Carbonara is a delicious, rich, creamy sauce with cheese and pancetta (or bacon, if like me you can't be bothered to go out and buy pancetta). What makes this sauce a bit unusual is that it isn't thickened with cream (although this is a nice addition) or a roux like you would expect, but with egg. This makes it even easier to prepare, and adds a bit of extra protein (so you can even pretend it's healthy!).
Step 1: Ingredients
-pasta (I typically use dried, although fresh is even better!)
-grated parmesan or other hard cheese
-pancetta (or bacon, or prosciutto, or guanciale, whatever you can get your hands on really. Alternatively, you could leave this out entirely for a vegetarian version.)
I don't usually measure my ingredients, which is why I haven't given any quantities. As a rough guide, I usually use about 100g of pasta, one egg, a bit less than a tablespoon of butter, and one thick slice of bacon if I'm making this for myself.
Step 2: Getting things started
As soon as that's going, start boiling your pasta in water with a bit of salt added. (If you're using fresh pasta, you may want to wait until you've done the next step before starting it, as it will cook much more quickly.)
Step 3: Getting ready to make the sauce
When the bacon is finished cooking, put it in a small bowl (or teacup, as the case may be), and set it aside for now.
(Warning: There might be a bit of thumb-twiddling at this stage. This is a really easy recipe. I had time to wash a sink full of dishes while waiting for the pasta. Just try not to eat all the bacon cubes just yet.)
Step 4: Time for the pasta!
As soon as the pasta is in the bowl, crack your egg into it. That's right, directly into the pasta. Then mix it! You want to get the egg distributed as evenly as possible, since if you let it sit it will curdle. Keep stirring until the egg, butter, and cheese are mixed, and the sauce starts to thicken.
The heat of the pasta cooks the raw egg, but does so slowly enough that you don't need to worry about it scrambling and making your sauce all lumpy. The mixing distributes the egg so it cooks completely, and forms an emulsion with the butter and cheese that makes it nice and creamy.
This sauce won't look quite as thick as the stuff you buy in the store - they bulk it out with cornflour - but trust me, it's tastier. Adding cream in the next step will get you a bit closer to that store-bought taste.
Step 5: Finishing touches
Step 6: Eat!
Once you're happy with this, you can try all sorts of interesting variants. Maybe try adding vegetables to the basic sauce, or different kinds of spices. I had a particularly tasty batch last week while cleaning out my fridge that used smoky bacon in place of pancetta, and some stilton cheese instead of cream. Be creative!