Carbonara is a dish many have tried and failed to perfect. But with this simple recipe and expert tips from Big Mamma’s head chef, it will soon become your go-to dish for whenever you’re trying to impress.
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There isn’t much that can beat a creamy pasta dish and the carbonara is certainly the crowd favourite. It’s a reliable dinner party favourite and totally irresistible served fresh at an Italian restaurant.
If you’ve only ever tasted a carbonara, and never attempted to make one yourself, you might be surprised by how simple the recipe is. For such a decadent, luxurious dish, most of the ingredients required to make it are things you probably already have in your fridge and kitchen cupboards at home.
The creamy spaghetti dish, traditionally made with pork, hard cheese and black pepper, is a fairly modern one, earning its official name in the middle of the 20th century. While little is known about the true beginnings of the carbonara, many people believe it originated in Lazio, one of Italy’s 20 administrative regions.
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The name ‘carbonara’ is derived from the Italian word, ‘carbonaro’, meaning ‘charcoal burner’ and some people believe that the dish was first made as a meal for Italian charcoal workers. In parts of the United States, it was even known as “coal miner’s spaghetti”.
The carbonara has come a long way from the laps of coal miners, all the way to the (Instagram-famous) plates of the Big Mamma Group’s restaurants, including Circolo Popolare, Gloria and the recently opened Ave Mario.
These London-based restaurants are as well-known for their delicious food as the eccentric ways in which they serve it. The sight of their carbonara being served from a huge wheel of parmesan cheese straight onto restaurant-goers plates is one you have probably come across on your Instagram feed.
Filippo La Gattuta, the head chef for all of Big Mamma’s restaurants, spent many years perfecting his carbonara recipe, which is why it is such a popular dish at all of his restaurants.
Here, he shares his recipe and expert tips for perfecting the carbonara at home.
What you will need to make the Big Mamma carbonara
- 3 whole eggs and 6 egg yolks
- 90g grated Pecorino cheese
- 90g grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 400g spaghetti
- 8 slices of guanciale (cured pork cheek/jowl), finely sliced
How to make the Big Mamma carbonara
- In a bowl, mix the whole eggs and egg yolks with the pecorino, parmesan and pepper. Set aside.
- Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the spaghetti according to the package directions, then drain, reserving the cooking water.
- In the meantime, add the guanciale slices to a dry frying pan (skillet) over a medium heat and sear for 5 minutes, or until crispy.
- Add 1 tablespoon of the pasta cooking water, followed by the spaghetti.
- Remove the pan from the heat. Add the egg mixture and mix briskly. The eggs should not cook too much and the consistency of the sauce should be creamy.
- Transfer to a large serving dish and serve immediately.
Filippo’s expert tips for making the perfect carbonara
Never use cream
One of the most controversial issues around carbonara is whether you should add cream to the recipe but Filippo says that doing so would mean your dish is not a carbonara at all. “Adding cream to your recipe is a revision of the traditional, Italian recipe,” he explains.
The creaminess of the dish comes from the egg and cheese mixture which, if you cook it at the right temperature and for the right amount of time, will create a more satisfying texture than adding cream ever could.
You don’t need to cook your eggs
Filippo explains that you should mix the egg and cheese together before adding them to the carbonara and the key thing to guaranteeing the dish gets that creamy texture is to ensure you don’t overcook the egg mixture. “You simply need to heat the eggs rather than cooking them. Keep your heat low and don’t cook them for too long because you don’t want scrambled eggs,” Filippo says.
If you find your pasta is too dry after adding your sauce, try mixing in a spoon of boiling water, Filippo suggests.
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Your pasta should be al dente
Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to the texture of pasta but a carbonara in particular is intended to be served with al dente spaghetti, according to Filippo. In order to get that perfect texture, cook your pasta for a minute less than your packet instructions advise, tasting it to try the texture before draining it.
You should also cook your pasta in salted water. “I recommend three tablespoons of salt per four litres of water,” Filippo says.
Cut your guanciale carefully
The meat is a key part of the carbonara and Filippo says the most important thing to keep in mind is not how you cook it but how you slice it. “Cooking guanciale is fairly simple but cutting it very thin can be more difficult,” he says.
Filippo suggests trying to cut your guanciale into 5mm slices.
You can find more expert tips and guides on The Curiosity Academy’s Instagram page.
Filippo La Gattuta, head chef at Big Mamma
Filippo is the Executive Chef for all of the Big Mamma restaurants, including its three restaurants based in London: Circolo Popolare, Gloria and Ave Mario.
Images: Big Mamma Group