Bacon Mushroom Carbonara - Such a simple and elegant recipe can really be made from just a few humble ingredients! If you like a pasta with creamy sauce, the flavors of smoky bacon, mushrooms and Italian cheese, this is perfect for you.
Many of the most famous dishes throughout history seem to have almost mythological origin stories surrounding their origins. Carbonara sauce is no exception to this trend. As best as I could glean from my research, the dish originated in Rome at the end of world war two, and was most likely a result of eggs and bacon being provided to the area in abundance from allied troops as emergency relief rations. Many American soldiers began referring to it as "pasta breakfast", or "Italian bacon and eggs".
This creamy bacon mushroom carbonara is a great example of pasta as comfort food, like our recipe for chicken, spinach and artichoke pasta. If you're looking for another smoky bacon recipe, you'll really love bacon, kale and Yukon gold potato hash!
What is Carbonara Pasta?
There are a few defining characteristics of carbonara, and then there are many optional things. Out of these options, almost all of them are hotly debated, so if anyone wants to make a fuss in the comments, it's all good.
Carbonara is always made from some kind of bacon, eggs, hard Italian cheese, pasta, black pepper, and some of the reserved pasta water.
The bacon is most often guanciale in Italy, which is a type of bacon made from the hog jowl, as opposed to the belly. It can also be found with pancetta, or with smoked "streaky" bacon, like most commonly found in the USA.
Even the egg portion varies from one recipe to the next. Some use only the yolks, some only the whole eggs, and then there are recipes with a mix of both.
The most common cheese utilized for carbonara pasta in Italy is pecorino Romano, but you can also find Parmigiana Reggiano, as well as Grana Padano.
Spaghetti is by far the most common pasta, but linguini, bucatini, fettucine, and even penne rigate are often used.
Here's where things get really controversial. Some folks use some cream in the sauce, (blasphemy!), as well as some garlic, (heresy!), and some "crazy" people even include some vegetables, like mushrooms, (really?), peas, (say it ain't so), or even broccoli,(OMG)!
As a brash American, I'll simply propose the idea that food is, no matter what, a matter of taste. If you like your pizza with chocolate on it, that's great, do it, (just don't make me eat it!).
- Black Pepper - This is the ingredient which is believed to give this dish it's name, which has it's root in the term for charcoal. The black flecks should be freshly ground to have the best flavor, and a somewhat course grind is also best.
- Eggs - We like to use mostly egg yolks for the thickness they provide, with a couple of whole eggs thrown in to smooth it out a bit.
- Mushrooms - This could be domestic or button mushrooms, but the slightly chewier texture of creminis is our favorite for this pasta classic.
- Bacon - I love guanciale and pancetta, but we wanted to make this a bit more approachable for everyone, and using nice thick cut double smoked bacon is still just as delicious, albeit different.
- Spaghetti - Be it ever so humble, this classic noodle shape holds on to the sauce perfectly.
- Olive Oil - Just a touch of extra virgin to sauté the mushrooms, otherwise they would soak up too much of that beautiful rendered bacon fat.
- Pecorino Romano - Like I said above, feel free to substitute any hard cheese really, but this sharp sheep's milk cheese really is worth the splurge, in our opinion. Grate this fresh, please. It really makes a huge difference.
- Garlic - What??? Yes, we Americans like our sautéed mushrooms with a little garlic typically.
See recipe card for quantities.
Step One - Sauté Mushrooms
After heating a skillet over high heat, add the olive oil, followed by the mushrooms.
Allow them to cook just long enough that they start to release some moisture.
Add the minced garlic and toss through.
Once the mushrooms are just becoming wilted, about 10 minutes from the beginning, set aside on the lowest burner setting before beginning the rest of the recipe.
Step Two - Render the Bacon
Over medium low heat, cook the bacon pieces, occasionally stirring to cook evenly.
When the bacon is fully rendered, the fat will begin to foam a little, like this, (about 10 minutes).
Step Three - Boil Pasta, Make Egg mixture
Remove bacon pieces and drain on paper towels to allow to crisp. Boil the water and start the spaghetti.
Combine the eggs, yolks, ¾ of the cheese, and the black pepper in a bowl
Step Four - Temper the Egg Mixture
Whip the egg mixture to fully mix.
Return the bacon fat skillet to a low burner just as the pasta is al dente. Add about 4 ounces of pasta water to the egg mix, and whisk to temper a little.
Step Five - Add Pasta to Eggs
These next steps all have to come together rather quickly, so as not to curdle the eggs. Add the egg mixture to the bacon skillet, and fish the cooked pasta from the water with tongs, so as to reserve the starchy water to thin the sauce as needed during this process.
Add the hot spaghetti to the eggs. Do not try to drip a lot of the water from the pasta, as the water will help the sauce to remain fluid.
Step Six - Toss the Pasta with the Egg, Forming the Sauce
Add the pasta bit by bit, until you have it all in the pan, stirring it around in the process.
Once the sauce resembles the consistency of heavy cream, add a touch more pepper.
Step Seven - Final Touches
Here we see the coated noodles.
Add the reserved bacon and cheese, place the mushrooms on top after plating.
This recipe has a reputation of being less than easy, as using egg as a binder can be a little tricky. Here's how you do this like a pro ; get everything together in advance, and read the recipe until you completely understand each step. Once you get past rendering the bacon, the steps after that need to be executed quickly, and without hesitation, or the egg sauce may become overcooked. Once you have everything laid out in front of you, it doesn't hurt to even rehearse what moves you will make, just to make sure that it will go smoothly.
Spaghetti Carbonara with Bacon and Cremini Mushrooms
- 1 Cutting Board
- 1 knife
- 1 Mixing Bowl
- 1 paper towel
- 1 Saucepan large (2 gallon)
- 1 tongs
- 2 sauté pan
- 1 cheese grater
- 1 pepper mill
- 1 large spoon or ladle
- 8 oz. cremini mushrooms washed and quartered
- 2 cloves garlic large, peeled and minced
- 2 tablespoon olive oil extra virgin
- 1 each salt to taste
- 1 each black pepper to taste
Sauce and Pasta
- 5 each eggs 4 yolks, and one whole
- ½ lb. thick spaghetti
- 2 oz. pecorino Romano cheese finely grated
- 2 tsp. black pepper freshly and coarsely ground
- 1 each salt to taste
- 5 oz. bacon thick cut and double smoked, cut into ¼ inch dice
- 1 oz. pecorino Romano cheese freshly grated
- Heat a large sauté pan over high heat for 1 minute approximately.
- Add olive oil to skillet, allowing it to heat for a few seconds.
- Add mushrooms, settling them out to a single layer.
- After 2 minutes, once you can hear the mushrooms starting to release their moisture, add garlic and stir or toss to combine.
- Sauté for another 2 or three minutes, until mushrooms are just starting to soften.
- Turn heat down to the lowest setting possible to hold mushrooms warm until plating. Alternately, they can be turned off entirely, and rewarmed briefly later.
- Combine egg yolks, egg, 2 oz. of grated cheese, and black pepper in a mixing bowl.
- Whisk contents of the bowl with a wire whip until completely homogenous, and no streaks of egg white are visible.
- Heat a large sauté pan over medium for approximately 2 minutes.
- Add chopped bacon pieces in an even single layer.
- Allow to start to sear and render away some of the fat before stirring.
- Once a small layer of fat forms, stir to allow all sides of the bacon to render and crisp.
- When the fat begins to foam a little and the bacon pieces are uniformly browned, remove the bacon to rest on paper towel, turning off the heat, and reserving the skillet with the fat in it for later use.
Cooking Pasta and Making Sauce
- Start a saucepan containing enough water to cover and cook the spaghetti over high heat.
- Add salt to the pasta water, approximately one tablespoon.
- Once the pasta pot is boiling, add spaghetti.
- Stir the noodles in the beginning part of the cooking to facilitate them getting pliable enough to drop into the water all the way, and keep it from sticking to itself.
- After the pasta is almost al dente, (about 8 minutes in), return the bacon pan to low heat.
- Add 4 ounces of the pasta water to the egg mixture using a spoon or ladle, and stir it in immediately with the whip. This will help to heat the mixture slightly and gently.
- Pour the egg mixture into the bacon pan.
- Immediately begin fishing the pasta out of the water with tongs into the egg pan. Do not try to drip off the water from it, as the excess water will help form the sauce.
- Once all of the pasta is in the skillet, begin stirring to combine the egg mixture with it.
- The resulting sauce will start to thicken. If it appears to be getting gluey or too thick, add a small amount of the pasta water until it is the desired consistency.
- Taste the pasta for seasoning, add more salt and pepper if desired.
- Portion the pasta and sauce evenly into 2 serving bowls or plates.
- Add the reserved bacon pieces and sautéed mushrooms on top of each.
- Sprinkle the remaining cheese onto the pasta.
- Serve immediately.