Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Spaghetti Carbonara for One

Our first stop in Rome was the Piazza Navona, known for its beautiful Bernini fountains, artists plying their wares, and the overpriced cafes lining the square.  Even though we were hungry, I didn't want to just settle for a potential tourist trap, so I asked one of the artists for his recommendation for lunch.

Him and his friends pointed us towards Ristorante Corallo, just a couple of blocks away from the piazza.  He mentioned that it was better than "baffeto" which at the time I thought meant "buffet" but later on realized was a reference to Pizzeria Baffeto, often listed as one of the best places for pizza in Rome and right around the corner from Corallo.

I really wanted to try a pizza in Rome, which is known for having an ultra-thin crust, so I ordered a pizza margherita to share.  Seeing another Roman specialty on the menu, I suggested that Ces order the spaghetti carbonara for us to share as well.  The pizza was good, although I noticed a distinct lack of basil.  It came without basil when I ordered it from a different restaurant the next day, too, so I guess that's just how pizza margherita is served in Rome.

I knew carbonara meant a bacon and egg sauce, but I was unprepared for how it would actually taste.  It was oh so silky and creamy without actually containing any cream, but the highlight was definitely the bacon.  It tasted different from the bacon I was used to having back in the States.  I knew I had to try to recreate the dish at home, but lamented to myself that I probably wouldn't be able to find the same type of bacon there.

After a little more research, I found out that the type of meat used was actually guanciale, made from cured pig jowl vs. traditional bacon, which is made from pork belly.  Luckily in Boston, there are quite a few places that carry guanciale including Formaggio Kitchen and Savenor's.  If you can't find it, you can try substituting pancetta, and if you can't find that, bacon.

On a recent night, I was really craving some spaghetti carbonara for myself so I googled "single serving carbonara" and this was the first link returned.  It looked simple enough and made a pretty tasty dish, but I modified it just a little the second time I made it so it was more like what I remembered tasting in Rome.

There's a lot I like about this recipe:  it falls under the category of comfort food and comes together rather quickly with a minimum of ingredients, most of which you probably already have on hand.  You do need to serve and eat this immediately, but since you're just making it for yourself, that's not a problem!

Spaghetti Carbonara for One (adapted from Greg's Food)
makes 1 serving, duh

2 slices guanciale, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 serving uncooked spaghetti (for me that's a between a dime and a nickel's circumference of pasta)
1 teaspoon olive oil 
1 egg
1 tablespoon fresh grated parmesan, plus more to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped parsley (optional)

Bring a pot of salted water to boil.  In the meantime, chop the guanciale and mince the garlic.

Once the water has reached a rolling boil, add the spaghetti and cook for 9 minutes, stirring occasionally so the pasta doesn't stick to itself.

Add the guanciale to an unheated saucepan and place on medium heat.  Once some fat has rendered out and the guanciale is starting to look translucent, add the olive oil and minced garlic.  Continue to cook until browned but not burnt, lowering the heat if you have to.

In the meantime, break an egg into a large soup bowl.  Add the tablespoon of parmesan cheese and whisk until well mixed.

Once the spaghetti is done, use a pasta scoop to transfer the pasta to the saucepan with the bacon and garlic in it, letting most of the water drain off while you do so.  Lower the heat under the saucepan and toss the pasta around to cover it with the hot grease.

Whisk the egg and cheese again real quick and then carefully add the contents of the saucepan into the bowl.  Start tossing the spaghetti with the egg mixture to cook it without curdling.

Once the sauce comes together, add salt and pepper to taste and top with any guanciale left in the saucepan and additional parmesan and/or parsley if you like.  If the sauce is too thick for your liking, add a little of the pasta water to thin it out.  Serve immediately.

Next:  Bucatini all'Amatriciana
Previously:  Rosemary Honey & Lemon Frozen Yogurt
Four years ago:  Kale Chips


  1. Good overview of a great pantry dish. The best thing about this type of recipe is the infinite variations you can make once you know the technique. (add some young greens; increase the olive oil, add wine and reduce, skip the egg; try tomatoes & peppers, etc.)

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  2. I love it… thanks big hit with the friend, I added crumbled up blue cheese with the egg and cream mix.
    BIG POINTS with the ladies THANKS.
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  3. This is truly boosting my appetite! can i have a serving please!

  4. Carbonara must be one of the best gifts the Italians gave us! So simple yet so delicious. Your pictures are gorgeous!

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