Foodstuff: A surprisingly simple Pasta Carbonara recipe |

Foodstuff: A surprisingly simple Pasta Carbonara recipe

Debating the true definition of “carbonara”

Katherine Roberts
The author's finished carbonara.
Courtesy Katherine Roberts

I was staying at my mother’s house recently, and I offered to cook dinner for us one evening. I mentioned I would make carbonara, and my mom got excited, exclaiming that she loves carbonara. The rest of the exchange went a little something like this:

“I haven’t made it myself in a long time, but I love it with all the butter,” she said.

Me: “What?”

Rose Roberts: “Carbonara. You know, with flour and butter?”

Me: “Are you insane?”

Commence screaming match about pasta.

You see, my mother seems to believe that carbonara starts with some sort of roux, which is a mixture of flour and butter, sauteed in a pan, and involves pasta topped with bacon and a bechamel sauce (the roux with milk added), and also with peas. The pea part I recall from childhood, as I hate peas, and she would sneak them into this rigatoni “carbonara,” which meant I meticulously squeezed each individual pasta tube to extract the hidden vegetables and set them to the side.

In the ensuing years, and after watching approximately 11 billion hours of cooking shows, I can definitively tell you that carbonara unequivocally does not involve a bechamel sauce, and only sometimes involves peas (spearheaded by parents who apparently love to torture their children). That said, I don’t technically follow the traditional recipe myself. But I think I’ve perfected a version that is always a hit and surprisingly simple to make.

Eggs are an important component to any true carbonara.
Courtesy Katherine Roberts


1lb. dry pasta*

8oz. cubed pancetta**

4 large eggs

1/2C heavy cream***

3/4C-1C freshly grated Parmigianino Reggiano

1/2T freshly ground black pepper****
Pinch salt

Cook 1lb. of pasta according to package directions.

Cook pancetta over medium high heat until crispy and some of the fat has rendered off.

While the pasta and pancetta cook, beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Add heavy cream, cheese, salt, and pepper.

Drain the cooked pasta, and toss it with the pancetta and one tablespoon of the reserved drippings. Quickly add the egg mixture over the pasta, stirring quickly to combine so as not to scramble the eggs, leaving you with a silky sauce.

Serve hot, topping with additional cheese to taste.


*I like spaghetti or linguine for this recipe, but my mom likes rigatoni, which is also delicious. Just do what you enjoy.

**This recipe traditionally uses guanciale, which is pork cheek, but this ingredient is not particularly easy to find in our neck of the woods. The cubed pancetta can be found (pre-cubed!) in the cured meats section of the grocery store. Not traditional, but I prefer it to bacon, which I think is too smoky for this recipe.

***Purists will castigate me for adding the cream, as you would typically add pasta water or nothing at all, but I think the cream is a nice insurance policy, keeping the eggs from scrambling over the hot pasta.

****Use more black pepper than your instincts might tell you here. I have a grinder and do about 30 twists into the bowl. Also not traditional, but I think you need the peppery bite to offset the salty cheese and meat.

While my mother and I may not agree on what goes in it, we do agree that the batch of carbonara I recently made for her was one of the best dinners we’d had in a while. So, dig in, and be nice to your mother — even when you think she’s acting crazy.

Katherine Roberts is a midvalley-based writer and marketing professional who will absolutely get into another food fight with her mom. She can be reached via her marketing and communications firm, Carington Creative, at

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