Marcella Hazan’s Spaghetti Carbonara

by Darina on November 29, 2010

When you live alone and have lived alone for a long time, you develop habits. Some may be borderline strange, others just mind numbing in their repetition. Often, you don’t question these habits. Others make you cringe and think what if the world could see me? Those who know me and my foodie ways think I come home and cook a four course meal for myself after work every day.  I think they would be surprised at how many nights I pick at leftovers in the fridge or flop down on the couch with a bowl of cereal. Foodie or not, when five o’clock comes around I am tired. And I don’t have a family to feed.

I am embarrassed to tell you how often I come home and whip up spaghetti carbonara. It could be worse, I could be cooking up Kraft dinner. It’s just that this dish is so unbelievably delicious and, since I have discovered the secret to a perfect carbonara every time, it’s so easy.

Composed of egg, parmesan cheese, onion and pancetta, the sauce is simple and requires no cooking. It’s just a matter of tossing the ingredients together. There is a trick, however, and that is not allowing the eggs to scramble in the hot pasta.

An Internet search will reveal vociferous disagreement about how to execute a perfect carbonara. Purists also insist that a true carbonara consists of guanciale, the pork cheek that no doubt elevates the pasta but can be difficult to find, depending on where you live. At the end of my busy work day I settle for cubed pancetta or bits of bacon or prosciutto, which to me hardly seems like a compromise. After all, it’s the salty deep flavor of cured pork to contrast with the caramelized onion and creamy sauce that you’re after.

As far as my love affair with pasta goes, I came to carbonara pretty late in the game. But a transcendent experience with the dish in a local restaurant had me running to the kitchen to recreate it. If you predicted disaster–a plate of scrambled eggs and noodles–you would be wrong. My first carbonara was better than I hoped; long, loose strands of pasta generously coated with rich, creamy sauce–no hint of brunch about it. The problem with cooking by instinct, however, is that sometimes one fails to recreate dishes in their former glory. This is exactly the problem I had when I tried to remember exactly what I had done the first time.

After many failed attempts, I finally found the solution in Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking. Italy’s answer to Julia Child, I find Marcella to be the trusted authority on Italian cooking. She reveals that the key to the perfect sauce is adding hot spaghetti to the eggs and tossing well–not the other way around.

Marcella’s recipe is for an authentic Roman style-carbonara, which does not call for cream. I like to add it sometimes, though. Half a cup for this recipe should suffice, but use your discretion. If the pasta needs a bit more of a coating, even a bit more than that would be desirable–just be sure to heat it through first. Also, I have added onion, as many other recipes for carbonara call for, however, many also disagree that this is a required ingredient for a carbonara sauce. I just happen to love it.

Marcella Hazan’s Spaghetti Carbonara

adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking

Serves 6


1/2 pound cubed pancetta or slab bacon

1 small onion, finely diced

4 garlic cloves

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 large eggs

1/4 cup freshly grated romano cheese

1/2 freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 1/4 pound spaghetti


1) Mash the garlic with a fork and saute in the olive oil in a saute pan on medium heat while you cook the spaghetti. Saute until the garlic becomes a deep gold color, then remove and discard it.

2) Put the onion and cubed pancetta or bacon in the pan and cook until onions are golden and the pancetta is crisp at the edges. Add the wine and let it bubble for 2 minutes, then turn of f the heat.

3) Break the eggs into a serving bowl in which you will toss the pasta. The serving bowl can be warmed in the oven if it is ovenproof. Beat the eggs lightly with a fork, add the cheeses, a liberal grinding of pepper, and the chopped parsley. Mix thoroughly.

4) Add cooked drained spaghetti to the bowl and toss rapidly, coating the strands well. Briefly reheat the onion and pancetta over high heat. Turn out the contents of the pan into the bowl and toss thoroughly once more. Serve immediately.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Chiara November 29, 2010 at 9:54 pm

If you like ” Spaghetti alla carbonara” check out this recipe….

best regards…. Chiara

Simply Life November 30, 2010 at 4:07 am

Wow, nice work! I definitely go for the cereal and leftovers when I’m alone just about every time :)

Giuliano Hazan November 30, 2010 at 7:26 am

Glad you liked my mother’s Carbonara! There is something immensely satisfying about a dish of Spaghetti alla Carbonara. I think I’ll have to make some soon.

Darina November 30, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Than you so much for stopping by, Giuliano!

Darina November 30, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Thank you for the link.

Darina November 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Thank you!

Helene December 1, 2010 at 8:46 am

I have this on my list to try but never had a chance to do it. Looks yummy.

Little Rock December 4, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Just made this for dinner- extremely good! So tasty I may have to make it again tomorrow. Foolproof.

Darina December 5, 2010 at 8:31 am

I agree. I can’t stop eating this stuff.

Delishhh December 16, 2010 at 2:44 pm

As a kid this was my favorite meal. I had it atleast one a week. And then i got tired of it. But after looking at these pictures i might just have to make it again after about 20 years of staying away. It looks fabulous.

Debjani December 21, 2010 at 9:51 am

This post has just made me very very very very hungry!

Dixie Caviar February 28, 2011 at 9:55 pm

I made this Carbonara tonight and it was fantastic. No cream, just a bit of reserved pasta water to add a little something. And kosher salt, to taste.

Also, the boyfriend LOVED it (as with most things that include bacon). Thanks for sharing!

Darina March 1, 2011 at 10:25 am

Thanks for stopping by! I love this recipe, too. Usually have it once a week, if not twice.

Groovyg November 27, 2011 at 10:52 am

Hi as a person who lives Italian food, thank you for the recipe.
I made this last weekend really enjoyed learning to cook it x

Darina November 27, 2011 at 12:16 pm

It’s a great recipe, isn’t it? I’m glad you liked it. Hats of to Marcella!

Cara Brown January 20, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Thank you so much for this recipe!!!! I am so grateful for wonderful people like you on the internet that create such yummy dishes!!!

Darina January 21, 2013 at 8:55 pm

I love this recipe. I’ve had many a carbonara at many a restaurant and Marcella’s recipe outdoes them all. Thanks!

natasa June 13, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Looks so delicious! Mmmmm…

Darina June 13, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Thank you, Natasa!

Gurps November 11, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Just tried this again it’s been such a long time since I made it.
Thanks for the receipe and the inspiration, have finally got my passion for cooking back again!!

Darina November 14, 2014 at 1:25 pm

This is my go-to pasta dish. I think I make it once every week! Thanks for stopping by.

Romy March 29, 2015 at 11:55 am

No, no, no! Marcella would be turning in her grave! Garlic or onion: never both!!!

Darina March 29, 2015 at 8:03 pm

Yes, you are correct, Romy. The recipe calls for garlic but pasta carbonara is amazing with onion on top, IMO. I adapted the recipe and made note of this, but I had to give credit where credit is due. It is Marcella’s recipe in essence. Onion is my personal preference, as adding cream to carbonara sauce is for others. I can understand why a purist would really dislike this idea, though!

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