For such a simple dish, it is surprisingly satisfying. It's hard to beat a bowl of cheesy, bacony, peppery, eggy goodness. After I adopted this recipe, I never went back to making carbonara any other way.
Step 1: Mise En Place: Ingredients and Equipment
Start by gathering your ingredients:
one serving of pasta
one or two slices of bacon, depending on how much bacon you want
pecorino or Parmesan cheese
You'll also need a fine grater, a pot for cooking the spaghetti, tongs for handling the food, and a skillet for cooking the bacon. You'll also need couple of ramekins for separating the egg ahead of time.
I personally like the flavor of pecorino cheese better than Parmasean (actually, I like using half grated pecorino, and half grated parma, but then this would be a five ingredient recipe), and I always grate my cheese as I need it; that crumbly pre-ground crap that passes for cheese in most supermarkets is gross. Ground cheese has the wrong texture; insist on grating your own if you're going to do this right. Life is too short to be eating gross pre-ground industrially processed cheese.
Step 2: Start the Pasta, Separate the Egg
1) salt the water until it tastes salty to season the pasta, and
2) the only proper way to test the pasta for readiness is to pull a strand out and taste it. None of this nonsense about throwing it on walls or crushing it under a chair leg; neither of those "tricks" tells you how the pasta tastes and feels in your mouth, which is the only thing that matters.
3) Pasta should be cooked until al dente; it should still be somewhat firm and have a little snap to it, but the core of the pasta should not be hard or crunchy.
Separate the egg, and use a chopstick or some functionally equivalent tool to remove that squiggly bungee cord thing from the egg white. Beat it lightly with a fork, add a teaspoon of water if needed to make it easier to beat.
Beating the egg white with a bit of water makes it more liquid, and easier to spread throughout the pasta later.
If you are concerned about raw egg yoke:
Don't be. In general, eggs are safe nowadays, since they vaccinate chickens against salmonella. If you are really concerned anyhow, use pasteurized eggs; these eggs have been heated to the point where salmonella can't survive, but not to the point where the egg cooks.
Step 3: Cut Up the Bacon and Cook It
Once the bacon is done, turn the heat to super-low, or off if you have a heavy pan; we just need to keep it warm until everything is put together.
Put your egg white ramekin near by, because you'll want to apply the egg white to the pasta while the pasta is hot, so the heat of the pasta cooks the egg. If the egg white isn't somewhat cooked because you added it after the pasta has cooled too much, it just coats everything like slime. Trust me, you want it to cook a little. The residual heat from the pasta is just enough to cook it to a soft consistency.
Step 4: Prep the Cheese
When you grate the cheese with a fine grater, there will appear to be a lot of grated cheese, but most of the volume will be air. The texture of a hard cheese shaved into tiny ribbons with the Microplane is amazing. The shavings quickly dissolve on your tongue in a soft burst of cheese flavor.
You'll need between 1/4 and 1/3 cup of this, depending on how much you like cheese.
Finely grated pecorino is quite delicious. Try a pinch of the finely grated stuff. There's no way store bought pre-ground pseudo-parmasean cheese can compare.
Step 5: Putting It All Together and Serve
Once it's all together, put it in a bowl, plop the egg yoke on top, and garnish with a bit of grated cheese and plenty of pepper.
Serve it up. A rich pasta like this goes well with a good beer. Serve it up with some salad, and a side of grees, and you're all set.
To eat this, first bust the egg yoke with your fork, and stir it into the pasta so everything is coated with a little yellow. If the pepper isn't enough to offset the richness of bacon, egg, and cheese, add a few dashes of crushed red pepper to give it a spicy kick.