This recipe for Pasta Carbonara is one of the first things my dad taught me how to cook. Now, it's a recipe I make for my kids often and they love it just as much as I did (and still do). Although it comes from my dad, I have fiddled with the recipe just a bit and as a result, I have allowed people to successfully make a recipe they had previously written off after having disastrous results. Since my original post, I have heard from several family members and friends that they made my version of carbonara, and were thrilled with the results. I love stuff like that!! Helping people enjoy the cooking and eating process is one of my favorite feelings.
A message to the pasta carbonara police
Also, I am 100% aware of what authentic pasta carbonara is. If you feel the need to leave me a nasty comment and one-star rating because mine is not that, please just leave now and don't let the door hit you in your judgemental rear-end. This is my dad's carbonara and it is incredibly special to me and to my family.
**Originally posted 10/16/2013. Blog post updated 3/28/2020 with new photos, recipe card, etc.**
So what is pasta carbonara?
"Carbonara" roughly translates to "coal burner" in Italian, and this dish gets its name because of the copious amounts of freshly cracked black pepper, which are said to resemble flecks of coal. Pasta Carbonara is one of the simplest pasta recipes but it does require some technique. Many, many people have told me they have always had bad luck making carbonara. Adding hot pasta to eggs is a recipe for disaster, which is why one day I decided to temper my egg yolks with some of the starchy pasta cooking water. It is the secret to success. Well, not so secret anymore. I have heard from family members and friends how my recipe and technique have allowed them to successfully make this dish at home. Hurray! My work here is done.
What ingredients do you need to make my carbonara?
Like I wrote above - I know what carbonara is. These are suggestions for those who may not have access to Italian cured pig's cheek. Or for those who don't eat meat. I added many of these suggestions during the height of quarantine in order to help people use what they had in their pantries. Rude comments will be deleted and blocked.
- Pasta: any variety of dried pasta, though I really prefer a long noodle for this.
- Bacon: Or pancetta, guanciale (which is traditional but can be hard to find), really you can use any smoked and/or cured meat you love or leave the meat out for a vegetarian version and sub in some roasted mushrooms or other vegetables.
- Egg yolks
- Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano: but feel free to use just one or the other, or use any sharp, aged, salty grating cheese
- Black pepper and lots of it
- Garlic and onion: This is not in most traditional Italian recipes, but my dad added it and I do too.
- Fresh Parsley: optional but my dad added it and I like the freshness and color it adds
- Pasta Water: my secret weapon
Dad's Pasta Carbonara
This is truly one of my favorite dishes to make and to eat. It is pure comfort food and always makes me remember being in the kitchen with my dad. When I first wrote this recipe, my dad was still here. I could text him, call him, email him if I had any questions on a recipe. Updating this blog post now, after losing him a little over 18 months ago is quite an emotional process. I have no doubt he would send me a sweet, silly email when he saw this blog post pop into his inbox like he did with so many other blog posts. My heart hurts knowing I will never receive one of those emails again, but I am comforted knowing that he is living on through my blog and through the recipes I was lucky enough to learn from him.Print
Here's the OG blog post from October 16, 2013:
Tuesday: I left my house at 7 am, had classes all day, a granola bar for lunch, raced off campus at 2:45 to make it to my daughter's gymnastics class and blew in the door at 5:30 with my two hungry kids. I did not plan ahead for dinner; there was nothing happily simmering away in a crock pot on my counter. My answer, as it so often is, was pasta. But not just any pasta... My dad's pasta carbonara (with a few of my small tweaks). I grew up eating it, it's not fancy, it's not quite traditional Italian--although pretty darn close (Please excuse me for not stopping at Wegmans to buy cured pig cheeks).
Anyhow, in the time it takes to boil the pasta, I can assemble the rest of the ingredients. It all gets tossed together and served. It really is that simple. This dish proves that comfort food doesn't have to take all day, and that busy people don't have to resort to take out, frozen food, or sauce from a jar. My son refers to it as "that creamy bacon pasta thing" and my daughter just likes anything involving noodles and/or bacon. It is a less than 30 minute meal that satisfies deeply and I can almost guarantee most people have the few ingredients it requires in their kitchens right now. And who doesn't love the smell of bacon at the end of a long, crazy day?
Cook's note: Before getting started I recommend pouring yourself a cold glass of Italian Pinot Grigio. It helps make the experience more authentic... That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.