Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Pasta Carbonara: Quickest, easiest dinner EVER!

I love cooking and eating. Sometimes I find that it is a wonderfully de-stressing experience to do some simple work in the kitchen at the end of the day. For example, it is like a form of meditation to stir a risotto whilst adding the stock, ladle by ladle, as the annoyances of work or the daily commute drain away (for recipe see Even better when you put some relaxing music on to help you on your way to culinary enlightenment.

However, there are days when you are too tired, or you got home too late. On those days, stews which take 2 hours, or curries which take 90 mins, or even a risotto at a humbler 45 mins involve too much work. It is on these days that you either need something nice in the freezer you prepared earlier (which involves a level of planning and military organisation that I am unable to achieve) or you need something you can rustle up QUICK.

This is a pasta recipe which is tasty, inexpensive and fast. You probably will have many of the ingredients in your kitchen anyway (most of us have a packet of pasta and some frozen peas at the very least), but you can easily pick up these ingredients on your way home from work from the vast majority of supermarkets. It will taste far better than any crappy prick-and-ping microwave meal you could buy and will be ready and on the table faster than the time in which your local takeaway can manage to deliver to you.

The classic carbonara is made with spaghetti, although there are versions with tagliatelle. Try them if you wish. I am making mine with a small pasta shape and recommend farfalle or radiattore as they will capture the creamy, eggy, cheesy sauce beautifully. Also, on the days I eat this dish (usually when I have got home very late after a long day at work), I don't want the fuss of chasing long pasta around my plate with fork and spoon. Or the fuss of trying to eat it politely!


Serves 2

1 egg
175g pasta (don't bother with spaghetti, use a small shape like farfalle)
60-85g packet cubetti di pancetta
½ mug frozen peas (around 80g)
75ml double cream (can vary up to 100ml depending on how loose a sauce you want)
5 tbsp grated parmesan cheese (around 30g)
Optional topping: 25g torn parma ham
Grate the parmesan finely


1. Fill a medium sized saucepan with water and bring to the boil. I do not add either salt or oil to my pasta cooking water, but you can if you wish.
2. Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over a medium-high heat, add the pancetta and dry fry until it goes ever so slightly crispy. Put on a plate covered in kitchen roll to absorb any extra fat. Leave to cool.
3. Check the cooking time for your pasta on the packet. This is likely to be 8-10 minutes, although some of the thicker pastas can be 12-13 minutes. Cook the pasta according to the instructions.
4. Please use a kitchen timer to be sure about the timings. There is nothing worse than overcooked, soggy pasta. Add your pasta. You are aiming to cook it until al dente. Set your timer to one minute less than the al dente cooking time.
5. Whilst the pasta is cooking, break the egg into a jug and beat lightly for 30 seconds (until mixed up). Add the cream and beat further. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper (as doing it now will save precious time later).
Mixing up the cream and egg sauce

6. When your timer goes off, add the peas for the final minute of cooking time. Reset your timer for 1 minute and restart it.
7. When cooked drain your pasta, saving half a mug of the cooking water in case you need it later. Turn off the hob. You will now need to work fast.
8. Return the pasta into its saucepan immediately, since you will now use the heat from the pan and the cooked pasta to partially cook the sauce. Add the egg and cream mixture. Mix quickly and thoroughly. If the mix is too thick for your taste, add the reserved cooking water little by little and mix until you get a creamy consistency.
Combine the ingredients working as fast as you can
9. Now add the parmesan, reserving a little for topping. Mix quickly.
10. Serve in pasta bowls, sprinkle the parma ham topping (if using). Then top with the leftover parmesan. Eat straight away; this will cool down quickly.
Almost ready....

All finished and ready to eat in under 20 minutes!

Alternative versions:
  • You could use pecorino cheese instead of parmesan.
  • You could use smoked bacon if you can't find pancetta.
  • You should fry some garlic with the pancetta, provided you do not allow the garlic to brown. It will only need 4-5 minutes cooking time.
  • You could sprinkle chopped flat leaf parsley over the top just before serving. About 1 tablespoon will be more than enough for 2.
  • You might like to serve this with a lightly dressed rocket salad.


    That is easy and tasty too. I'll keep it on hand for when I get home after a hard days work and can't face the kitchen.

  2. Hi Amateur Cook,
    It's good for us amateurs to stick together! In my book food is all about the taste, and not about how 'cheffy' you can be. Glad that you enjoyed the recipe, and yes, it is a lifesaver. And so much better than a prick-n-ping microwave meal. If I get more ideas for very quick suppers, I'll be sure to post them!