I have been making this super easy pasta dish since law school days.  The first recipe I had for it said that it was a typically Roman dish that used heavy cream, Pecorino Romano, a sheep’s milk cheese and pancetta, a cured but not smoked bacon.  The Romans say that this pasta was introduced to their city by the charcoal sells who came down from Abruzzo, hence it is named for the charcoal maker’s wife.  This version of the traditional recipe uses guanciale and Parmigiano-Reggiano and was recently featured in Mario Botali’s Molto Italiano (Ecco 2005), which convinced me to let go of the cream.
Mario writes:

A true carbonara has no cream, and it can be slightly tricky in its execution. The key is to toss and thoroughly mix the cooked pasta off the heat with the cheese, eggs, pepper, and pasta water, to create a creamy yet not overly thick sauce. I like to separate the eggs and present the individual egg yolks in nests of pasta; then each guest stirs the yolk into the pasta to cook it and form an even creamier sauce. Be sure to use the best—quality eggs you can get.

  • 3 tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • 8 ounces Guanciale (recipe below), Pancetta, or good Bacon
  • 1 pound Spaghetti
  • 1 ¼ cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 4 large Eggs, separated
  • Freshly ground Black Pepper

Bring 6 quarts of water to boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salts.

Meanwhile, combine the olive oil and guanciale in a 12- to 14-inch sauté pan set over medium heat, and cook unti the guanciale has rendered its fat and is crispy and golden. Remove from the heat and set aside (do not drain the fat).

Cook the spaghetti in the boiling water until just al dente. Scoop out ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta.

Add the reserved pasta water to the pan with the guanciale, then toss in the pasta and heat, shaking the pan, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, add 1 cup of the Parmigiano, the egg whites, and pepper to taste, and toss until thoroughly mixed.

Divide the pasta among four warmed serving bowls. Make a nest in the center of each one, and gently drop an egg yolk into each nest. Season the egg yolks with more pepper and sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup Parmigiano over the top. Serve immediately.

FOR THE GUANCIALE:

  • ½ cup Sugar
  • ½ cup Salt
  • 15 Black Peppercorns
  • 4 sprigs Thyme, leaves only
  • 2 pounds Hog Jowls

Combine the sugar, salt, peppercorns, and thyme leaves in a small bowl. Put the hog jowls in a nonreactive casserole and coat with the mixture, rubbing gently. Cover and refrigerate for 5 to 7 days.

Remove the cheeks from the casserole and hang them, using butcher’s twine, in the refrigerator for at least 3 weeks. The cheeks should be firm and dry, with a slight give. Slice and use like bacon or pancetta; refrigerated, it keeps for weeks.