Spaghetti alla Carbonara – recipe and history

best italian recipes, italian food, what to do in Rome
best italian recipes, italian food, what to do in Rome
One of the best dishes to try in Rome, Italy.
(Photo by Martin Krolikowski)

Visiting Italy. One of the most enjoyable ways to enjoy Italy like a local is through the amazing Italian cuisine, which varies from region to region and in some cases, even town to town.

When in Rome, one of the typical dishes to try is Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

Although you may also find the Carbonara sauce paired with other strand pasta such fettuccini or bucatini, one thing you will never find in this typical dish to eat in Rome is cream or peas* in their Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Nor bacon for that matter.

Italians don’t ‘do’ bacon. They cut the pork differently, eliminating the bacon. Yes, no bacon. And yet we still love Italy anyway.

So what is the traditional Carbonara recipe then?

Any Italian restaurant worth their salt will make their Carbonara with eggs, cheese and pancetta.

The history of Spaghetti alla Carbonara is said to date back to the mid-20th century. The name may derive from ‘Carbonaro’ – charcoal burner – indicating that it was a dish made for or by coalminers. It is also said that this delicious Roman recipe is a variation of a recipe called ‘cacio e uova’ (cheese and eggs) from the South of Italy to which pancetta was (very wisely!) added. What is also likely – or at least makes for an interesting story – is that this addition  came about from the local Italians coming up with ways to use up the bacon and eggs of the American Soldiers after World War II.

To make the perfect Spaghetti alla Carbonara, put a large pot of water on the boil. Grate up a good dose of pecorino cheese. You may also use a blend of pecorino and parmesan cheese. You may even  just use parmesan cheese, although the Romans may frown upon you if you do. Peel a couple of cloves of garlic, leaving them whole.

When the water is at a rolling boil, throw in a good fistful of rock salt and then the pasta. Give it a stir so the strands don’t stick to the base of the pot or clump together.

Take some chopped pancetta (we will forgive you if you use cut up bits of bacon here instead). You’ll likely not need oil to cook the pancetta as the meat will release its own lard, but we’ll leave you to judge. Cook the pancetta  in a pan with a couple of whole cloves of garlic, then set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat one egg per person you’re cooking for,  then add in the grated cheese, cooked pancetta, a good dose of freshly-grated black pepper and… our secret touch… a dash of freshly-grated nutmeg.

Once the pasta has cooked al dente, turn off the heat and drain the pasta. Then, put it back into the hot pasta pot. Pour in the Carbonara mix little by little, and stir.

You should be just coating the pasta with the sauce, not drowning it. In this way, the residual heat from the pan and pasta should create a smooth, creamy sauce without having any remaining liquid at the base of the pan. If you think it’s too liquidy, you can return the pot for a minute or two over the lowest possible heat. Make sure you keep tossing the pasta around the pot,  or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs on spaghetti!

Taste to see if you need any salt. Then, serve and – needless to say – ENJOY!

For great insight into the best places to eat in Italy, ask the locals! You can meet lots of foodie locals on our small-group Italian Food Tour in Florence!

To learn to make delicious, typical Italian recipes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.

For more ideas on Italy best travelled, see our Top Travel Tips for Trips to Italy series and be part of the Italy travel community for top travel tips.

Artviva: tours of FlorenceTuscanyRomeVeniceCinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.


* Exception to this rule is if making a vegetarian Carbonara in which peas or zucchini may be substituted for the pancetta. Otherwise you could try using a meat substitute such as seitan.


Photo by Martin Krolikowski, who knows good photos as much as he knows good food!

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