Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Spaghetti Carbonara recipe — thank you, Walt Kopp!!!

Brian Schwartz headshot by Brian Schwartz

Long long ago when I was a small boy, we spent our summers in Naples. My dad taught a summer seminar there. Perhaps my fire for delicious food was first kindled there. We had an Italian friend who was rich enough to eat at the fanciest places but he preferred to seek out cheap rustic places in tiny off-the-beaten-track villages. We once ate pizza in a hamlet whose streets were so narrow that our car got stuck between two houses. I loved the pizza but my favorite thing was spaghetti carbonara. Sometimes I'd order it for dessert, having already eaten pasta and an entree. Sometimes I'd cajole my parents into taking me out at ten or eleven to a tiny place near our hotel and have it as a snack. (Hey, I was eleven!)

I never order it in the U.S. because I'm afraid it wouldn't be the same. A few years ago … Walt Kopp published … a recipe he had got in Naples 25 years before. It used cream and American bacon and I figured it would be totally inauthentic. (The authentic kind, I believe, uses raw eggs which cook by the heat of the spaghetti after the burner has been turned off.) So I put it aside. One of my friends made it for me tonight and it was wonderful! Just like I remembered. So here's the recipe. (She is LDS [Mormon] so we omitted the wine)

Thank you Walt! I wish you were here for me to thank in person.


[Note: Walt Kopp died July 7, 2006 and is being missed.]

Spaghetti Carbonara

Walt Kopp kitty licked
This photo was at the top of Walt Kopp's recipe, his cat reaching to lick his ear — the caption was "sharing secrets."

by Walt Kopp
(May 2004)

WARNING: This dish is condemned by Weight-Watchers and all other "sensible" diet plans.


  • 1 pound bacon, diced (easiest while semi-frozen)
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine (Rosé wine may be used)
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 4 (extra-large) eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup (1/2 pint) heavy cream

DIRECTIONS: (Total preparation time, about 1 1/2 hours)

In a large heavy pot, sauté diced bacon over low heat until half done, about 15 minutes, until semi-browned. Add minced onion, and sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, about 15 more minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly, and DRAIN OFF FAT. Add the 1 cup wine and 1 teaspoon pepper, cover, and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes. While bacon mix is simmering, in a large glass or porcelain bowl mix the 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese with the 1 cup of heavy cream; stir. Add the 4 eggs, and stir (with a whisk) to blend smoothly. Set aside.

Also while bacon mixture is simmering, cook 1 pound of spaghetti, according to package directions, to the al dente stage. (Time cooking of the pasta to coordinate with completion of simmering the bacon mixture.) Drain the cooked capellini, and add the capellini to the pot containing the bacon mixture; stir to coat capellini evenly. Then, while continuing to stir capellini/bacon mix over VERY LOW HEA , slowly pour the egg/cheese/cream mixture over the capellini; mix quickly* but well, lifting the pasta with forks until it is well-coated (this is most easily done as a two-person operation, with one person pouring the egg mixture, the other lifting and stirring the pasta). Remove to warm serving bowl(s)*, and serve immediately.

Walt Kopp
Walt Kopp

This entrée is so very rich that it is best served with simple accompaniments; a tossed salad, garlic bread, and white wine are recommended.

This had been served at the NATO Officers Club in Naples, Italy, some 25 years ago. I asked the chef for the recipe, and over the years I've made it evolve. (In all modesty, I think it's better than the original...with the minor exception that rather than use bacon, the authentic formula calls for pancetta, a delicate Italian ham, usually sliced very thin, but usually hard to come by in the USA.) Thinking about this, I might try it using Canadian bacon (less fat...as if THAT would make a big difference with all that cream, eggs, and cheese!). Another experiment we intend to try is using precooked bacon...might be less time-consuming and messy than cutting the raw stuff. Just crumble it, is my idea.

Also, one could use almost any type of pasta -- we like it best with spaghetti as thin as possible..."angel hair" is our favorite. A final word of caution: my father-in-law NEVER eats seconds of anything...but the first time I served this he had THIRDS!

* Note: mixing too slowly, and/or allowing pasta to stand in warm pot may curdle the egg mixture.

Ours looked better, this photo is from a German website.

spaghetti carbonara
spaghetti carbonara

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