Carbonara For Dummies

(there is hope!)

“I have seen things you people wouldn’t believe. I’ve seen cream, and onions mixed together, and for some reason green peas and bacon. And ketchup, oh my goodness, ketchup! All these things will hopefully be lost in time, like egg whites in a drain”

According to a Peer Reviewed Study conducted by Professor John Rigatoni at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 99.7% of Carbonaras made in the world, are done wrong. Sometimes very wrong, stuff like cream or ketchup. But the reality is that Carbonara is not easy to do well, the very issue is quite tricky, even in Italy.
The dish origins in fact from central Italy, and calls for very few, precise ingredients: pasta (spaghetti or rigatoni), eggs, guanciale (cured pork cheek), pecorino romano cheese, black pepper. Each of these ingredients is essential. If you don’t have one, that’s no Carbonara you’re cooking and no, you can’t use pancetta or bacon instead. Despite being a very basic preparation, people tend to overcook eggs that end up being scrambled, and that’s when you get what I like to call ‘pasta with frittata’: it’s quite disgusting. Instead, a good Carbonara needs a smooth creamy mix of eggs and cheese, the eggs must start to gelatinize, but never to coagulate too much. It’s tricky, it’s very difficult to achieve the right consistency, either you overcook it with the results described, or you undercook and the eggs remain too liquid. So I came up with a method for Dummies that works all the time and I’m very happy to share it with you, so that you can spread the word, and maybe one day all the atrocities and mayhem will stop, and people will not put ketchup on Carbonara any more.

Special Equipment

  • a whisk
Created with Sketch. 30 min Created with Sketch. 2 servings


  • 200 grrigatoni
  • 2 eggs
  • 80 grguanciale
  • 50 grpecorino romano
  • 0.5 teaspoonblack pepper



  1. Start to put a big pot of water on the stove for cooking the pasta, as described in the related article here.
  2. Slice the guanciale in small strips, put them in a frying pan over medium/high without any oil, it’s not necessary: guanciale has a delicious fat/meat ratio of something like 85/15 so really, any extra fat here is redundant. Fry until crispy.
  3. In a metal bowl, or a sauce pan, mix together one full egg (white+yolk), one egg yolk, the grated pecorino cheese, and a lot of ground black pepper. Quantity of black pepper is up to your taste, but the recipe calls for A LOT. Mix it well using a whisk, you want everything to become as smooth as possible.
  4. Now the “for DUMMIES” part.  This is when you have to pay attention to the procedure. Put a small sauce pan with some water on the stove and bring it to a boil, place the bowl with eggs+cheese on top of it, add one tablespoon of pasta cooking water (yes, in the meanwhile you’re cooking the pasta of course).  The pasta cooking water is perfect for this (and for a lot of other pasta dishes) for two reasons: it’ s already salted, and contains the starch released from the pasta itself, that will help the egg sauce to get nice and creamy). Mix it all using the whisk. The steam coming from the boiling water underneath will very slowly help to gelatinize the egg mixture, the process is so slow that you can have full control over it and stop when you feel the consistency is right. If you feel like it’s getting too thick, or start to coagulate too much, remove the bowl from the boiling pot, and maybe add some more cooking water and keep on stirring.
  5. When the pasta is ready, drain it well in a colander, and without further ado, put it in the bowl with the egg mixture, add the fried guanciale, stir it well over the boiling water for one more minute, and quick as a flash serve it. 

Just to show you that I am a nice person open-minded and all, I tried to do carbonara with bacon. It was fit to be consumed as food (this is the definition of “eatable”, I like it!) but it was no carbonara really.

It all comes down to how guanciale and bacon are made: the curing processes are in fact very different. Guanciale is cured for three months, hanged in dry cold rooms after being dry-rubbed with abundant salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary. Bacon is brine-cured for a few days in salty water only, and then cold-smoked (at least, most of the time). Plus guanciale has a very different fat-meat ratio, as we have seen. All this is very important for the final taste: the delicate spiced flavours of crunchy guanciale are paramount in the final dish, while bacon’s smokyness is a very big NO-NO.

EXTRA TIP: If you’re cooking this for more than two people,  you will need to use more eggs of course. Try always to keep the eggyolk-eggwhite ratio 2:1. Or even 3:1 if you’re making a lot of it.