Our dream dinner? Bacon-studded pasta that’s easily adaptable and ready in 30 minutes.

By Bridget Hallinan
April 09, 2020
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If you’re looking for a simple recipe, spaghetti carbonara is a great contender. The short ingredient list calls for items you likely already have on hand, like eggs, pork (e.g. bacon or pancetta), pasta, seasonings, and, of course, plenty of cheese.

In our latest Mad Genius Tips video (filmed from home!), our culinary director-at-large Justin Chapple walks viewers through how to make a smoked gouda version of the classic. It’s practically foolproof, thanks to a tempering trick he includes in the recipe, and can easily be adapted based on what you have available. The best part? It’s ready in just 30 minutes. 

Check out Justin’s key tips and guidelines for making the dish below, and find the recipe here.

Cook the Pasta

Justin starts by bringing a large pot of water to a boil and adding a small handful of salt. He then adds one pound of spaghetti—he doesn’t like to break it, he uses tongs to move it around and submerge it instead. The pasta will take about eight to 12 minutes to cook.

Pick Your Meat

Justin says that for every carbonara, you need a meat. In this case, he uses about six ounces of thick-cut bacon he had in the freezer. You can also use slab bacon or thin-cut bacon—pancetta, of course, would work too. 

Cut Up the Bacon

Next, dice the bacon into smaller pieces (don’t worry about them being perfect). Justin recommends popping the bacon into the freezer for about 20 minutes beforehand, so it will be easier to dice. Once you’re done, wash your hands.

Get Creative with Cheese

Feel free to use whatever cheese you have on hand—Justin says Parmesan, sharp cheddar, and even Monterey Jack will work. He uses smoked gouda, and grates about six ounces for the recipe. You’ll need about one cup, or four ounces, for the pasta sauce and extra cheese for serving. 

Separate Your Eggs—and Don’t Waste the Whites

This recipe calls for five large egg yolks plus one large whole egg. Crack the egg whites into a separate bowl, and make sure you save them and put them in the refrigerator for future omelets. 

Save Some Pasta Water

After your cheese, meat, and eggs are all prepped, check on the pasta. Once it’s done, take a heat-proof measuring cup and dunk it into the pot to reserve some pasta water. Justin says you’ll want at least one cup, but a little extra won’t hurt.

Start That Silky Sauce

In the same pot you used to cook the pasta, heat extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook the bacon until the fat has rendered (it will add a ton of flavor to your sauce) and the pieces are just starting to crisp.

Grab a Big, Big Bowl

You’ll need the biggest bowl you have for this recipe, since you’re going to combine the pasta and sauce in it. Add all of the eggs and one cup of the shredded gouda, giving everything a quick whisk until it’s evenly mixed. Then, add a generous pinch of salt and two teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper.

Temper the Eggs

The tricky thing about carbonara is once you add the hot pasta to the egg sauce, it’s all too easy to accidentally scramble the eggs. However, Justin has another Mad Genius Tip to help prevent that—tempering the eggs. He slowly adds about half a cup of the hot pasta water to the egg mixture, whisking it in and effectively halfway cooking them. Once you add the hot pasta, they’ll finish cooking.

Put It All Together 

Add pasta to the bacon in the pot, stirring it around so that it’s coated, and 3/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper as well, for heat. Then, add the other half cup of pasta water to deglaze the pot. Once that’s stirred in, you’re ready to add the pasta to the eggs—and get ready for a forearm workout. Using tongs, vigorously mix everything around to thicken the sauce. The end results, Justin says, are silky, creamy, and foolproof, with a double smoky factor thanks to the gouda and bacon.

Get the Recipe: Smoked Gouda Carbonara