Sharing a recipe! Because I hate reading 400 pages of notes before the recipe, scroll to the bottom for insight and notes if you want.
¹⁄₄ -¹⁄₂ pound of guanciale
12 oz bucatini, or your favorite noodle
1¹⁄₂ Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1¹⁄₂ Pecorino Romano, grated
3 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
salt and pep
Prepare a large pot of water for the pasta and generously salt the water. While the water boils, prepare the guanciale.
Cube the guanciale into centimeter by centimeter bits. Throw this into a saute pan over medium heat. Prep the sauce while the fat begins to render.
In a medium bowl, separate your yolks from 3 of the eggs, cracking one whole egg in with the yolks (so one egg + three yolks in your bowl).
Grate about 3/4 cup of your pecorino romano cheese into the bowl. Do the same for the parmesan cheese, and mix together the contents of the egg/cheese.
While the fat has begun to render on the guanciale, you'll see your cubes turn from opaque to translucent. This is a step in the right direction, but we aren't there quite yet. We want to continue cooking down the guanciale until the outsides of the bits are seared crispy, but not burned. You'll see the change in the guanciale, but if you're worried, refer to the photos I've shared down below. Turn off and remove from the heat when the guanciale is completed.
Cook the pasta as directed on the package. Drain and throw into the warm pan of guanciale. While the pasta is still hot, pour the egg and cheese mixture on top and gently stir to coat. In doing so, you'll melt the cheese and warm the yolk without cooking it to solids.
Serve, topping with more fresh grated cheese and pepper, and salt if you so desire (but the salt from the cheese and guanciale should be enough!)
Carbonara is a relatively easy, straightforward dish. It uses just a handful of ingredients, and the sauce doesn't need hours to cook down any tomatoes. In fact, the sauce doesn't even really need to be cooked. Carbonara is a peak comfort food: noodles, cheese, savory breakfast elements. What more could anyone ask for in a single dish?
Guanciale: in the middle, the fat has begun to render, turning the cubes from opaque to translucent. On the right, you can see the crisped sides of each of the cubes after just a few more minutes. You can also see the volume of liquid fat sitting in the pan, which we'll use to help coat the pasta and keep it from sticking.
I love taking shots of all of the ingredients--the guanciale was a beautiful, new ingredient. I know pork jowl can be a bit intimidating, but let me tell you--it is worth it. As someone who has grown up having carbonara with pancetta or even bacon, the cubes of guanciale were life-changing. The cubes are crispy on the outside but slightly chewy on the inside in the best way possible. Pair that with the bucatini, which are hollowed noodles, and you create wonderful bites full of texture.
The easiest, tastiest sauce. Look at the orange yolks!
All about the texture of that dish. You can see the noodles are slick with the rich, eggy sauce. The crisp texture of the guanciale is palpable. The salty bite of pecorino and pepper just flaked on top. I love this dish! By and far the best carbonara I've ever had the pleasure of consuming.
Guanciale is hard to find in some spots. If you really want to, you can order it online by the whole pound from Eataly. You might be able to call your nearby specialty grocers and ask if they carry it. If you can't find it, pancetta works. If you can purchase it from a butcher in a large slab, you get to control the sizes of the cubes you make. Just cook it over lower heat and slower due to the lower fat content than guanciale. I would not recommend bacon unless you get a quality cut from a butcher--it just isn't quite the same.
You can use any noodle for carbonara, but I personally think that bucatini is best. Given how rich of a dish this is, the volume of pasta you get per bite helps manage the load of food needed to consume to feel full (in my opinion).
While pecorino romano is strongly suggested for this dish, you can pick from a variety of different parmesan options available. I love Parmesan Reggiano over a Grana Padano, but any parmesan from the cheese counter at your local grocery store should work. I would not recommend using the cheese from the green cans, as you want a higher quality cheese product that will melt properly with a bit of heat.
To reheat (if you need to?), you can be as extra as I am and pull out the guanciale. Throwing those bits first into a saucepan over low/medium heat will re-crisp them without rendering too much fat. Once you see those bits have re-crisped, turn down the heat. Add the pasta into the pan, and as it starts to warm, I turn the heat off entirely. Blend another egg yolk with additional parmesan and pour it back over the warmed pasta in the pan. This will help to recover the lost sauce texture and flavor that happens in reheating.