Carbonara is one of Rome’s most beloved traditional pasta preparations, and also one of it’s most controversially disputed. While the dish itself is comprised of only a few simple ingredients- crispy pork, salty Parmiggiano or Pecorino cheese, and eggs, harmoniously blended together to form a rich velvety sauce served over pasta (most often spaghetti), the method is what has families divided. Lines have been drawn on the cobblestoned streets of culinary Rome, never to be crossed by deeply rooted Carbonara purists and their passed down family traditions.
For example, some preparations call for the eggs to be separated and whites whisked into a sauce, and yolk served whole atop a pile of pasta to be stirred in upon serving, while others call for whole eggs to be prepared ahead of time along with a mixture of cheese and freshly cracked pepper, to be waiting in the wings ready to be swiftly finished a la minute when the pasta is cooked. Ingredients are also up for debate: type of pork product, type of pasta, type of cheese- aye yai yai, how do you get it right? Choose what you love, and what is readily available in your local market.
The most important take away to making a fantastically delicious Carbonara is to absolutely 100% make sure the eggs are not scrambled. Eggs are the one absolute essential to the recipe, as they are the binder of all ingredients to form the ‘special sauce’. No matter your ingredient selection, or preferred secret tricks to pulling it all together, the eggs must not be scrambled! A bit of tempering, gently warming up the eggs with some of the pasta water, is what I find helpful, along with a careful hand. Always finish the sauce off heat, and keep the whole thing movin’ and shakin’ so that nothing can stick to the bottom and overcook.
Choose your own adventure! With this recipe as your guide, you can make the traditional comforting Carbonara Classico, or let a little Spring shine through by adding some sweet spring peas and fava beans into the mix (hence the ‘all Primavera’).
Carbonara alla Primavera
- 1 lb. dry pasta (ie: spaghetti, or fuisilli as shown)
- ¼ lb. diced pancetta or bacon
- 4 eggs
- 1c. grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
- kosher salt, as needed
- freshly ground black pepper, as needed
- 1 c. sweet peas (optional)
- 1 c. fava beans (optional)
- To cook the pasta, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil along with 2-3 tablespoons of kosher salt. Cook the pasta 1 minute short of the package time instructions. (If the instructions say to cook for 8 minutes, cook for 7.) Reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta in a colander and set aside.
- Prepare the egg mixture for the sauce: crack the eggs into a mixing bowl, and whisk together with ½ c. grated cheese and ¼ tsp. fresh ground black pepper until the eggs are combined.
- If using peas and fava beans, bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a sauce pan along with a teaspoon of salt. Blanch the peas and beans in the boiling water, cooking them for 1-2 minutes until bright green and just tender. Strain the peas and beans, and run under cool water to stop them from cooking. Set aside.
- Start the Carbonara. Heat a large high sided sauté pan over medium heat. Add the diced pancetta, and cook until it’s fat is rendered (melted off) and edges are lightly browned and crisp. Turn the heat down to low, and add the cooked pasta to the pan along with ½ c. of the reserved pasta water. Swirl the pan, and toss the ingredients with tongs until the liquid thickens slightly.
- Whisk ¼ cup of still warm pasta liquid into the egg bowl. Take the pasta pan off the heat, and pour the egg mixture, along with the remaining pasta liquid over the pasta, while swirling the pan and tossing the ingredients with tongs the whole time. Keep the pan moving, and continue to stir for another minute or two until the sauce has thickened, and nothing is stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir in the blanched peas and fava beans if you’re using them.
- To serve, divide the pasta evenly between 4 bowls. Garnish with the remaining grated Parmigiano cheese and freshly ground black pepper.