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Pasta Carbonara on a white plate

Traditional Pasta Carbonara For Two – quick and easy recipe

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  • Author: Julie A. Cockburn
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 2 1x


Units Scale
  • 5 ounces (about 140 grams) pancetta (or guanciale if you can get it. Substitute bacon if neither pancetta or guanciale are available. See notes.), cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch cubes.
  • 1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 8 ounces (about 226 grams) spaghetti (see notes)
  • 3 large egg yolks or 2 whole eggs (see notes)
  • 1.5 ounces (about 43 grams) Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (see notes)
  • Black pepper – lots of it to taste, freshly ground


  1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, cook the pancetta until it is crispy. If the pancetta is finished cooking more than two or three minutes ahead of the pasta, remove the skillet from the heat. (see notes)
  3. When the water comes to a boil, add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water along with the spaghetti. Cook according to the package instructions for al dente. Reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid before draining the pasta.
  4. While the pasta is cooking, beat the egg yolks/eggs in a separate bowl. Add most of the cheese (reserving some for garnish later), and season with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper.
  5. If the pancetta skillet is off the heat, return it to the burner about 1 minute before the pasta is complete. Allow it to begin sizzling again.
  6. After you drain the pasta, combine it with the cooked pancetta in the pan. Mix well to ensure the spaghetti is well coated with the fat.
  7. Remove the pan from heat and allow it to cool for about 1 minute to prevent the eggs from scrambling. After cooling for about 1 minute, add about 1/8 cup of the reserved pasta water along with the egg and cheese mixture, stirring or tossing vigorously until the sauce is thickened and the pasta is well coated. The heat from the spaghetti will cook the raw egg, turning it into a creamy sauce.
  8. If your sauce is too thick, add more of the reserved pasta water to loosen it up. It should have a smooth, silky texture.
  9. Give it a taste and add additional salt and freshly ground black pepper if needed.
  10. Garnish with the reserved cheese and more freshly ground black pepper on top.
  11. Enjoy!

Recommended Equipment and Goodies


Pasta Carbonara is traditionally cooked with guanciale, a type of cured pork cheek. It is very difficult to find in the US. A good substitute is pancetta (which is what I used in developing this recipe). The next best option is bacon, which I find to be quite tasty, as well.

Spaghetti is the pasta of choice when it comes to crafting a traditional carbonara. However, if you’re blessed with a well-stocked pasta pantry, both bucatini (which closely resembles spaghetti, but with a channel running the pasta’s length) or spaghetti alla chitarra (a distinctive egg-based pasta, akin to spaghetti but with a unique square cross-section) can serve as wonderful substitutes. Whatever shape of pasta you choose, make sure it is a quality brand that has been bronze cut. Bronze cut pasta has a slightly rough exterior which helps the sauce cling to the pasta.

I have successfully made this recipe with 3 egg yolks or 2 whole eggs. Both are delicious. Using just egg yolks gives a slightly richer color and flavor.

Avoid purchasing pre-grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese. Pre-grated cheese usually has additives to keep it from clumping which can impact the final texture of the dish.

It’s ideal if your pancetta and pasta finish cooking at the same time. If one is done before the other, it’s best if the pancetta is first. Pasta is finicky, don’t make it wait too long. Because of this, I start cooking the pancetta early in the process and take it off the heat until just before time to mix everything.

  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Dinner
  • Cuisine: Italian
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