Shellie's Spaghetti Carbonara

Shellie's Spaghetti Carbonara.jpg

Shellie’s Spaghetti Carbonara

My high school friend Shellie Unger is a fabulous cook. I remember her mother growing fresh herbs and preserving fruit in brandy during those stodgy casserole years of the South when few cooks prepared food that was out of the ordinary. Shellie took her mother’s creativity in the kitchen and added her own flourishes and practicality from working for years as an executive for Vanguard, raising two children, and traveling with her family.

Shellie says her go-to recipe that her kids request when they come home to Pennsylvania to visit or when she needs to impress friends quickly is her Spaghetti Carbonara. She studied various recipes, then perfected her own. On a trip to London she and her son Trey ordered this as a brunch appetizer and baby peas were added, so now she adds peas.  Shellie says this recipe originated in the coal-mining region of Italy.

Pancetta is Italian bacon, and you can find it at delis that specialize in Italian ingredients. Or you can use thick-sliced bacon. Shellie and I both agree to splurge on the good Parmesan cheese, using Parmigiana-Reggiano or grana.


Makes: 4 servings | Prep: 15 to 20 minutes | Cook: 7 to 8 minutes

 6 quarts water
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter (or combination of the two)
6 to 8 ounces pancetta, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 pound spaghetti
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1¼ cups grated good Parmesan cheese, (see Notes)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ to ¾ cup frozen baby peas, thawed
Reserved ¼ cup pasta water 

  1. Bring the 6 quarts water to a boil in a large pot, and add the salt.

  2. Meanwhile, place the olive oil or butter in a large skillet with pancetta and whole garlic cloves. Cook over medium-high heat until the pancetta renders its fat but is not crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Discard the garlic cloves and remove the pan from the heat. Do not drain the fat.

  3. When the water is boiling, add the pasta, and stir to separate the spaghetti. Lower the heat to medium, and let the pasta cook at a simmer until al dente, 6 to 7 minutes.

  4. While the pasta cooks, break the eggs into a large shallow bowl. Whisk until the yolks and whites are just combined. Add 1 cup of the Parmesan, the cooled pancetta and drippings, and a generous grinding of black pepper.

  5. When the pasta has cooked, drain the pasta (reserving ¼ cup pasta cooking water) and turn it into the bowl with the egg mixture. Toss until the egg sauce cooks and the pasta is well coated. Add the reserved pasta water as needed so the strands of spaghetti do not stick together. Fold in the peas.

  6. Serve at once with the extra Parmesan for topping.

Do ahead: While this is a last-minute recipe, you can pre-chop the pancetta and place it back in the fridge, peel the garlic cloves, thaw the peas, and grate the Parmesan. If you want to reheat leftovers, save a little extra pasta cooking water to pour over the top.