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What Is Pasta Carbonara?

Most recipes for pasta carbonara include Parmesan cheese.
Pasta carbonara typically uses spaghetti.
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  • Written By: Amber Eberle
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 10 April 2014
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Pasta carbonara is a traditional Italian dish typically made with spaghetti, bacon or pancetta, eggs, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. Variations of the recipe may also include peas, onions, chicken, or sausage. Butter or cream may be added to the dish to make a richer sauce. Ground black pepper is the main seasoning in most recipes. To make pasta carbonara, al dente pasta is mixed with bacon and garlic and then a mixture of whisked eggs and cheese are added to the pan.

Bacon, or the Italian equivalent — pancetta, is a main flavor component of pasta carbonara. It is diced into small pieces and cooked in a skillet until the fat is rendered. When the bacon is crispy, it is typically placed on a paper towel to absorb its grease. Several tablespoons of the rendered fat should be left in the skillet to saute the garlic, and any onions used.

Spaghetti is the most common type of pasta used when making pasta carbonara, but other varieties, such as fettuccine, may be substituted. This is boiled in lightly salted water until al dente. The water that the pasta is cooked in may be reserved to thin out the carbonara sauce, if necessary.

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After the pasta is cooked and drained, it is placed in the skillet with the bacon, garlic, and bacon grease, and heavily seasoned with fresh ground black pepper. The eggs are whisked in a bowl and Parmesan cheese is then mixed in. The skillet is removed from the heat, and the egg and cheese mixture is poured in. The ingredients must be stirred constantly so the eggs can thicken in to a sauce without becoming scrambled.

There are several variations of the traditional pasta carbonara recipe. Protein, such as chicken or sausage, may be added to the dish. Peas are a common addition as well. Some recipes may call for the use of heavy cream or butter to make a thicker, richer sauce for the pasta. Wine or chicken stock are also often included in some pasta carbonara recipes.

Pasta carbonara is generally garnished with fresh parsley. More grated Parmesan cheese and ground black pepper are also usually added just before the dish is served. This recipe is generally rich and somewhat heavy, so it can be served alone, as a meal. If accompaniments are desired, a fresh green salad or crusty Italian bread pair well with the dish.

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