta carbonara:
- Fill a large pot about 3/4 of the way with water and put it on high heat. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente as marked on the package. Do not drain the pasta!
- While waiting for the water to boil, cut the bacon into small squares about 1/2 inch on each side; heat the olive oil in a large saute pan on medium-low heat and add the bacon. Cook the bacon until the fat renders out and it begins to crisp, then turn off the heat.
- While the bacon is cooking, beat together the eggs and egg yolk; add the grated cheese and mix until combined. Add black pepper to taste.
- Once the bacon and the pasta are cooked, transfer the pasta directly from its pot into the saute pan. Mix so that the pasta is coated in bacon fat; if not all the pasta is shiny, then add butter or olive oil a teaspoon at a time until the pasta is completely coated. Turn the heat back on and cook together for 3-4 minutes or until the pasta-bacon mixture is warm and steaming, then turn off the heat.
- Add the egg-cheese mixture to the pan, stirring vigorously and tossing the pasta in the pan as you do so. If the sauce seems too thick, add pasta water from the pot a teaspoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached; if the sauce is too thin, add grated cheese. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired, and serve immediately.
Variation one — lemon and mustard carbonara:
- Prepare as you would traditional carbonara, but in the final step stir in dijon mustard (about one tablespoon, but you can add more as desired). After removing the pasta from the heat, stir in lemon juice (again, about three tablespoons, but you can add to taste). Then serve.
Variation two — carbonara with peas and spinach:
- Prepare as you would traditional carbonara, but once the bacon is cooked (and you have turned off the heat on the saute pan) add frozen peas and spinach; stir. Then continue with the preparation for traditional carbonara.
Variation three — carbonara with garlic and chorizo:
- When you cut the bacon, also cut up the chorizo; add the bacon and chorizo to the pan together. Mince the garlic. Allow the bacon and chorizo to cook most of the way, then add the garlic. Cook until the bacon and chorizo are crisp, then turn off the heat and continue with the traditional preparation.
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Have you made my traditional pasta carbonara? Let me know what you thought in the comments or if you decided to give it your own spin!