Spaghetti Carbonara is classic Italian comfort food. It mixes pasta noodles with a creamy sauce made from eggs and parmesan cheese. All combined with pancetta and peas for a decadent but simple pasta recipe.
Spaghetti Carbonara can be an intimidating recipe because it’s all about the timing. You want to make sure everything is prepped and ready for when the pasta is done boiling. Once you make this recipe one time you’ll see it’s actually very simple, and you’ll be making carbonara on the reg! It’s such a simple dish with simple ingredients, but what you get is a decadent bowl of creamy pasta. It really doesn’t get much better than that! Follow the step-by-step instructions below and you’ll be set up for carbonara success!
What you need to make Spaghetti Carbonara:
Let’s start with the ingredients! The success of this recipe lies in the prep work. You want to make sure to have all of your ingredients measured and ready before you drop your pasta.
- spaghetti (any noodle can work for this recipe, but I recommend a long noodle)
- olive oil
- pancetta (guanciale is traditional but its a hard product to find so I use pancetta, bacon will also work)
- parmesan cheese (this is the star of the dish so choose a good parm)
- kosher salt
- black pepper
- frozen peas
After you measure out your ingredients its time to get cooking!
How to make Spaghetti Carbonara
The first step is to being a large pot of heavily salted water to boil. Adding salt to the boiling water won’t make your pasta salty, but it will help to flavor the noodles. Most of the salt stays in the boiling water, so you want to add enough to season the pasta.
Making the Sauce
While the water comes to a boil, prepare the sauce. This is just a mixture of eggs, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.
Boiling the Pasta
Once the sauce is mixed up, set it aside and cook your pasta. To ensure everything is ready at the same time, drop your pasta into the boiling water, then begin cooking the pancetta in a separate pan.
Cooking the Pancetta
In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium low heat. Add the pancetta and smashed garlic to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta has rendered out the fat and begins to get crispy. If the pancetta finishes cooking before the pasta, just remove it from the heat until the pasta is ready.
Adding Pasta to the Pancetta
Once the pasta is al dente, remove it directly from the pot and add it to the pancetta and garlic. Some of the residual pasta water will transfer to the pancetta, that’s what we want! Carefully add all the pasta to the pancetta and stir to combine. You want all the rendered pancetta fat to coat each of the noodles, so toss the pasta for 1-2 minutes. I recommend using tongs for this task as it makes tossing the pasta much easier. This is the point where you want to make sure the heat it off. If the pan is too hot for the next step, your sauce will not cook properly.
Adding the Sauce
Once the pasta is tossed in with the pancetta and garlic, it’s time to add the sauce. This is the tricky part of the recipe but remember to keep moving. The goal of this step is to gently cook the egg and cheese mixture using the heat from the pasta. If its too hot, the eggs will scramble. So make sure to do this step off the heat. You’re going to add the sauce directly to the pan with the pasta and immediately begin stirring. I also like to add a splash of pasta water to help everything get started. You will notice as you continue to stir, a sauce begins to form.
The biggest mistake people make when cooking carbonara is not mixing the sauce enough. It doesn’t look how its supposed to right away, and they give up. This dish is a real ‘trust the process’ situation. At first it may not look right, but just keep stirring and mixing the pasta, the sauce will form. Once the sauce appears to be thick, shiny and creamy, you’ve done it! Taste the pasta and adjust for seasoning if needed.
THIS is the consistency you’re looking for! Once your pasta begins to look like this, you’re good to go! You can add more pasta water (just a splash at a time) to help the consistency of the sauce if needed. Once your carbonara has reached the right consistency, it’s time to add the peas and serve. This is a dish you want to serve immediately.
Finishing the Spaghetti Carbonara
The heat from the pasta will defrost and cook your peas so refrain from turning the heat back on at this step! You don’t want to ruin your gorgeous carbonara. All this dish needs is some fresh parsley and parmesan cheese.
Serve up your Carbonara with a simple side salad and dinner is served! See that wasn’t too hard right? Once you’ve made it, it becomes less intimidating and it’s actually a dish I love making during the week because of its simplicity!
FAQs about Spaghetti Carbonara
Bacon will work just as well in this recipe if you cannot find pancetta. It will add a slightly smoky flavor to your pasta, but will otherwise serve the same purpose. Since bacon has a higher fat content than pancetta, you will not need to add olive oil when sautéing the bacon.
If you want to change out the noodle I highly recommend a long noodle, as the shape helps to thicken the sauce.
- 1 lb Spaghetti
- ½ tablespoon Olive Oil
- 3 cloves Garlic smashed
- 6 oz Pancetta or bacon, diced
- 4 Eggs extra large
- 1 cup Parmesan Cheese grated, plus more for serving
- Kosher Salt
- ½ teaspoon Black Pepper
- 1 cup Peas frozen
- ⅓ cup Parsley roughly chopped, for serving
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil & cook pasta according to package. Make sure to heavily salt the pasta water (this won't make the pasta salty, but will help to flavor it).
- While the water comes to a boil, whisk the eggs in a medium bowl, then add the Parmesan cheese. Season with a pinch of salt & some fresh black pepper. Whisk to combine, ensuring the eggs & cheese have completely mixed.
- While the pasta boils, heat a large saute pan over medium low heat and add the olive oil, pancetta and smashed garlic.
- Cook the Pancetta over a low heat until the fat renders out & it begins to crisp.
- Once the pasta is cooked, carefully add it to the pan with the pancetta & garlic (remove the pasta from the pan & put it directly into the pan, reserving the pasta water).
- Toss the pasta in the pancetta, making sure to coat the noodles in the rendered pancetta fat that's in the bottom of the pan.
- Remove the pan from the heat & gently add the egg & cheese mixture. Stir continuously to coat the noodles in the egg & cheese mixture, ensuring the eggs do not scramble.
- After about 2-3 minutes of continuous stirring the sauce should thicken & coat the noodles. Add the peas and stir to combine.
- Tip: to thicken the sauce, add a few tablespoons of the reserved pasta water at a time until you reach your desired consistency. The water will initially thin out the sauce, but it will thicken back up as the starchy water is absorbed into the sauce.
- Serve with extra Parmesan cheese & chopped parsley for garnish.