With crispy bits of pork, a peppery bite, and a velvety cheese sauce enriched with eggs, carbonara is just as good at dinner as it is at 4 a.m. after a long night out. It’s one of Rome’s signature dishes, and just like Cacio e Pepe and other pasta recipes in that class, its simplicity demands proper technique and quality ingredients. Cured meat adds a salty depth to the dish, and while guanciale is the most traditional choice, diced pancetta or bacon also work well. Egg yolks give the carbonara sauce its luscious texture and golden hue, so pick up farm-fresh eggs if you can. And when it comes to the cheese and pasta, this is the time to spend a little extra: Buy a wedge of Romano cheese or real Parmigiano Reggiano and a nice box of spaghetti, bucatini, or rigatoni.
A word on technique: To achieve the creamy sauce’s signature sheen, adding the ingredients at just the right time and temperature is key for any carbonara recipe. Whisking a quarter cup of hot pasta water into the raw egg mixture and turning off the heat before adding it to the pasta helps bring everything together into a glossy, emulsified sauce without overcooking the yolks. From there, toss everything together quickly and add more pasta cooking water to thin the sauce as needed.
At dinner, this pasta dish is nice served alongside a plate of greens, but when you’re in the throes of an after-hours hang, just grab a fork.