How to Make Perfect Penne Bacon Carbonara - Recipe and Guide

The combination of pasta, eggs, crispy bacon and cheese can be heavenly but it can become a disaster as there are so many things that can go wrong. So how to you ensure the angels sing hallelujah rather than moans and groans of disappointment as the egg gets scrabbled or the pasta gets too dry and sticks together. As with many pasta dishes, there is often a lot of varying opinion about the right way to make carbonara and how to make it perfect - every time. You have probably heard all of the various opinions: Onions – yes or no? Cream or no cream? This pasta or that pasta? Whole eggs or only yolks? Many people suggest adding garlic or spring onions, nutmeg or parsley? Parmesan or some other cheese. What about the bacon? Should you use Guanciale or pancetta instead? Should it be spaghetti, bucatini, fettucini, rigatoni or penne? There are some many issues to consider. This article is designed to help you wade through all this stuff to help you make Perfect Penne Carbonara  

The approach described below uses the basic ingredients such as Parmesan and bacon rather than the expensive and more difficult to obtain ingredients such as guanciale or pecorino, which are the preferred bacon and grating cheese used in Rome. These rarer ingredients are more expensive and carbonara is fundamentally a peasant dish, which should work with the simple basic ingredients available outside of Italy. The recipe below also includes whole eggs rather than the yolks, as there are just so many things you can do with lots of egg whites.

One key ingredient that does make a small difference is ridged quills called "penne rigate" but there are no rigorous pasta rules and it depends on what you like.

One key guide or tip for making carbonara is that the sauce should never be overcooked once its poured over the hot pasta and stirred through. The real magic of carbonara is how the warmth of the pasta and pan gently cooks the egg mixture and melts the cheese to make a lovely atiny sheen over every single strand of spaghetti or piece of pasta. The bacon in the mixture adds texture and a salty, smoky taste that complements the egg. Overcook it at this stage and the egg will scrambled and form tiny lumps on the pasta which is very undesirable. The key to the entire process is to perfectly cook the egg mixture when added to the pasta.

Once you have perfected the simple carbonara recipe and processes described below you can try interesting variations such as adding a cup of frozen peas and black pepper, Another thing to try is to add a little cream, caramelised onions and sliced mushrooms. Or you can add blanched asparagus spears sauteed with some basil leaves.

Penne Carbonara Recipe


Black pepper , freshly ground
Nutmeg (optional)
5 eggs
Splash of olive oil
40g (1.5 oz) butter
400g (14 oz) penne rigate
250g (9 oz) of middle bacon, cut into little strips 3cm x 1cm
150g (5 oz)parmesan, finely grated
Salt, to taste


Place a large pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a brisk. How salty? It should taste like salty water from the ocean. While the pot is heating prepare the bacon and cheese. Cut the rind off the bacon and then chop it finely. Grate the cheese very finely - this is important to help it melt quickly. When the water starts to boil, add a glass of cold tap water and half a teaspoon on oil. This will stop the pasta sticking together when it has cooked. Then add the pasta and bring the water back to the boil, turn down the heat and gently simmer until the penne is just cooked to al dente - still just a little resistant to your bite. It should yield when bent but not snap - remember that it will keep cooking while it is hot. Warm your dining plates or bowls in the oven, they need to be warm to finish the cooking process. Meanwhile, heat a mixture of the butter and olive oil in a frying pan. When the oil is very hot, add the bacon and fry until it is crisy and golden.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs a little so that they are combined, but not to the foam stage. Stir the parmesan into the beaten egg. Add some nutmeg at this stage if you want to. Using a slotted spoon, or a sieve remove the bacon and get rid of the excess oil on a sheet of kitchen towel. Keep the butter and oil in the pan. Then timing at this point is critical. Make sure that everyone is seated at the table as the carbonara needs to be served when it is just right. Any delay could cause the eggs to scramble. Drain the cooked pasta, but retain about 1 cup of the cooking water. Return about 2 tablespoons of the cooking water to the pot and add about 1 tablespoon of oil from the frying pan. Add the pasta and toss it for about 60 seconds while heating over the flame.  Turn off the heat and pour in the cheese and egg mixture and add the bacon. Stir the mixture through the pasta. The sauce will slowly start to thicken and the cheese will melt. Serve and eat immediately before the egg overcooks and form lumps of scrambled egg.