All About Food: Can’t match carbonara

Helen Keown


Helen Keown

All About Food: Can’t match carbonara

Since its name is derived from carbonaro (the Italian word for 'charcoal burner'), some believe this dish was first made as a hearty meal for Italian charcoal workers

HELLO and welcome to all about food. This week we’re talkin’ Italian, a people who are going throught a horrendous time with the coronavirus.

Ask Gingergirl

Hello Gingergirl,

I’m a huge fan of spaghetti carbonara but try as I may I just cannot match the carbonara I enjoy in Italy. Do you have any suggestions?

Many thanks,


Hello Donal,

Pasta alla carbonara is an Italian pasta dish that was first made by Italian charcoal workers during the mid 20th century (carbonara derives from the Italian for ‘charcoal’). As you have probably noticed, the recipe for carbonara varies widely but it is generally acknowledged that pecorino or Parmesan cheese, egg yolks, fatty pork and black pepper are the basic ingredients for this delicious dish. I have a feeling that the reason you have not experienced the authentic carbonara taste is down to the variation of ingredients that seem to find their way into this dish – this may include cream, mushrooms, garlic, onions, peas, chicken and broccoli.

Finally, just a note on cooking pasta, always cook pasta in a large pot with lots of water and salt – Italians like to cook their pasta in water that is ‘as salty as the sea’ - as a general rule I use 1 litre of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to ever hundred grams of pasta, adding the salt once the water is boiling. Continuously stir the pasta as it cooks and always cook your pasta al dente (to the tooth).

Pasta alla carbonara

(serves 4)

500g of good quality spaghetti (you can use penne pasta if you prefer) – I like de cecco


300g of pancetta, cut into cubes or bacon lardons

4 large organic or free-range egg yolks

Olive oil

120g of Parmesan cheese plus extra to serve

Freshly ground black pepper

Put a large pot of water on to boil, for this recipe I use 5 litres. Once the water is boiling add the salt and pasta (see pack instructions for timing) and stir continuously. Place a large frying pan over a low heat, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, add the pancetta or lardons and cook over a low heat until the pancetta is golden and crisp. Meanwhile, separate the eggs and whisk the egg yolks with the Parmesan cheese and some black pepper.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and return to the pot (keeping the pasta off the heat). Add the pancetta and oil and stir well. Quickly follow with the beaten egg and cheese and stir quickly until the pasta is coated – the heat from the spaghetti is enough to cook the egg yolks – keeping on the heat would scramble the eggs. Serve immediately with extra Parmesan.

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