What happens when you put pork, eggs, and pasta together? You get the most delicious Rigatoni Carbonara which is the perfect, easy, weeknight dinner!
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Why you need this carbonara!
Carbonara is one of four main dishes from Rome. It’s a ridiculously creamy pasta that has no cream sauce and is only thickened by egg yolks and pasta water!
There are a few theories as to where the idea for it came from. The most popular is that American soldiers in Rome during World War 2 missed bacon and eggs from home so Italian chefs made them pasta with eggs and guanciale (their bacon).
Now that we have gone over a little history, here are the reasons you need to make this easy rigatoni carbonara recipe!
- Super Fast: Carbonara comes together in 15 minutes! You simply fry the pork while the pasta boils, mix the egg yolks, pork fat, and pasta water, then add the pasta in with the bacon. Done!
- 5 Ingredients (and nothing more!): Traditional carbonara only uses 5 ingredients: pork, pasta, eggs, cheese, and pepper. This rigatoni carbonara uses the same 5 ingredients!
- Silky Smooth: The beauty of this simple classic is its texture. The egg yolks are tempered in pork fat and then thinned out with pasta water resulting in the ultimate silky smooth sauce!
Ingredients and substitutions
All substitutions are a 1:1 substitute unless otherwise noted.
Rigatoni: Pasta is all about how it holds the sauce. Rigatoni makes the perfect vessel for holding little bits of bacon and the ridges on the outside hold the sauce!
Substitutions: Any barrel-shaped pasta with ridges can be used for rigatoni alla carbonara. The most similar are penne, ziti, mostaccioli, elicoidali, and sedani.
Egg yolks: We use only egg yolks to create that richness that carbonara is known for. We recommend trying to buy free-range eggs or fresh eggs from your local farmer for this dish. Not only are they the freshest with the best flavor, but free-range chickens usually produce eggs that have a darker yellow color and therefore create a gorgeous vibrant sauce.
Substitutions: Sorry, no substitutions for this.
Pancetta: We chose to use Pancetta because it is already diced, making it quick, and it is the closest to the traditional guanciale that is found in most grocery stores.
Substitutions: Guanciale or bacon can be substituted. Guanciale is the most traditional pork used in carbonara. If using bacon, you may need to add a little more salt because it is not cured like Pancetta is.
Pecorino: Pecorino is traditional to carbonara because it is from Rome. It is made with sheep’s milk and has a sharper flavor than parmesan.
Substitutions: While not from Rome, parmesan can be used in place of pecorino.
Recipe testing notes
Throughout our testing of this rigatoni carbonara, we learned some key things that worked and didn't work. Here are the key takeaways!
Make the egg sauce in a separate bowl: I tested this recipe I think 8 times before finally coming up with a foolproof way to make the sauce. By making the sauce in a separate, cold, or room temperature bowl, we don’t have to worry about scrambling the eggs when making the sauce.
Bacon vs pancetta: We tested this carbonara with both bacon and pancetta (spoiler, I like pancetta and Dan likes bacon). They were both delicious but the pancetta was much quicker since it was already cut while the bacon was a little crispier. If using pancetta, you will need to add a little more pasta water to the sauce and if using bacon, you will have too much oil so no need to use it all.
How to make this - step by step
Be sure to scroll to the recipe card for the full pasta carbonara recipe!
Step one: make the pancetta and make pasta
Bring a large pot of water salted with about 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil. Add rigatoni and cook for 12-14 minutes until just barely al dente (firm when bitten but not chalky).
Add the pancetta to a large skillet that is large enough for the pancetta to all be in one layer and deep enough to add all the pasta later. Cook over medium heat until crispy and golden brown.
Step two: mix the egg yolks and pepper
Separate the egg yolks and add to a large bowl and whisk with the black pepper. We recommend you save the egg whites to make egg white wraps! It's helpful to use a heavy bowl (like glass or ceramic) because you will not be able to hold it while you whisk in the pork fat later.
Step three: make the sauce
Remove the pancetta from the pan and set aside so it stays crispy. Carefully pour the hot rendered fat into the bowl while constantly whisking the egg yolks. The mixture should emulsify as you whisk, turning silky with a thin pudding-like consistency.
Step four: keep cooking the pasta
To make sure we get all that pancetta fat, add ½ a cup of pasta water to the pot to deglaze the pan. Then add the pasta to the pot and stir while cooking over low to medium heat for 2-3 minutes. The water also helps to keep the pasta from drying out.
Step five: add the pasta and pancetta back
Add the pasta to the bowl with the sauce and carefully fold it with the sauce until fully coated. Sprinkle in the pancetta as you mix to get an even mixture. Top with pecorino as desired and enjoy!
Watch How to Make This - Step by Step
This recipe is super simple to make, but to make sure it's perfect, here are some expert tips!
- Cook the pasta al dente: Cooking pasta al dente for carbonara is crucial because the pasta will cook more in the pan with the pork fat. If you are not sure if the pasta is al dente, take a piece out and run it under cool water. Then take a bite to test if it is firm but not chalky.
- Salt if using bacon: When testing with bacon, we realized that the dish benefited from an additional ½ teaspoon of salt being added. This is because bacon is not cured in salt like Pancetta is.
- Thin with pasta water as needed: you shouldn’t need any more pasta water than what is used for cooking the pan with the pork fat. But, if the sauce is too thick, try adding additional pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time.
- Grating the cheese: I like to use a microplane to grate the cheese. This ensures it will melt really well and be mixed through the pasta.
While we love carbonara with rigatoni, traditional carbonara is made with bucatini (essentially spaghetti with a hole in the middle) or linguine. Carbonara is considered a heavy sauce so it is best paired with a noodle that either has an opening (like bucatini) for the sauce to hide in or a wide noodle (like linguine) for the sauce to sit on.
Guanciale is traditional to carbonara because of its higher fat content that is used in the sauce. Guanciale is from the cheek of a hog whereas pancetta is from the belly.
No, never! Traditional carbonara gets its super creamy sauce purely from egg yolks and cheese, no cream!
It's not recommended to serve partially cooked eggs to the elderly and children. The food-safe temperature for eggs is 160 degrees and in Pasta Carbonara the eggs won’t reach that temperature or they’d be scrambled. But, you do you!
Carbonara sauce is a silky sauce made of egg yolks and grated pecorino Romano cheese. Alfredo is a sauce made of cream and butter.
Want to enjoy another version of delicious carbonara? Try one of our other favorites!
- Chorizo carbonara: For a spicy take on this classic, try swapping out pancetta for chorizo! This will produce more fat than you need, so only add ⅛th of a cup of fat to start, working your way up to ¼th of a cup total.
- Traditional Roman Carbonara: To stick with traditions, use bucatini pasta and guanciale. You can also mix the pecorino into the egg mixture prior to whisking in the pork fat to do what many Roman restaurants do.
- Dairy-Free Carbonara: For a dairy-free version, simply don’t add the pecorino cheese to the top! It's seriously so easy to make this luscious dish dairy free.
How to reheat and save carbonara
Carbonara does not keep or reheat well because the egg sauce becomes sticky and reheating scrambled eggs. If you need to reheat it, I recommend adding in a splash of milk and then microwaving in 30-second increments, stirring in between each one. This will at least reheat and loosen the sauce again.
The word carbonara comes from the word “Carbonaro” meaning coal burner. Because of this, many believe the easy-to-make dish was created to feed folks who worked long hours outside. (source)
More Easy Dinner Recipes
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- 12 oz rigatoni (1 package, plus water and salt for cooking)
- 6 egg yolks
- 8 oz pancetta* (2 packages)
- ½ cup pecorino (or parmesan)
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
Before you start!
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- Bring a large pot of water salted with about 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil. Add rigatoni and cook for 12-14 minutes until just barely al dente (firm when bitten but not chalky).
- Add the pancetta to a large skillet that is large enough for the pancetta to all be in one layer and deep enough to add all the pasta later. Cook over medium heat until crispy and golden brown.
- Separate the egg yolks and add the yolks to a large bowl; whisk with the pepper. It is helpful to use a heavy bowl (like glass or ceramic) because you won't be able to hold it while you whisk in the pork fat later.
- Remove the pancetta from the pan (keep the pan on low heat) and set aside so it stays crispy. Carefully pour the hot pancetta fat into the bowl of egg yolks while constantly whisking the yolks. The mixture should emulsify as you whisk, turning silky with a thin pudding like consistency.
- Add half a cup of pasta water to the pot that cooked the pancetta in it to deglaze the pan. Add the rigatoni to it and stir. Cook for 2-3 minutes until coated and hot.
- Add the pasta and pancetta to the bowl with the egg sauce. Carefully stir to combine and until all evenly coated in the golden yellow sauce. Top with pecorino cheese and enjoy!
Looking for more information?
Additional substitution information can be found above in the substitution section of this post.
Nutritional information is an estimate and for informational purposes only.