pasta

Italian Cooking 101: Pasta Carbonara, Roman style

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When people think “Rome” and “pasta”, there are four main options that come to mind. Amatriciana, Gricia, Cacio e Pepe, and Carbonara. Pasta Carbonara is a classic Roman dish that dates back decades and is so simple to make. With only 3 main ingredients in the sauce, it’s one of those dishes that’s so easy to make at home, but tastes dramatically different in an Italian restaurant. If you want to practice your Italian cooking skills and learn how to make pasta carbonara at home, read on for ingredients, technique and Carbonara recommendations in Rome.

Ingredients

Because there are so few ingredients in this recipe, they need to be top-notch and very flavorful. The base of carbonara is a sauce made from melted pork fat, beaten fresh eggs, a good helping of pecorino and the pasta cooking water. The eggs go uncooked into the sauce and are warmed up by the hot pasta and oil, which makes the pasta so creamy. There is no cream, milk, or other ingredients in a classic Roman Carbonara. If you’re nervous about the egg component, buy farm fresh eggs or find another dish.

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  • 100-150 grams spaghetti (per person)
  • 2 eggs, minimum, plus one extra egg per person (stick to only the yolks if you want a creamier sauce, adding a couple more to the total number of eggs)
  • 100 grams guanciale (or pancetta), cut into small cubes
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  • 50 grams freshly grated pecorino romano cheese, more if desired (parmesan will do in a pinch but it lacks the bite of pecorino)
  • 1 cup of reserved pasta cooking water
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  • Cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Salt

Recipe

The difference between a good and bad pasta relies a lot on being precise with timing and technique. With Carbonara, the order of steps and timing are key.

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  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente.
  2. In the meantime, have the guanciale in a large pan on the stove, cooking slowly over low heat. The fat from the pork must be fully rendered for the sauce the come together properly.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until combined and add the grated pecorino, black pepper and a pinch of salt to the mixture.
  4. When the pasta is ready, drain it (reserving a cup) and add to the pan with the guanciale.
  5. With the pan off the heat, stir well, until every noodle is coated with fat and slowly add the egg mixture.
  6. At this point, start adding a bit of starchy water to the pasta, constantly stirring. It’s better to have a bit more liquid than necessary, because as the pasta sits it will absorb more. Let sit for a couple minutes, covered.
  7. Move to plates and add extra pecorino on top, as desired.

Recommendations

It's very difficult to go wrong with a plate of carbonara in Rome. Almost every restaurant will have it, but here are some in particular that will blow your pasta-loving mind.

Da Danilo—alongside their cacio e pepe, da Danilo's pasta carbonara is one of the best I've had. Go for the wheels of cheese and truffle option.

Da Enzo al 29—a classic Roman trattoria with all of the famous pasta dishes, in the heart of Trastevere.

Roma Sparita—while I haven't been here myself, it's definitely on the list. Roman Sparita is widely held as some of the best Carbonara in town and that's saying something.

Flavio al Valevodetto—go for the big plates, variety of options and wine-cellar setting.

While it will never compete with the carbonara from my favorite restaurants in Rome, this recipe is easy and surprisingly good. Where's your favorite pasta carbonara in Rome? Have you had any success making this in your home?

Osteria del Pegno: Roman classics in the city center

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Finding a decent restaurant in the center can be hard. Osteria del Pegno is the answer to all of your pasta and meaty Italian dish needs. Located right near Piazza Navona (directly in the center alongside the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain), I've always found this restaurant to be a great option when I need someplace scenic, central and delicious. While it's not the best Roman food you can find in the city, it's a nice restaurant, with friendly staff, good food and excellent wine.

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Osteria del Pegno is a family run restaurant that is well known for its quality food and great atmosphere. The owner himself has come out the (many) times that I've eaten dinner there. While I've never tried their lunch, the dinner menu is comprehensive and also sticks to Roman classics and traditional dishes.

The house wine is excellent and the waiters will help you decide on a bottle from their very extensive list. The seating area itself is decorated with aging bottles and you can see that they take pride in their selection.

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Both the pasta and meat dishes are fantastic. I've tried their Amatriciana, Carbonara and Ossobuco and all were amazing. Their chef's lasagna wasn't my favorite but probably because that place is taken by Edoardo's mamma's famous lasagna.

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You've got to save room for Pegno's desserts, all made in house. Their tiramisu is incredible and you'll always get a complimentary glass of limoncello to end the night.

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Not much more to say about this place other than, it's a great choice for those busy days in Rome when you need a decent meal or the times when you want to have dinner out and take a walk in the center.

Osteria del Pegno

Thursday - Tuesday 12:00 - 3:00 ; 7:00 - 10:45

Vicolo di Montevecchio 8, 00186

Restaurants in Rome: Trattoria da Danilo

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da danilo Da Danilo is an unassuming restaurant that’s farther away from the center than other Roman institutions. From the area (Piazza Vittorio), you would never guess that it’s been around for years and has hosted more than its fair share of celebrities. The trattoria is well known for its Roman classics, serving everything from meat dishes to desserts made in house, but it’s best known for its amazing pasta dishes. The Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe are famous around Rome and many people come here just for these.

The Cacio e Pepe (or "cheese and pepper") is something special because it’s prepared right in front of you by your waiter. The pasta is tossed in a giant wheel of parmesan cheese with a bit of the pasta cooking water, while fresh black pepper is cracked all over. To finish it off, a generous helping of pecorino is grated over top. If you’re hungry and watching this show being done for other diners, it’s pure torture.

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Carbonara da Danilo is perfectly prepared with balanced flavors and a smooth, creamy consistency. But the standout at this restaurant (and my choice) was the carbonara al tartufo. Truffle oil is mixed in with the sauce and Italian black truffles were grated and sprinkled over top of the pasta. Of the multitudes of carbonaras that I’ve tried in Rome, this is my favorite. Think creamy, eggy goodness with an ever-present undercurrent of rich truffle. If it weren’t €18 for a plate of pasta, I’d go back weekly.

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If you’re in Rome and want a reputable place to try out the classics, da Danilo is where it’s at. You can eat some of the best pasta of your life, while gazing at the hundreds of celebrities that Danilo and his family has met over the years at the restaurant.

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da danilo

Trattoria da Danilo 

13 Via Petrarca, 00185 Roma

+39 06 77200111