Ahhh creamy carbonara! It’s the original poor man’s pasta with its bare bones ingredient list and rich, belly satisfying flavor. But, as times change so do the availability and prices of ingredients. The once inexpensive guanciale (pork) and Pecorino Romano cheeses that made this pasta so scrumptious are not as readily available or affordable in modern day America as they may have been when and where this dish originated. So, today, we’re making a modern day budget-friendly version of Spaghetti Carbonara that is every bit as creamy, delicious, and weeknight friendly as the original, but a little less heavy and a lot more accessible for American cooks.
Easy Weeknight Spaghetti Carbonara
What is Spaghetti Carbonara?
Spaghetti Carbonara is the epitome of simple, satisfying pasta dishes. It’s just spaghetti, pork (guanciale, but I use bacon), egg, cheese, and freshly cracked pepper. The creamy egg yolk and cheese form a super velvety luxurious sauce that lightly coats the pasta, and that’s about all you need in life.
Can I Use a Different Kind of Pasta?
Absolutely! This simple comfort food can be made with whatever shape pasta you happen to have floating around in your pantry. The idea here is that it’s fast, easy, cheap, and delicious. No one is watching to make sure you use the “correct” type of pasta. Just go with it! :)
Use Ingredients Wisely to Keep Costs in Check!
I used only a small amount of bacon in my carbonara to keep prices low and make the dish a little lighter (because honestly, I sit at a desk all day). Luckily, bacon has such a strong flavor that it still permeates throughout the dish. Good Pecorino Romano can be pretty expensive, so I used the grated Parmesan that I have on hand. But it’s true, the better the cheese you use for this dish the better the end product will be, so if you can spring for a wedge of Parmesan, go for it! But by all means, don’t use a “Parmesan topping” or something that is blended with fillers. No ma’am.
Variations on Classic Carbonara
There’s a lot of room for personal interpretation with spaghetti carbonara, so it’s a great staple recipe to learn and know. One of the easiest ways is to add your favorite vegetable. Peas, asparagus, or roasted cauliflower are all great options! If you have a favorite spin on carbonara, I’d love to hear it! Drop me a line in the comments below and let me know how you like yours. :)
- 3 oz. bacon ($0.88)
- 2 cloves garlic ($0.16)
- 12 oz. spaghetti ($0.66)
- 3 large eggs ($0.92)
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan ($1.44)
- Freshly cracked pepper ($0.10)
- Salt to taste ($0.05)
- Handful fresh parsley (optional) ($0.10)
- Fill a large pot with water for the pasta and season with salt. Place a lid on the pot and bring it up to a boil over high heat.
- While waiting for the water to boil, cut the bacon into small pieces. Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium-low heat until brown and crispy. Remove the cooked bacon from the skillet, then turn the heat down to low. Mince two cloves of garlic, add them to the warm skillet, and sauté for about one minute or until fragrant and softened, then turn off the heat.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, and a generous dose of freshly cracked pepper.
- The water should be boiling at this point, so add the pasta, stir well, and continue to boil the pasta until al dente. Reserve one cup of the starchy pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta in a colander.
- Add 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water to the skillet that was used to cook the bacon. Stir the warm water in the skillet and dissolve the browned bits from the surface of the skillet. Add the steaming hot drained pasta to the skillet and toss in the bacon liquid in the skillet.
- Pour the egg and Parmesan mixture over the hot pasta and immediately begin to stir or toss the pasta. Continue to stir the hot pasta in the egg mixture until a creamy sauce forms. Add the remaining Parmesan, a little more freshly cracked pepper, and the reserved bacon bits, and toss again. If the pasta becomes too thick or dry, add a splash more of the reserved pasta water.
- Finally, taste the pasta and adjust the salt, Parmesan, or pepper if needed. Top with a pinch or two of roughly chopped parsley leaves.
See how we calculate recipe costs here.
How to Make Spaghetti Carbonara – Step by Step Photos
To make this recipe a little more affordable, I’m using bacon (a small amount) instead of guanciale or pancetta. I only used 3oz., or 1/4 of this 12oz. package. I like to cut my bacon packages into quarters and then freeze the rest. That way I can grab out 1/4 at a time to use as needed.
Cut the bacon into smaller pieces, then brown the bacon in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Remove the bacon from the skillet, then turn the heat down to low and add two cloves of minced garlic. Sauté the garlic for about one minute, or just until it loses its raw edge. Then turn the heat off.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then add the pasta. Stir the pasta, then continue to boil until tender. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta in a colander.
While you’re waiting for the pasta to cook, whisk together 3 large eggs, about 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, and a hefty dose of freshly cracked pepper.
Add about 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water to the skillet that was used to cook the bacon. Stir the hot cooking water to dissolve the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet.
Toss the drained (but still steaming hot) pasta in the skillet with the bacon water.
Pour the egg and Parmesan mixture over the hot pasta. Immediately begin stirring or tossing the hot pasta to distribute the egg mixture and prevent it from curdling. Stir until a creamy sauce forms (this happens quickly).
Finally, add the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan, the reserved bacon, and more pepper. Toss the pasta until the Parmesan melts into the sauce.
See that creamy sauce on the bottom? MMmmmm
To finish the pasta, just give it a taste and add salt, pepper, or Parmesan if needed.
Top with a little fresh parsley, if you like a lil’ green with your creamy dreamy pasta.
Fork yeah, carbonara!