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Carbonara is a pasta dish made in Italy and known as Pasta alla carbonara formerly. It is usually prepared with spaghetti although the recipe can be replicated with other forms of pasta namely bucatini, fettuccine and rigatoni as well. It is believed to have been created in the 20th century and is based on the local ingredients like eggs, bacon, Italian cheese and black pepper.

The recipe varies from region to region although the basic ingredients remain constant. Pork meat is also used liberally while preparing the dish. The recipe for carbonarais somewhat unique and the cooking consists of two parts with the pork being fried in lard or olive oil. Hot pasta is then dropped onto the fried meat and the dish removed from the fire to be mixed with eggs, cheese and butter. The eggs are required to remain in a liquid state and hence are left untouched by fire. The yolks coagulate on touching the hot pasta and do not require to be cooked separately. Most recipes prefer using Guanciale but pancetta, the local bacon is used from time to time as well.

History of the Carbonara Recipe

The actual origin of the recipe remains obscured by legends which cannot be corroborated as history. It is believed that the name has been derived from the Italian word for coal and many believe that the very first carbonara recipe had been created for the coal miners. Consequently, it was translated into the ‘coalman’s spaghetti’ in United States which is just another name for the carbonara dish.

The recipe for carbonara was however not documented in the 1927 classic cookbook of Roman cuisines, the ‘La Cucina Romana’. It first found its way into a cookbook after the Second World War. The Italians prepared the nutritious dish out of powdered eggs, milk and bacon which was supplied to the American troops and battered by them.

The recipe was also included in Elizabeth David's cookbook of 1954 which was published in Great Britain. The American troops popularized it in the US where it underwent a few modifications to suit the American palate.

Ingredients And Carbonara Recipe

The traditional dish requires spaghetti, Guanciale bacon, Parmesan cheese, butter and egg yolks. Black pepper and kosher salt serve as the seasoning for the dish.

The very first step for preparing the carbonara requires the spaghetti to be boiled al dente. The bacon strips are then fried crisp and the hot pasta poured over it. A separate container filled with beaten egg yolks, drippings and grated cheese are added to the dish which needs to be removed from the direct flame.

It is served hot after being seasoned with salt and black pepper. Parsley is the most favored garnishing for this traditional Italian dish.

Serving Carbonaras

The Italian dish has now been popularized in other countries of Europe and America. However, the standard recipe is not followed diligently always and each country has contributed to the dish making the carbonara unique in every region.

Cream is not used in Italy but has been included in the carbonara dish across the United states of America, France, UK, Spain, Russia, Australia and Japan.

The Americans also prefer to add an assortment of vegetables like peas, broccoli and carrots in order to make the carbonara colorful. Some American recipes also include mushrooms and are served with huge quantities of sauce. Lemon zest is often added to the sauce to impart a tangy taste to the dish.

The dish is traditionally served with a red wine like the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Merlot or Chianti.

Variations of Carbonara Recipe

A number of variations of this popular Italian dish abounds especially in America where the dish consists of ham, mushrooms and an assortment of vegetables smothered in a creamy sauce atop a boiled mass of tagliatelle. The original Italian dish is far removed from this carbonara although it can be made even more interesting by adopting a few variations. Some of the most popular and tasty variations of the dish are:-

  • Italian sausages fried along with grated Parmesan cheese.
  • Guanciale with specks.
  • Sausages and Lemon
  • Meatballs In Pasta Sauce
  • Chicken And Shrimp carbonara

Health Facts Of Carbonaras

The dish is very high in calories with fats and carbohydrates being present in large quantities along with proteins. The American version containing vegetables is relatively healthy although the benefits tend to get negated with an over abundance of cream and sauce poured over the dish. Not recommended for people with cardiac ailments and weight watchers, the dish, nevertheless can be consumed in moderation.


  • David Carbonara is a music editor apart from being a music composer for several Television series and films.
  • Luigi Magni directed Italian film ‘La Carbonara’ was released in the year 2000.