This Pasta alla Carbonara with Peas and Bacon a favorite quick, easy and inexpensive comfort food that's ready in less than 30 minutes.
Like Cacio e Pepe, Pasta alla Gricia and Bucatini all'Amatriciana, Pasta alla Carbonara is a traditional pasta dish that originated in Rome and remains popular there today.
This version of pasta alla carbonara isn't totally authentic because it's lightened up with the addition of fresh peas. I love the bright green pop of color and earthy, springy flavor that they add to the dish. I also opt to make it with American smoked bacon rather than guanciale, which is typically used in a traditional carbonara recipe. I love the smoky flavor, plus, I always have some on hand.
This easy pasta carbonara recipe is great for those nights when when you're short on time and/or ingredients. It's the perfect recipe to serve the whole family, especially with a light side like sauteed spinach or shaved asparagus salad to make a complete.
Why this recipe works
- It’s a slight spin on spaghetti alla carbonara, a classic Italian dish.
- Black pepper is added to the pan with the bacon to toast and develop more flavor.
- Peas add freshness and a bright pop of color to balance out the rich egg and bacon sauce.
- Eggs and grated cheese create a rich and creamy sauce without the need for any heavy cream.
- Inexpensive and quick to make any night of the week.
- Bacon - A true, authentic spaghetti carbonara is made with guanciale, or Italian cured pork jowl. It can be hard to find, so many cooks use pancetta instead, which is made with pork belly and slightly different spices. However, for this non-traditional spin I use American style smoked bacon because I love the way the smoky flavor mingles with the peas. Use whichever you prefer, but don not use turkey bacon or plant based bacon because it doesn't contain enough fat. Look for thick-cut bacon or slab bacon is best to ensure nice, big meaty chunks.
- Pasta - Traditionally pasta carbonara is made with long spaghetti noodles, but it can be made with any kind of pasta. A long pasta, like linguine (what I'm using) will be more authentic, but a short shaped pasta can work in a pinch, too. For best results, look for a bronze die cut pasta, which is a higher quality and allows the sauce to more easily cling to each noodle.
- Cheese - A classic carbonara recipe typically calls for Pecorino Romano cheese, which is a sharp sheep's milk cheese, but I prefer to use half Pecorino Romano and half Parmesan cheese for a more balanced flavor. Use high quality brands like Locatelli, Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano and grate it fresh for best results.
- Peas - While you can certainly use fresh shelled peas when they're in season, frozen peas work beautifully. They need to be fully defrosted first so that they don't cool the pasta down when added, which can prohibit the sauce from thickening properly. Put them in a strainer and run them under hot water for a few minutes before starting the recipe.
- Eggs - The silkiest, creamiest carbonara is made with a combination of whole eggs and egg yolks. Cold eggs will make it difficult for the sauce to thicken up, so bring your eggs to room temperature first. Need something to make with the extra egg whites? My Italian Pignoli Cookies are perfect!
- Black Pepper - Freshly cracked black pepper is essential. Do not use pre-ground pepper for this - it must be ground fresh. If you don't have a pepper grinder, you can crush whole peppercorns with the back of a heavy skillet or meat mallet.
- Long Tweezers - These are not essential, but these giant, long tweezers are excellent for tossing and twirling long cooked pasta so that it doesn't break.
- Pepper Grinder - This is my absolute favorite pepper grinder. It grinds peppercorns as coarse or as fine as you like and never gets stuck or clogged. It's super durable and has lasted me well over a decade with heavy use.
Step by step instructions
- Bring a large pot of water up to a boil. Add the bacon to a large skillet at room temperature and bring it up to medium heat. Sauté the bacon for about 2-3 minutes or until it starts to render out, then add in the garlic clove and black pepper. Continue to cook until the bacon becomes crisp and the garlic is light golden brown. Remove the garlic clove if you desire (I leave it in).
- Add about about a tablespoon of salt to the boiling water, then add the pasta and give it a stir. Cook the pasta according to package directions, but remove it one minute before the recommended time to ensure it stays al dente.
- While the pasta cooks, whisk together the eggs and grated cheese in a medium bowl.
- Right before the pasta is done, scoop out a few cups of pasta water, then drain the pasta noodles and add it to the pan with the bacon. Place the pan over medium-high heat and toss the pasta around in the bacon fat for about 1-2 minutes.
- Add a splash of hot reserved pasta water to the egg mixture and whisk, then add the hot pasta to the bowl and toss quickly so the eggs don't scramble. Continue mixing until the heat of the pasta forms a rich, thick sauce.
- Add the peas and continue tossing until everything is combined. Thin it out with more pasta water or thicken it up with more cheese as needed, then taste and adjust seasoning.
- Transfer the pasta to plates, then sprinkle parsley, extra parmesan and black pepper on top. Serve immediately.
Tips for success
- Cook the pasta in as little water as you can. This will make a starchier pasta water which will help create a creamy texture.
- Do not drain the bacon on paper towels. You need the bacon grease for the sauce.
- Make sure your eggs and peas are room temperature so that they don't prohibit the sauce from cooking.
- Whisk in a splash hot pasta water to the egg and cheese mixture before adding the pasta to temper the eggs and avoid them scrambling.
- If your sauce isn't thickening up, it's probably not hot enough. Place the mixing bowl over top of the pot of hot pasta water and use the steam to create a double boiler. The gentle heat will warm the pasta enough to help form the sauce.
- Frozen peas are blanched before freezing, so you don't need to cook them first before adding to the pasta. But if you prefer them more cooked, add them to the boiling water with the pasta one minute before draining.
- Don't over salt the pasta cooking water or it could cause the final dish to be too salty due to the salty bacon and cheese.
- For even more flavor, add some fresh chives, mint leaves or lemon zest right before serving.
Faq About Pasta alla Carbonara with Peas
Traditional carbonara sauce (and this recipe) does not include heavy cream. It gets the creamy and rich texture from eggs, cheese, and pork fat. Some recipes that do include cream for extra richness, but this is not authentic.
Yes, unfortunately there is no way around this. Pasteurized eggs are generally safe to consume, but if you are pregnant, immunocompromised, or otherwise concerned, it may be best to skip it.
This is a dish that just doesn’t reheat well, so I suggest making only as much as you can eat in one serving. That said, I prefer not to waste food, so if you have any leftovers, I find the best way to reheat carbonara is to add about 2 teaspoons of water to the dish and microwave in 30 second increments, stirring in between, until it's warmed through. Don't let it get too hot or the eggs will scramble.
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