Pasta Carbonara — Easiest Weeknight Dinner

pasta carbonara

I know what you’re thinking. Pasta carbonara? The week after Thanksgiving? Who needs it? But, and forgive me if I’m wrong, I think you might be thinking of an entirely different dish, one containing cream and butter and vast amounts of cheese?

I had misconceptions, too. But true pasta carbonara is in fact light, containing no cream at all. And this recipe, from Everyday Food, calls for sautéed leeks, grated lemon zest and freshly squeezed lemon juice, flavors that make this carbonara preparation particularly fresh and light. What I love most about this dish is the sauce, made with two whisked eggs, 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid, and 1/4 cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, an incredibly creamy mixture (despite containing no cream at all) that coats the pasta so well, making every bite especially tasty. Oddly, it tastes not the least bit eggy. Just creamy and delicious. Yum.

With bacon and eggs on hand, dinner can be assembled in a flash. I’ve made this dish once a week since my Everyday Food magazine arrived in mid-October. Nothing makes me happier than whisking that pasta cooking liquid with the eggs and cheese, watching it transform into a magically flavorful sauce, and throwing dinner on the table. I think you’ll enjoy it, too.

pasta carbonara

bacon, lemon & leeks

When my dear auntie was visiting last week, she brought me some goodies — eggs, bacon, sausage and chicken — from Kinderhook Farm in New York. Oh my gosh, what a treat! With the chicken — one of the best chickens I’ve ever tasted — we made Zuni Cafe’s roast chicken and bread salad; with the eggs and bacon, we made several batches of pasta carbonara (in addition to enjoying them on their own for breakfast); and with the sausage — so peppery and delicious — we made breakfast sandwiches on English muffins. Yum yum yum. Thank you Auntie!

eggs from Kinderhook Farm

Pasta Carbonara

Source: Everyday Food

Coarse salt and ground pepper
6 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
4 leeks (white and light-green parts only), halved lengthwise, rinsed well, and thinly sliced
3/4 pound short pasta, such as campanelle or orecchiette (I used gemelli and more like 1/2 lb.)
2 large eggs
1/2 ounce Parmesan, grated (1/4 cup), plus more for serving (optional)
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped (optional)

1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet. (I did not pour off any fat… it looked too good to discard.) Add leeks, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until leeks are golden brown, about 10 minutes.

2. Add pasta to pot and cook according to package instructions. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, Parmesan, and lemon zest and juice. Whisk 1/4 cup pasta water into egg mixture.

3. Drain pasta and immediately add to egg mixture, along with bacon, leeks, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Sprinkle with more cheese if desired and serve immediately.

Beautiful eggs from Kinderhook Farm:
eggs from Kinderhook farm

50 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this amazing recipe. My husband tends to add cream to his carbonara even though I know that when in Italy, cream would never be used. In fact, when we were last in Rome, I remember having one of the creamiest carbonaras knowing full well that it was the eggs that did the trick. Lemon juice sounds like a perfect touch … will try this recipe this week!

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  2. no cream? wow, I’ve always made carbonara by mixing the egg yolks with the cream and then adding at the end. Jamie Oliver mislead me because yours looks and sounds way better than what I was making. And can we talk about those eggs for a second, wow! They are beautiful. Also love the addition of sauteed leeks. Great photos as always.

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  3. I made this for dinner tonight – so yummy! I like the lemons. I accidentally dumped out my pasta before reserving the liquid but it wasnt a problem. I told Will that this was actually a pretty healthy dinner for us / and then I told him how funny you are and how you reserved all the bacon fat bc you couldn’t bear to throw it out. I informed him I had done the same, which caused him to question my earlier claim… Hahhaha. I think this will definitely be a regular in our house :)

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    • Haha…yeah, I suppose I need to take into account all of that bacon goodness before I start making “light dish” claims. I’m so glad you liked it in any case! And it’s good to know that the recipe still works without the pasta cooking liquid. Mr. Bell is making it for Aims tonight, too. Fun!

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  4. I made this tonight for dinner – great recipe. I only used 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat and thought the leeks did need a little more oil so I added Hickory smoked olive oil by TOOC…so good! Then I was a little concerned about the uncooked eggs so I tossed everything back in the pan and heated it for a few minutes. It did the trick.

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    • I’m so glad you liked this Vicki! I miss TOOC products. Hickory smoked must be new, right? Sounds fantastic. Are you shocked that I kept all of the bacon fat? Perhaps my “lite” categorization wasn’t quite accurate :)

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  5. Made this for dinner last night and both my husband and I flipped. I’ve never made carbonara before because I had the misconception that it was too rich — like alfredo. I cut the lemon/lemon zest down to only a tsp each since my husband is slightly lemon phobic for savory dishes. I drained the bacon and onion (didn’t have leeks) and I had to heat the whole mixture a few seconds to get it to thicken. But this is delightful and we’ll make it over and over again. Thanks!

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  6. Yes, Hickory smoke came in the most recent shipment from the Temecula Olive Oil Company. I was trying to figure out how to use it. It was soooo good in the carbonara! I think it would also be great to use in a spinach salad.
    My mother had a recipe for “bacon spaghetti” in which she would use the fat from a pound of bacon. We loved it! I could never do that now. So your four tablespoons of fat is “lite”. ( comparatively)

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  7. You have inspired me. I have cooked two of your recipes today and it made for a delicious Sunday! This might be one of the best things I have ever made. I only tweaked a couple of things – I used two leeks instead of four, half a box of campanelle (serves 2), I used all of the juice from one lemon and used all of the bacon fat (you’re right!). Because I wanted to make sure the eggs were cooked thoroughly (the pasta water alone didn’t seem to be working), I added the egg mixture to the pasta and put it back on the stove for a couple minutes until it started to form, then I added the bacon and leeks, stirred and added more Parmesan. I put the parsley on top in the serving bowl very last. DELICIOUS! Thank you thank you for introducing me to such a wonderful recipe.

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    • Cassie — This makes me so happy. I love this recipe, too, and it definitely seems adaptable — if you stick to the main sauce part (pasta cooking liquid, lemon juice and parmesan), I think you could add any number of things to make it just how you like it! Thanks for writing in —

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  8. So glad I made this. I’m not much of a cook, but it looked simple enough to tackle. I’m lactose intolerant, so I’m glad I could enjoy this without the cream. I used Canadian bacon instead of regular bacon. Turned out great. Thanks for pinning this recipe, I will use it again and again.

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  9. This looks SO good. I want to make it tonight! Question, though: I think I’m down to my last two bacon slices, but I know I have cured chorizo – do you think a mix of both would work?

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  10. This was great! I never would have thought of the leeks. I substituted pancetta for bacon, used 3 eggs and a whole box of pasta, and tossed in some sauteed summer squash too.

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  11. I just made this for dinner and Zach and I both absolutely loved it. The lemon is a genius addition, I never would have guessed, but it really did give the pasta a nice zing. I made it a bit of a whatever-was-in-the-veggie-drawer type of carbonara, adding spinach (yum), onion, zucchini and peas to the leeks. This will definitely be a weeknight staple for us! Also, I think if I had taken a picture of my pasta it would love looked like a giant green-tan blob.

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  12. dear alexandra, I’m new to your website and it’s already completely INSPIRING! i’m going to make this dish tomorrow night… but we are a leek and onionless house. i know it sounds weird, but you know how people are. Anyways, any other recommendation? would possibly mushrooms work? or even chives? we can handle chives. thanks so much, can’t wait to try!

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    • Rachelle — Welcome! Chives would be really nice because they have that oniony bite, but scallions would be nice, too. If you do chives, I wouldn’t even sauté them. Just chop them up and add them at the end. And if you do scallions, I think a quick sauté or sweat would be nice — not too long. Mushrooms would definitely work, and I love mushrooms, so they would be a welcome addition in any pasta dish I make, but they’ll definitely change the nature of the dish if you know what I mean. If you don’t care about that, however, I say add them! Truthfully, I’ve made a number of variations of this pasta dish keeping the sauce (the lemon juice, eggs, grated parmesan, pasta cooking liquid sauce) the same. It’s such a yummy sauce and you could add any number of sautéed vegetables or meats and make a really yummy dish. Hope that helps!

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  13. I made this for dinner tonight. Wow. It was just wonderful. I zested a whole lemon and used all the juice. I also added leftover peas and a small potato. Everyone had seconds. Thanks for this knockout recipe.

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  14. I made this tonight. I have never made a carbonara before but, was so glad it was this easy!! I loved how light it was, and how delicious it was thank you for posting!!

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  15. I’ve made this several times, and just had to comment because when I told my husband we were having this tonight, his eyes lit up. It’s definitely one of our favorite meals! I use a full box of pasta, regardless of weight, because I’m lazy, but other than that I don’t change a thing. It’s just perfect!

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    • Suzanne — I’m so happy to hear this. This is truly one of my favorite pasta dishes as well. It always comes out well — every bite of pasta is bursting with flavor, and it is truly on the light side as far as bacon-laced pasta dishes go :)

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  16. I just made this, and it is FANTASTIC!! As most other people I tweaked the dish a little by adding 2 cloves of garlic – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Thank you for this amazing dish!

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  17. This was amazing! I accidentally bought cilantro instead of parsley and it ended up being a delicious mistake! The flavors are delicate enough that the cilantro was a perfect match. I only used a bit of the bacon grease to cook the leeks to lighten it up a bit and I felt that it was still quite flavorful. Wonderful recipe!

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    • Laureen — wonderful to hear this! And I think going light on the bacon grease is always wise…I somehow just can’t resist adding it all…but my mother always drains most of the fat and swears the recipe doesn’t need it, so I should probably listen to you both!

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  18. Hi! This looks great, but I have a question.
    When you add the pasta water to the blended cheese/egg/lemon mixture, is the water hot? Like, is it tempering the eggs so they’re cooked while you’re adding the water, or are the eggs more or less raw when you eat this dish? Just want to make sure I cook it right

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    • Sarah — yes, the water is hot. I scoop it right from the pot of boiling pasta just before I drain the pasta. And I whisk it into the egg-lemon juice mixture slowly so as to not curdle it, though I’m not sure this is really necessary. While I can’t say for sure how cooked the eggs are, I would not describe them as raw. The heat of the pasta cooking liquid cooks them slightly, and then the heat of the hot pasta when you toss everything together cooks them further. Hope that helps! When my aunt makes this, she always throws everything back into the frying pan to ensure that those eggs are cooked, but I really don’t think this is necessary.

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  19. This pasta looks great! I’ve never tried a lemon-flavoured pasta, but it looks way healthier than the ordinary carbonara and I’ll try this weekend♡ Thanks for the recipe!

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  20. I know! I think people here like it too. :)@ Strawberry fcelkreface, It’s so easy. just add ketchup after mixing all together. It tastes kind of sweet I guess, so adding pepper would be good idea too. Hope you like it!

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  21. I love this recipe! Im sad my husband doesn’t like it as much but I make it anyway!! I was wondering…..I have never used leeks and I have just been using an onion. will it change the flavor if I use leeks? How do I cut a leek!!?

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  22. This is my go to recipe anytime I make Pasta Carbonara! Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful recipe. I have made this for many guests and am ALWAYS asked for the recipe. Thanks again! *****

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  23. Thanks for sharing this great receipe! I made it a few days ago for some friends and we all loved it. Unfortunately we emptied the pan before I was able to take pictures. But I’ll definitely make this dish again soon.

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