A Tale of Two Carbonaras

A portrait from Brooklyn and Rome

The purist Roman version or a family version taught to me on vacation in Puglia? You be the judge.


Raw Egg Revelation

“This dish has raw egg?” I confirmed, eyes wide, mouth agape, and a very hungry toddler perched on my hip.

Sure, I like a nice runny yolk for brunch, and have even allowed encouraged my kids to eat plenty of raw cookie dough along with me, but somehow making a pasta “sauce” using raw egg seemed unfathomable to me at the time. Of course, I had a lot to learn.

Ever-gentle and patient, Puglia-born Piera smiled and assuaged my concern with a “Well, yes, but it is somewhat cooked by residual heat.” Piera’s reputation proceeded her, and having already tasted several of her Italian dishes in my own kitchen and enjoyed the most amazing porchetta to the preschool picnic that year, I yielded to her expertise. As with anything she ever makes, it was absolutely delicious, and not only an instant favorite, but it has joined many others on our list of family comfort foods.

spaghetti carbonara and red wine

Piera taught us the original Roman version, which is simply spaghetti, guancale or pancetta, egg pecorino romano cheese and black pepper. But I soon learned there was another camp of carbonara lovers who like to add shallots.

Fast-forward to August 2018, and ever-gracious Piera had invited us to see her beautiful homeland and meet some of her incredibly lovely family, in Puglia. One amazing evening we welcomed her siblings and cousins over to our AirBNB in Vieste, to share a meal on our rooftop, as a way to thank them for their hospitality at the beach all week.

sunset over vieste puglia italy
sunset over vieste, aug 2018

This time, at the hands of her brother-in-law, Mimmo patiently taught me his version of spaghetti carbonara.

cutting up some guancale for
mimmo chipping the guanciale for his carbonara

Carbonara, made either way, is a now family favorite that we make whenever we want to feel a satisfying hug from Italy. Both recipes are provided below.

fresh homemade spaghetti carbonara, mimmo style, with shallots



Saxophonist and singer in the band Favonio, Mimmo was the one who showed me how to whip up carbonara for a crowd one steamy evening on a rooftop in Vieste, Italy.

So, it is his music we now pair with this delicious dish. It’s fun for cooking, and for a dance party as well.

Note: also catch Mimmo’s music as part of the Limoncello Cake portrait!


Classic Carbonara

Version one is the recipe I learned from Piera, who’s husband hails from the city of this dish’s origins: Rome. It was just one of many dishes she taught me in my tiny Brooklyn kitchen as our three kids played. Someday I will find the time to capture more of the recipes and memories she shared with us.

the before picture for classic roman spaghetti carbonara
before: classic roman carbonara


Mimmo’s Carbonara (with Shallots!)

guanciale and shallots cooking for carbonara

Version two is this is the Carbonara recipe I learned from Mimmo, in a summer rental in the town of Vieste, a beautiful old coastal city in Puglia.

Making due with the limited kitchen supplies, half the fun was how he got creative to pull this off! Small stove, odd collection of pan… and no cheese grater?! And then the power went out just as we were finishing! But it all worked out and it was also delicious, shared with new friends, on the roof of our Airbnb as the sun fell behind the horizon across the Adriatic Sea.

Which one will you choose? Or will you try one of each for a bit of a taste test? Do write us and let us know!