While it's alluring to serve your sweetheart a perfectly seared steak au poivre with brandy cream sauce, a butter-poached lobster tail, and chocolate soufflé for dessert, you really don't have to break the bank or spend hours preparing the perfect meal to impress someone. Sometimes the most common, inexpensive ingredients yield results worthy of a special occasion.
This four-ingredient spaghetti carbonara for two is not only delicious, but requires only four (yes, four) ingredients and comes together in under 30 minutes from start to finish. Silky spaghetti noodles are coated in a creamy pecorino-and-egg-yolk-based sauce and speckled with flecks of bacon — the sum of its parts harmonizing together perfectly to create an end result fit to impress.
As it goes with many of my favorite foods, I can still vividly remember the first time I tasted and fell in love with spaghetti carbonara. It was — fittingly — in Italy, years ago, and one of the very first nights I had arrived in Rome. As I'm sure you can imagine, it was quite the conundrum figuring out what to order on a menu that was basically tailored to me, listing every single one of my favorite Italian foods.
After painstakingly studying the menu and playing a food tug-of-war in my head, I finally settled on a squash ravioli with butter and sage — one of my all-time favorite pastas. I was fairly confident in my decision postordering, and even as our dishes approached the table, I was still certain I made the right choice.
It. Was. Delicious. And everything I'd imagined in my head and more — perfectly tender pasta stuffed with sweet butternut squash puree and delicately covered in fried sage and melted butter. Heaven on a plate, if you will — or at least that's what I initially concluded.
After I finished every last morsel on my plate, my friend graciously offered me a bite of his spaghetti carbonara I'd so callously overlooked, and of course, I accepted . . .
It blew the ravioli out of the water. It was dumbfounding to me how much flavor could be packed into what looked like such a simple, one-note dish — I immediately wished I had also ordered it. After that moment, it quickly became one of my favorite items to order during my time over there, and immediately upon my return, I figured out how to make it myself.
Since then it's been something that I whip up on a random Tuesday night when there's barely anything in our fridge, but also something I make for a fancy Friday-night dinner.
There are a variety of different ways to make carbonara, but today's recipe is probably one of the most simple you'll come across. It begins with the rendering of bacon, to be used in two different ways: first, to be sprinkled throughout the pasta strands and, second, to make the base of the sauce. In most traditional carbonaras, pancetta is used as opposed to bacon, but I actually like the taste of bacon better in this particular instance.
Once the bacon is crispy and the fat has been rendered, the skillet is removed from the oven, the bacon is chopped up, and al dente spaghetti is tossed in with the fat.
And then . . . the magic happens. Egg yolks and grated pecorino cheese are loosened up with a bit of pasta water, and then the hot noodles are removed from the stove and tossed with the egg and cheese mixture. The residual heat from the noodles starts to thicken and cook the egg yolks and cheese, creating this ultraluxurious cream sauce that is HEAVEN.
The bacon is sprinkled in, everything is seasoned with salt and freshly cracked black pepper, and the meal is complete.
To make this a meal worthy of date night, I just serve it with a loaf of good-quality charred Italian ciabatta, a crisp caesar salad, and a bottle of red wine — romantic dinner done!
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (plus more for seasoning)
3 slices bacon
3 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (plus more for seasoning)
1/3 cup pecorino cheese (plus more at the end)
8 ounces spaghetti
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Season well with salt. It should taste like sea water.
- Add the bacon to a medium nonstick skillet. Bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove the bacon from the rendered fat, and chop. If your bacon rendered more than 3 tablespoons of fat, spoon out the excess. Make sure to keep all the brown bits from the bacon.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the yolks, salt, black pepper, and pecorino cheese.
- Cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve the cooking liquid.
- Slowly whisk in about 1/4 to 1/3 cup starchy pasta water into the egg mixture to slowly raise the temperature of the eggs.
- Using tongs, transfer the cooked pasta to the skillet with the bacon fat. Turn the heat to medium-high, and toss the noodles with the fat until very hot. Remove from the heat. Pour the egg mixture into the hot noodles, while tossing with tongs. If necessary, add more pasta water until you get the desired consistency. Toss until the pasta is coated in sauce and the cheese is melted. Add the bacon. Season with more cheese, salt, and pepper.
- Pasta, Main Dishes
- North American
- Serves 2