Deep Breaths, Chin Up and Type

There could be no other recipe with which to start this blog – a family favourite and probably my signature dish.   Andrew always ordered this in restaurants to see if it was ‘as good as Mum’s’ and it was a source of pride when Dad ordered this in a Venetian restaurant and announced ‘yours is better’.  Yes, boys, it is of course Spaghetti alla Carbonara.  My recipe is based on one found in a Sainsbury’s Book of Italian Cookery from the early 1980s, which has been adapted to suit my tastes.

The historical origin of the dish lies in the mists of time – some people claim it isn’t a true Italian dish, others that the carbonara refers to the miners who ate the dish.  People don’t even agree on the ingredients and I’m sure that many Italians would not regard mine as authentic.

I first ate it in an Italian restaurant in Wimbledon in the early 1980s and since then we have all eaten it all over the world.  It is probably the only dish that was always made when we were on holiday, and was responsible for the purchase of a real pasta pan, after I made it once using all the available pans in a rented holiday home.  The comment that ‘it wasn’t one of your best, Mum’ still hasn’t taught me not to ask what the boys think of a dish!  It is, however, one of the easiest and most delicious dishes ever devised.  My recipe is below, but, in the past, I have substituted streaky bacon or ham for pancetta, and I have used half creme fraiche and half single cream (in an effort to make the dish healthier).  Equally I have used whole eggs rather than egg yolks when I really didn’t feel like making meringues with the left over whites.  I’m sure that I put in more parmesan than is stated, and I know that I when I haven’t got vermouth in the house, I use white, rose or even red wine.   These variations have all worked.   You can cook the pancetta in advance though it needs to be hot when added to the spaghetti.   I don’t think that the dish heats up well so I’ve always tried not to have leftovers – you may disagree.

So here is the recipe – feel free to make it your own.

Serves 4-6

Spaghetti alla Carbonara – Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 200 g pancetta or streaky bacon, cut into small slices
  • 1 small glass vermouth or white wine
  • 3 egg yolks
  • Small tub of single cream
  • 40 g grated parmesan
  • 500 g spaghetti


Heat the olive oil and butter on medium heat.  Add the garlic – fry for about a minute and do not brown.  Remove the garlic.

Add the pancetta and fry for about 10 minutes.  If you’re using bacon, this will take less time.  Add the vermouth and bring to the boil.  Boil until the liquid has almost disappeared.

Mix together the cream, egg yolks and parmesan.  Season with pepper.  I don’t add salt because I find the pancetta and the parmesan salty enough, but you may disagree.

While the wine is boiling, cook the spaghetti.

Strain the spaghetti and put into a pre-warmed bowl.  Add the bacon and the cheese and egg sauce.  Mix well and serve.


6 thoughts on “Deep Breaths, Chin Up and Type

  1. Starting with the classic! Gave up making this years ago as could never come close to yours, putting the egg in too soon and creating spaghetti in scrambled eggs being a particular highlight…

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