Silky-smooth noodles twirled in a rich, creamy (but cream-less) sauce, nutty pecorino cheese, and bits of salty bacon, our Bucatini Carbonara is the ultimate in Italian comfort food and arguably, the simplest. Our version amps up the amount of both cheese and bacon, adds in a little bit of garlic, and swaps out classic spaghetti for thick bucatini noodles.
If you haven’t dove headfirst into a bowl of Bucatini Carbonara at least once in your life, have you ever even lived? With silky-smooth noodles twirled in a rich, creamy (but cream-less) sauce, nutty pecorino cheese, and bits of salty bacon, Bucatini Carbonara is the ultimate in Italian comfort food and arguably, the simplest. (Well, except for Cacio e Pepe.)
Our version of carbonara hits all the classic notes, but we use fat bucatini noodles instead of spaghetti, and double down on the cheese and bacon portion of the equation. From start to finish this pasta dish comes together in less than 30 minutes and uses all staple pantry ingredients, making it the perfect “What can I whip up for dinner tonight??” kind of dish. It’s also impressionable enough to serve for a certain holiday coming up this weekend, so let’s buckle up and get to it.
History of Carbonara
Similar to many famous dishes out there, there’s quite the debate on where carbonara originated from. From what I gather it looks like most people can agree it was founded in a little region in Italy know as Lazio and not until the 1940s. Originally it looks like guanciale was used primarily with pancetta replacing it in commonality later in the 60s. Who invited it is still up for debate, but there’s one thing I think we can all agree on…It’s delicious.
Ingredients in Bucatini Carbonara
Bacon. Traditionally bucatini carbonara is made with pancetta or guanciale, however in a pinch I’ll swap out any bacon I have on hand. This time around, I had leftover bacon from our Green Goddess Salad, so that’s what I went with. If you do go the traditional route, I like to look for pancetta or guanciale at the deli counter. Have them cut you a few thick slices, about 1/4-inch thick and dice it at home yourself.
Eggs. A lot of recipes for carbonara out there call for whole eggs, and while ours does use one whole egg, I prefer the taste of the egg yolks. Sometimes I think the egg white can have an off taste in carbon so we up the yolks.
Cheese. You can go one of two ways here with the cheese – pecorino romano or parmesan. In our 4-Ingredient carbonara for two, we use parmesan, I wanted to change things up with today’s recipe so we went with pecorino. While very similar in taste, parmesan is made from cow’s milk and has a nuttier taste than pecorino, made from sheep’s milk with a fruitier, stronger taste. If you’ve never tried pecorino romano, I recommend giving it a try.
Garlic. Traditionally, carbonara does not have garlic in, but I’ll add garlic to just about anything. We use three large cloves. I personally love getting a bite of garlic in a bite, but if you don’t, you can mince or grate the garlic.
Pasta. Virtually all recipes call for spaghetti, but I happen to love the thicker diameter of bucatini pasta. It also has a tiny little hole in the middle, which makes it a little more fun to eat.
Let’s make Bucatini Carbonara!
Cook the bacon. Dice the bacon into small pieces and then cook in a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Transfer to a paper towel while you make everything else. Also, discard all but one tablespoon of the bacon fat – we’ll need that later!
Make the sauce. Add the eggs, yolks, cheese, salt and pepper to a bowl. Whisk to combine. That’s it for now.
Cook the pasta. When you have EVERYTHING prepped and ready to go, drop the pasta into salted, boiling water. Cook the bucatini until just UNDER aldente. This is really really important. You want the noodles to have a toothsome bite to them in the finished produce, so you need to take them out of the boiling water BEFORE they get there.
Sauté the garlic. When the pasta is just shy of being done, sauté the garlic over a medium-low heat in the skillet with the bacon fat.
Toss. When the pasta is done, use tongs to transfer the pasta to the bacon fat and garlic. Toss together. Slowly whisk in a good amount of pasta water to the egg and cheese mixture and then toss with the hot noodles, bacon fat, and garlic.
Add more pasta water if you need. You want the sauce to be silky-smooth and creamy, so keep adding pasta water until you reach that consistency. I usually use between 3/4 cup and one cup.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Can I make Bucatini Carbonara in advance?
Unfortunately no. Carbonara is best serve straight from the pan. If you serve it later, it can get dry and the sauce won’t be cohesive.
Variations on Bucatini Carbonara
- In the fall, puree butternut squash to make a squash carbonara.
- Throw in crispy roasted or air fryer Brussels sprouts
- Instead of bacon, try Italian sausage.
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Be sure to cook the bucatini UNDER aldente. This usually means it will be 2-3 minutes shy of what the instructions on the box say.
- SLOWLY whisk the hot pasta water into the eggs. This is called tempering. If you don’t slowly bring up the temperature of the eggs, you risk them curdling.
- When you add the egg, cheese and pasta water to the bucatini, make sure the heat is OFF, otherwise you risk the eggs scrambling.
- Continually toss the pasta with the sauce to make sure it’s creamy.
- The starchy pasta water is your best friend. Because we salt it well and the starch releases from the pasta, it is the perfect alternative to cream.
- DO NOT buy pre-shredded cheese. Grate or shred the cheese yourself.
Other simple pastas we love
- This Creamy Tomato Pasta is one of our favorite ways to sneak vegetables into our kids’ diets. It’s packed with crushed tomatoes, pureed carrots, and Greek Yogurt.
- Our Kale Pesto Pasta is another easy way to make dinner appear as if it took all your time and effort. We toss wide pappardelle noodles with an easy homemade kale pesto and serve it with store-bought chicken meatballs.
- It doesn’t get much simpler or classic than our 5-Ingredient Shrimp Alfredo. So rich. So delicious.
- 5 slices thick-cut bacon or pancetta, diced
- 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced or minced
- 1 large egg
- 4 large egg yolks
- 3 oz pecorino romano cheese, shredded
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more for pasta water and to taste
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper (or more if you'd like)
- 3/4 lb bucatini
- large pot
- Large skillet
- Fill a large pot halfway with water. Bring to a boil. Season generously with salt. It should be almost as salty as sea water. (You don't want to fill the pot all the way to the top with water because we want the water to become starchy from the pasta so we can use it in the sauce. Leave enough room for the pasta to cook without crowding, but no more than that.)
- While the water comes to a boil, dice the bacon. Add the bacon to a large skillet and cook over a medium heat. Once the bacon is brown and crisp, use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a paper towel. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat.
- While the bacon cooks, add egg, egg yolks, cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to a medium bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside.
- Drop the pasta in the water. Use tongs to make sure the bucatini does not stick together. Cook the bucatini UNDER aldente - this is usually about 2-3 minutes shy of the cooking time listed on the package. Reseve the cooking liquid.
- When the pasta is about 1 minute shy of being done (about 4-5 minutes in), add the garlic to the skillet with the bacon fat. Saute over a medium-low heat until fragrant, but not brown. If garlic starts to brown, use the slotted spoon to remove from the pan. Turn the heat off.
- Use tongs to transfer the bucatini to the skillet with the bacon fat and garlic. If you had to remove the garlic, add it back in. Toss the pasta in the bacon fat and garlic.
- Take 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water and SLOWLY whisk it into the bowl with the eggs and cheese. Once combined, pour the mixture over the bucatini. (Make sure the stove is OFF.) Quickly toss the bucatini with the egg, cheese, and pasta water mixture. Continue to toss until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. If needed, add more hot pasta water to loosen the sauce up and make it shine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add bacon back to the skillet with the pasta. Toss. Again, if needed add more pasta water and season to taste with plenty of salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Garnish with extra cheese.