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Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Guanciale

If you are a pasta enthusiast like me, you know there is something truly magical about the combination of perfectly cooked pasta, creamy sauce and just the right amount of savoury goodness. Enter Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Guanciale – a dish that is not only a celebration of Italian flavours but also a testament to the art of simple yet sophisticated cooking.

What Is Guanciale?

Guanciale is a type of Italian cured meat that is made from pork jowl or cheeks. It is a traditional ingredient in Italian cuisine, particularly in dishes like Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Amatriciana.

The word “guanciale” comes from the Italian word for cheek, “guancia,” reflecting the specific cut of meat used in its preparation. Unlike pancetta or bacon, which are also used in pasta dishes, guanciale has a rich, fatty flavour that adds depth and complexity to dishes.

To make crispy guanciale, the pork jowl or cheeks are seasoned with salt, pepper and sometimes other spices or herbs, then cured for several weeks or months. The curing process involves drying and ageing the meat, which intensifies its flavour and creates a distinctive texture.

Once cured, guanciale is typically sliced thinly and used in a variety of dishes, both cooked and uncooked. It can be fried until crispy and used as a topping for pasta, salads or pizzas, or it can be diced and sautéed to add flavour to soups, stews and sauces.

The Heart of Carbonara: Noodles and Sauce

Of course, the star of any pasta dish is the pasta itself. In Spaghetti alla Carbonara, the choice of pasta is crucial. However, traditionalists swear by using spaghetti or carbonara noodles, and for good reason. Its long, slender shape allows the creamy sauce to cling to every strand, ensuring a perfect balance of flavour in every forkful.

As for the sauce, Carbonara is known for its rich, velvety texture – a result of the stunning combination of eggs, cheese and pasta water. Yes, you read that right – no cream in sight. The sauce is created by whisking eggs with grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, creating a creamy emulsion that coats the pasta luxuriously.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Guanciale

Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Guanciale Instructions:

1. Prepare the Guanciale:

Guanciale is the star of this dish, providing a rich, porky flavour and irresistible crunch. Firstly, start by slicing the guanciale into thin strips. You want them to crisp up nicely, so make sure they are not too thick.

Next, heat a large pan over medium heat. It is crucial to cook the guanciale slowly to render the fat and achieve that golden brown, crispy perfection. Depending on the thickness of your slices, this process usually takes around 5-7 minutes. Keep an eye on them and stir occasionally to ensure even cooking of the crispy guanciale.

Once your guanciale is beautifully crispy, transfer it to a plate lined with paper towels to drain off any excess grease. This step ensures that your carbonara is not too oily and allows the guanciale to retain its delightful crunch. Set it aside while you prepare the rest of the dish.

2. Cook the Spaghetti:

While your guanciale is crisping up, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. The salt enhances the flavour of the pasta, so do not be shy with it!

Once the water is bubbling away, add the carbonara noodles. Cooking times can vary depending on the brand and thickness of your pasta, but aim to cook it until it is just al dente – tender yet still firm to the bite. Be sure to check the package instructions for guidance.

Before draining the carbonara noodles, remember to reserve about a cup of the pasta water. This starchy liquid will help create a silky, smooth sauce and bind everything together later on.

3. Prepare the Carbonara Sauce:

While the spaghetti is cooking, it is time to whip up the creamy carbonara sauce. In a mixing bowl, crack the eggs and give them a good whisk to combine.

To the beaten eggs, add the grated Pecorino Romano cheese. This sharp, salty cheese is traditional in carbonara and adds a depth of flavour that can not be beaten. Do not forget the minced garlic for a subtle yet aromatic kick. Season the mixture generously with freshly ground black pepper.

4. Combine the Ingredients:

Once the carbonara noodles are cooked to perfection, drain them and return them to the pot. Immediately add the crispy guanciale, along with any delicious drippings left in the skillet. This step ensures that the carbonara noodles absorb all those wonderful flavours.

Give everything a good toss to combine. You want every strand of spaghetti to be coated in that savoury guanciale goodness.

5. Add the Carbonara Sauce:

Now comes the magic moment – adding the carbonara sauce! Pour the egg and cheese mixture over the hot spaghetti and guanciale. The residual heat from the pasta will gently cook the eggs, creating a creamy, luxurious sauce.

Quickly toss everything together, ensuring that the eggs evenly coat the carbonara noodles. If the sauce seems too thick, gradually add some of the reserved pasta water until you reach your desired consistency.

6. Serve and Garnish:

Once everything is beautifully combined, it is time to serve up your masterpiece. Transfer the spaghetti alla carbonara with crispy guanciale to serving plates or a large bowl.

Garnish with freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley for a pop of colour and freshness. And of course, do not forget an extra sprinkle of Pecorino Romano cheese – because you can never have too much cheese! Finish it all off with a final twist of black pepper for that extra kick of flavour.

7. Enjoy your Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Guanciale:

Now, the best part – dig in! Gather your loved ones around the table and indulge in the creamy goodness of Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Crispy Guanciale. Buon appetito! Remember, this dish is best enjoyed immediately while it is still hot and fresh. 

Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Guanciale Ingredients:

400g carbonara noodles

200g guanciale (Italian cured pork jowl)

3 large eggs

100g grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1 clove garlic, minced

Freshly ground black pepper

Salt (for pasta water)

Flat-leaf parsley, chopped (for garnish)

Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Guanciale: Tips for Success

Use high-quality ingredients for the best flavour. Look for authentic Italian guanciale and Pecorino Romano cheese at your local deli or speciality food store. Furthermore, do not overcook the guanciale. You want it to be crispy and golden brown, but not burnt. Be sure to toss the spaghetti with the carbonara sauce immediately after adding it to prevent the eggs from scrambling. However, if you prefer a creamier sauce, you can add an extra egg yolk or a splash of heavy cream to the carbonara mixture. Serve the spaghetti alla carbonara with a side of crusty garlic bread and a crisp green salad for a complete meal.

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