If you’re craving a satisfying pasta dinner, look no further. Spaghetti Carbonara is an easy and quick way to make an impressive-looking classic Italian dish.
If you’ve had traditional carbonara you probably are already in love with this creamy pasta. There’s no heavy cream just a wonderful smooth sauce with soul-warming flavors.
It’s a delicious recipe for busy weeknights and for entertaining. It makes a meal feel special.
Our step by step instructions will make it easy your first time and every time after!
What is Spaghetti Carbonara?
Also called spaghetti alla carbonara, this Italian pasta dish originates in Rome Italy. Pasta carbonara is made with simple ingredients available at any grocery store: whole eggs, Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese (hard cheese), cured pork and black pepper.
It has a creamy sauce made rich from the egg yolks and Parmesan but has no cream.
Some of the pasta cooking water is used to thin the sauce and the starch in the water helps give the silky sauce a smooth and nice consistency.
It uses raw eggs but the residual heat from the freshly cooked pasta cooks them while making the carbonara sauce.
Recipe Ingredients + Notes
Spaghetti pasta. Traditional wheat pasta or gluten-free spaghetti pasta both work great. You’ll need one pound spaghetti (16 ounces).
Eggs. You’ll use three large eggs at room temperature. These are stirred into the hot pasta at the end. The heat will cook them and make the sauce creamy.
Parmesan cheese. Use freshly grated parmesan cheese or finely shredded. Do not use the dry parmesan in the shaker container. Pecorino-Romano cheese can also be used or mix the two.
Pancetta or bacon. Traditional Spaghetti Carbonara uses pancetta. Both pancetta and regular bacon are cured pork belly products, bacon is also smoked.
Pancetta comes in thin slices (or cubed, but use slices). Either can be used for this recipe. We’ve shown the process with bacon in the photos below.
Garlic. Two cloves garlic, diced.
Salt and pepper. These are used to season the dish. We recommend kosher salt which is a less salty tasting salt. Freshly ground black pepper always has the best flavor.
Italian Parsley. Minced for an optional garnish.
How to make Spaghetti Carbonara – Step-by-Step
STEP 1. Make the pasta
Cook pasta in a large pot of water according to the package instructions. Cook until it is ‘al dente’ meaning it’s cooked but still firm to the bite.
It will continue to cook as part of making the carbonara sauce.
STEP 2. Prepare the egg mixture
In a small bowl whisk together the eggs and 1 cup parmesan cheese (photos 1-2).
STEP 3. Cook the bacon
While the spaghetti cooks, cook the bacon or pancetta. In a large skillet or large sauté pan over medium heat cook the bacon or pancetta until it’s browned (almost crispy for regular bacon but not fully crisp)(photo3).
Drain the fat reserving 1-2 tablespoons of fat in the pan.
Remove the bacon (or pancetta), drain on a paper towel and chop (photo 4).
STEP 4. Finishing the spaghetti
When the spaghetti is done cooking DO NOT RINSE. Scoop out one cup of the pasta cooking water (using a liquid measure cup works great because it will be slowly poured into the sauce).
Drain the spaghetti after removing the reserved cup of pasta water has been removed.
STEP 4. Making the carbonara
Add the garlic to the skillet with the bacon grease. Cook until fragrant; 30-60 seconds usually (photo 5).
Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the cooked spaghetti noodles and chopped bacon to the skillet (photos 6-8).
Pour in the egg-cheese mixture (photo 9). QUICKLY stir or toss the mixture to coat the pasta (photo 10).
Add splashes of the pasta cooking water as needed to until the sauce reaches the desired consistency (photo 11).
Serve garnished with the remaining 1/4 cup of grated cheese and chopped parsley (photo 12).
Have everything near the stove top. At the step when the pasta and other components are added to the skillet it’s a fast couple minutes. Have everything near the stovetop for quick access.
Move quickly when making the sauce. This recipe is not difficult but it’s important to move quickly when making the sauce so the eggs do not scramble with the heat of the cooked pasta.
The pasta must be hot when adding to the skillet. Time the steps before adding the pasta to be done before the pasta completes cooking so it can go right from the cooking pot to the sauce skillet.
Use tongs. Instead of draining the pasta in a colander using tongs to transfer it to the skillet works great. Allow excess water to drain back into the pasta pot before adding the spaghetti to the skillet. Tongs work great when combining the sauce ingredients with the hot pasta too.
How to store leftovers
Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
More recipes you’ll love!
- 1 pound (16 ounces) spaghetti pasta regular or gluten-free
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups finely shredded parmesan cheese divided
- 8 slices bacon or pancetta
- 2 cloves garlic diced
- Salt & pepper to taste
- chopped Italian Parsley optional for garnish
- In a large pot, cook pasta according to the package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water when the pasta is done. Strain with a colander or remove from the pot with tongs, allowing excess water to drip back into the cooking pot. It will be moved to the sauce pan.NOTE: do not drain the pasta until the sauce is ready to be made.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and 1 cup parmesan cheese.
- While the pasta cooks: In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon (or pancetta) until it's cooked through but is not crisp. Reserve 1-2 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat in the pan.Drain the remaining fat.
- Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels. Chop into ½” pieces.
- Add the garlic to the skillet with the bacon fat. Cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds (do not overcook).
- Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the hot pasta and bacon.
- Pour in the egg and parmesan mixture and stir quickly toss until the pasta is coated adding splashes of the pasta cooking water as needed to reach a desired smooth consistency. NOTE: using tongs is great for this.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve hot garnished with the remaining ¼ cup of shredded parmesan cheese and chopped parsley (optional).
● Use tongs: when stirring the pasta in the skillet, use tongs to help gently move the spaghetti. A wooden spoon or spatula will also work, but tongs help keep the ingredients from sticking together. ● Using raw eggs: the sauce for spaghetti carbonara is made from raw eggs and parmesan cheese. The eggs will cook through from the residual heat of the cooked pasta. It’s key to add the pasta hot; do not let it sit after cooking. Keep stirring the spaghetti when mixed with the eggs so that the eggs don’t overcook and cause clumping. ● Bacon or pancetta: traditionally, pasta carbonara uses pancetta. But bacon is a common substitute and used in this recipe because it’s more readily available.