Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Spaghetti alla Carbonara (low-fat and not-so-low-fat versions!)



When I ask people if they've ever had Spaghetti alla Carbonara, and the answer is "no,"  I attempt to describe it as "spaghetti with bacon and eggs" and I get the strangest looks! 

Well, I can imagine what they're picturing, and maybe you're picturing it too, but It's not what you think, as you can see by the picture above.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara, or "Coal Miner's Spaghetti" is a traditional Roman meal, and one of the best known from the central Italian region. Most people tend to believe the pasta is named after the coal workers, because it was a staple for those who collected wood in the Appenine Mountains to make charcoal.

There is also the theory that the quantity of bacon and powdered eggs that American soldiers had readily available during World War II was the inspiration for this pasta. 
I tend to go with the former idea, but the fact is that this pasta is fantastic and I'm just glad someone thought of it!

Traditionally, this dish is made with pancetta (you can make your own pancetta) which is Italian style bacon, however, I sometimes use American bacon and it's still delicious. I also use cream and milk, which is not authentic, but I just like a creamier, smoother and less "eggy" sauce.

Years ago, I was given a cookbook as a wedding gift, called The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces by Diane Seed. As a British born cook living in Italy (lucky duck!) she compiled 100 pasta sauce recipes in this very simple book, and after reading her version of Spaghetti alla Carbonara, I just had to try it. 

Well, I sort of tried it. 

I just couldn't bring myself to use the quantity of the ingredients she listed!! 
Being from Lazio (central Italy), my mother often made Spaghetti alla Carbonara, but she would only use about 2 eggs and a little milk for a pound of pasta. 

In contrast to my mother's, here is Diane Seed's recipe for a pound of pasta:
  • 5 eggs
  • 4 oz heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 oz butter
  • 7 oz bacon
  • 4 oz grated Parmigiano/Pecorino cheese
  • salt and pepper
Can you say "HEART ATTACK ON A PLATE!?" Make sure to have a doctor nearby if you decide to make this version; you've been duly warned!

So I will give you my adaptation of her recipe, since this is how I've been making Spaghetti alla Carbonara for years. I do only make it once in a while because it still is rather high in fat and cholesterol, but it is so creamy, delicious, and flavorful, and is also a nice change from tomato sauce.
For those of you who want to cut calories/cholesterol, I will post a lower-fat, authentic version of the ingredients immediately following the first recipe, however, it will be more "eggy" and dry.

FYI, the first one will taste much better, but did I really need to tell you that?

(Christina's Not-So-Low-Fat version)

about 6 or 7 rashers of lean bacon, chopped into pieces (I use kitchen scissors) or pancetta
3 eggs
2 ounces heavy (whipping) cream 
milk (whole will taste best, but 2 % is still good)
1 ounce grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (please do not use Kraft)
salt and black pepper

1 lb of high quality spaghetti

Start boiling salted water for pasta in a very large pot 
(pasta needs a lot of water to cook properly.)

Next, fry the bacon pieces until cooked, but not crispy. It should look like this.

Pasta should be in the water and starting to cook by this point.

 Beat the 3 eggs in a 2 cup pyrex jug. 
Add the cream, and fill with milk up to 16 oz.
Stir well, and add some salt and quite a bit of black pepper.

Drain the pasta in a colander and put back in the same pot and back on the burner, 
over the lowest heat possible (just warm.)
Now add all the egg mixture from the pyrex jug.

Start to stir and then add the bacon pieces.

Now add the grated Parmigiano cheese, and stir well to combine evenly.
The eggs will cook from the heat of the pasta, 
so quickly turn off the burner as soon as the sauce starts to thicken. 
That's's ready!! So easy!!

I have to admit, these aren't photos of my own cooking.  
The truth is, my son made dinner tonight 
(yes, my 18 year old son made this)
and both he and my daughter were starving, so I was rushed
 into dishing out the pasta for my photos!
 I didn't get enough sauce mixed up from the bottom, 
but you can still see how creamy and delcious it looks!

Everyone I've ever made this for has fallen in love with it!

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara 
(lower fat authentic version)

6 oz pancetta (or about 6 or 7 rashers of lean bacon) chopped into pieces
4 eggs
(milk -not in authentic recipe, but a small amount makes it less dry)
1 ounce grated real Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (please do not use Kraft)
salt and black pepper

1 lb of high quality spaghetti

Follow directions exactly as above, except if adding milk, only 1 or 2 ounces.

If you liked this recipe, try these pasta dishes too...

In case you missed the links above, here is: 

Please leave me a note if you try any of my recipes and enjoy them! Grazie!


  1. Both recipes are really great! Too difficult to decide which one I would like more so I guess I will have to try both :)

    1. Good plan! Let us know your final answer, Medeja! Buon Appetito!

  2. A good plate of spaghetti carbonara is such a great meal! I love the real version... my thighs, not so much!

    1. Ha ha! Isn't that the truth, Paula! If only we could get our problem body parts to turn a blind eye to what our mouths are doing!!! ;)

  3. Hey Christina, I can't believe it's been a while since I visited - my loss! I love carbonara and both these recipes look soo good! Like all great dishes, its origins are rather obscure, you're right! Well done, your son!

    1. Hi Lin! Thanks for checking back in, yes...I too have been amiss with your blog. I see you re-designed it! Lovely! Since my son has been off to uni for a year, he has a new found desire to learn to cook more so he doesn't have to rely on cafeteria food all the time!

      Bad food is a great incentive for learning to cook!!

  4. Hey, just founr you!!! Your recipes are what I have been looking all my life for....tasty, quick and dead easy...Cheers Gerry (Mrs)

    1. Oh, thank you so much for your comment, Mrs. Gerry! You made my day! I'm so glad you let me know! Thanks again, and hope you come back often (or sign up for my emails) :) CC

  5. I was thinking of trying this recipe tonight using spaghetti squash.

  6. I am in love with your website. even started a special folder. BRAVO!
    Love your outlook on life! :)

    1. Oh, that's so wonderful to hear!! Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know! You made my evening!! :) CC


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