Best Pasta Carbonara (Without Cream!)

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Everyone should know how to make this 15-minute classic Italian pasta carbonara. It’s ridiculously easy and delicious. With a few simple tips you can make it just as well as any fancy restaurant – with just 5 main ingredients! It’s a super creamy pasta perfect for a quick weeknight meal, but guess what? NO CREAM!

A closeup of a fork in a bowl of pasta carbonara with another bowl in the background

Why you’ll love it

I love the idea of a lush creamy pasta, but I don’t like my pasta to be drenched in cream. The perfect compromise? An authentic no-cream pasta carbonara!

I’ve eaten some really terrible, too-rich versions, and I’ve eaten some fantastic ones. Each to their own, but this is why I think this is the best easy carbonara pasta recipe:

  • There’s NO CREAM. Not a single drop. Eggs alone are enough to make a delicious creamy (and healthy) carbonara sauce for your pasta… if you follow my simple tips!
  • It’s super simple, made with just a few basic ingredients. Get bacon, eggs and cheese, and you probably already have everything else you need in your pantry.
  • It’s on the table in about 15 minutes. Once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s just as quick and easy to make as a sandwich!
  • It’s honestly restaurant quality. Thanks to a few simple tips, this is one of those ‘miracle meals’ that takes mere minutes but tastes like it took you hours.
  • This is a perfect midweek meal, but just as good for easy entertaining!

Fun facts: Originally from the Lazio region (Rome), this ‘no cream’ carbonara happens to be how a traditional Italian carbonara is made.

As the name comes from the Italian word ‘carbonaro’ (meaning ‘charcoal burner’), some believe that this hearty, tasty dish was first made for Italian charcoal workers. Similar versions of the recipe go back to the mid 19th century, but pasta alla carbonara as we know it first started appearing in recipe books around 1950.

Ingredients

One of the best things about this recipe is that you probably already have most of the ingredients in your kitchen. Typically all I have to buy is the bacon and perhaps some pecorino or parmesan.

Just try to use quality ingredients since there are only a few!

Here’s a photo of the ingredients you’ll need for the creamy ‘no cream’ carbonara (minus the pasta!):

Ingredients for a classic pasta carbonara without cream

What pasta to use: I like to use linguine which is just slightly thicker and flatter than spaghetti. But carbonara made in this classic ‘just eggs’ way is both light enough and rich enough to make with a variety of pasta types.

For the most traditional carbonara, use long pasta such as spaghetti, linguine or fettuccine, but really there are no rules set in stone. Short pasta such as penne or rigatoni (tube pasta!) work, too.

Here’s a guide to which pasta shapes to use when if you’re interested in reading more about it!

Butter: Butter (for cooking) adds great flavour, but feel free to use olive oil instead. If your meat is quite fatty, you don’t have to add any extra fat at all.

Eggs: Perhaps surprisingly, only 2 large eggs, lightly whisked. Basically, you only need 1 egg per person you’re serving. Since the eggs are the star of the show in the sauce, I usually try to use fresh free range or organic eggs.

Fun fact: Some traditional carbonara recipes use just egg yolks for a richer sauce! You can add an extra yolk if you like, but I prefer to use the whole egg for a lighter but still very creamy (with no cream!) sauce.

Meat: Traditionally, carbonara is made with ‘guanciale’ or ‘pancetta’, both types of fairly fatty Italian cured pork. Outside of Italy, however, it’s more common to use ‘lardons’ (bacon cubes) or bacon, which is what I usually use. Smoked, streaky bacon works well for a great flavor.

As long as it’s salty and crisp any kind of good quality thick cut bacon will taste great.

You can even make a delicious carbonara with good quality smoked ham. Just remember to only cook it lightly for a minute or two, as it’s already cooked.

Garlic: This isn’t essential for an original carbonara recipe. I like to add a couple of whole cloves however, just to flavor the sauce as it cooks. Sometimes I squish them around a bit before removing to extract as much flavor as I can.

Cheese: Again, for a more authentic carbonara use parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino-romano. Alternatively, just use parmesan. Make sure it’s finely grated so that it melts easily into the sauce.

Parsley: For sprinkling over at the end. This is not essential to a traditional pasta carbonara, but I think it makes all the difference.

Salt and pepper: Season generously with salt and black pepper. Again, makes all the difference!

How to make carbonara without cream

It’s as simple as these 6 easy steps:

Step 1: Boil the pasta. Check the cooking instructions and cook until ‘al dente’ or just cooked. Don’t drain the water after cooking! (see tips below)

Step 2: While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a large frying pan. If you’re using pancetta or particularly fatty bacon you can skip this step as the bacon will cook in its own fat.

Step 3: Cook bacon for 5-10 minutes with whole garlic cloves until cooked and lightly crisp.

Step 4: Take half of bacon out of pan. Transfer pasta straight from the cooking water to the pan with tongs.

Step 5: Take off heat (very important!). Add whisked eggs mixed with half the cheese and some salt and pepper. Then toss quickly and confidently until all the pasta is coated in the velvety sauce.

You should have just enough time to make the egg sauce while the pasta is cooking. How convenient is that?!

4 process shots showing how to make a classic pasta carbonara without cream

Step 5: Layer pasta, bacon, cheese, and salt and pepper in bowls. Top with parsley.

Eat immediately. Savour every delicious mouthful!

A closeup of a white bowl of pasta carbonara without cream from above

Helen’s tips

I have 7 essential tips for success to take your quick and easy creamless carbonara from good to exceptional!

Top tip: Read through the recipe once or twice and have all the ingredients ready before you start. You need to be able to work fast and confidently for the best results!

  • Consider cooking your bacon in butter. I hardly ever use butter for cooking, but I love the extra flavor it adds to this recipe.
  • Add two cloves of garlic to the pan while cooking the bacon – for another extra burst of flavor!
  • Add the pasta to the bacon pan straight from the cooking water. This way you don’t lose any of the delicious flavor from the bacon cooking juices. You also automatically transfer some of the pasta cooking water which helps make a beautiful creamy, glossy sauce.
  • Take the pan off the heat before you add the eggs. Quickly toss the sauce through until the pasta is evenly coated (I use tongs). You don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs!
  • Layer up the different components on each person’s plate! So… start with pasta, sprinkle over bacon, parmesan, and salt & pepper. Repeat. Bacon and cheese in every bite. Yum.
  • Serve immediately to prevent the sauce from drying up before serving. This is definitely a dish that’s at its best when eaten straight away. Enjoy!
Someone eating a bowl of pasta carbonara without cream with another bowl in the background

Variations

Like many classic recipes, this no cream carbonara recipe is pretty perfect as it is! However, if you’d like to change things up a little, here’s what you can try:

  • Try chicken or smoked salmon instead of bacon. The smoked salmon won’t need cooking so simply mix it into the egg and cheese mixture before tossing it through the pasta.
  • Replace the optional parsley garnish with fresh chives or basil if you like.
  • For a vegetarian carbonara without cream, replace the bacon with mushrooms, caramelized onions, asparagus, zucchini, spinach, cubed eggplant or a mixture of these. Just cook these in the same way as the bacon before tossing through the pasta and egg sauce.

Carbonara also makes a perfect lazy weekend meal! If you want more ideas, check out this list of 100 easy Sunday dinner ideas!

Recipe FAQ

Are the eggs in a carbonara sauce raw, and if so is it safe to eat?

Nope, they aren’t raw. And so yes, they are perfectly safe to eat. The eggs cook as you stir them into the hot pasta with a bit of the cooking water. You end up with a delicious glossy egg sauce that’s cooked but not scrambled!

How do I stop the sauce turning to scrambled eggs?

I’ll be honest – this has happened to me more than once. The key is to take the pan off the heat BEFORE you add the pasta and eggs. Briefly toss the eggs through the hot pasta. Use kitchen tongs to transfer the pasta straight to the pan along with a bit of cooking water. Then assemble and serve the meal as fast as you can!

What do you serve with pasta carbonara?

You can serve it as it is, or with a very simple green salad or some green vegetables on the side.

More easy pasta recipes

Or take a look at all my pasta recipes.

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A closeup of a plate of pasta carbonara without cream with a fork in it
5 from 7 votes

Best Pasta Carbonara (Without Cream!)

No cream, no heavy sauce, just a really good classic pasta carbonara with a sauce made of just eggs and cheese. It's a real crowd pleaser – both light and decadent at the same time – and takes just 15 minutes to make with just 5 main ingredients!
Prep: 3 minutes
Cook: 12 minutes
Total: 15 minutes
Servings: 2

Ingredients 
 

  • ounces linguine, or spaghetti, or any pasta of your choice
  • 3.5 ounces bacon, (or pancetta) chopped – thick cut smoked bacon is best (or lardons)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked
  • cup parmesan cheese, (or pecorino or parmigiano-reggiano), finely grated
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • a little chopped fresh parsley, optional

to serve (optional)

  • simple green salad; OR
  • green vegetables

Instructions 

  • Cook the pasta according to the cooking instructions until 'al dente'. Whisk half of the parmesan into the eggs, grind in some salt and pepper, and set aside.
    ⅓ cup parmesan cheese, 4½ ounces linguine, salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the bacon/pancetta and garlic cloves and let cook, stirring often, for 5 – 10 minutes until golden and starting to crisp. Then discard the garlic.
    3.5 ounces bacon, 2 tablespoons butter, 2 garlic cloves
  • Take about half of the bacon out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Leave the bacon juices behind. Take the pan off the heat (very important!).
  • Use kitchen tongs or a spaghetti server spoon to lift the pasta straight out of the cooking water and into the bacon pan.
  • As quickly as you can, pour the eggs and parmesan mixture over the hot pasta in the pan. Also add a little more pasta cooking water. Briefly toss everything together so that the eggs `just` cook (without scrambling!).
  • Quickly serve out a little of the pasta onto each dish. Top with a little of the reserved bacon and parmesan and grind over a little more salt and pepper. Top this layer with more pasta and the rest of the bacon and parmesan.
  • Scatter with a little fresh parsley if using. Serve immediately by itself or with a simple green salad or green vegetables.
    a little chopped fresh parsley, simple green salad; OR, green vegetables

Video

Notes

What kind of pasta to use

We really like to use linguine. Other ‘long pasta’ such as spaghetti or fettuccine work well too, of course, but you can use any pasta you like. Carbonara sauce is both light enough and rich enough for any type of pasta shape. 

Your recipe is only for 2 people. Can I make it for more? 

Absolutely! Just use the slider next to the ‘servings’ label above to change the ingredient amounts for the number of people you want to make the recipe for. 
A general rule is 1 egg per person you want to serve.
I sometimes like to make this recipe just for myself (carbonara for one!). In this case slide the ‘servings’ slider to just ‘1’.

What kind of bacon to use

Use any thick cut smoked bacon. Traditionally streaky bacon or pancetta is used to make carbonara, but I prefer less fat! You can also use lardons (bacon cubes).
In a pinch thinner bacon and even ham will work too. In this case, use good quality and just cook for a few minutes to release some flavor into the butter.

How to make sure you don’t get scrambled eggs instead of a loose, silky and creamy sauce

My best advice is to read carefully through the recipe instructions before starting and try to memorize the steps. 
It’s really important to take the pan off the heat before you add the eggs. Lift the pasta straight out of the cooking water into the bacon pan so that some water goes into the pan. Add a little more of the cooking water as you add the eggs.
Work quickly and confidently!

Nutrition

Calories: 541kcal, Carbohydrates: 22g, Protein: 22g, Fat: 40g, Saturated Fat: 18g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g, Monounsaturated Fat: 15g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 238mg, Sodium: 749mg, Potassium: 218mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin A: 736IU, Vitamin C: 1mg, Calcium: 238mg, Iron: 2mg
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About Helen Schofield

Don't expect to find anything fussy or complicated here. Just QUICK, EASY & (mostly!) HEALTHY recipes from the Mediterranean and beyond. ENJOY!

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80 Comments

  1. Ha! Helen, you’re too funny. If you’re a snob, I’m a snob! I know that the real-deal carbonara doesn’t include cream (I have waaaay too many Italian cookbooks), so I’m so happy to see this version. My dad doesn’t cook, but carbonara, along with puttanesca, are his “specialties” -he makes them from David Rocco’s Dolce Vita & Made In Italy books (a Canadian-Italian guy with super simple, delish & authentic recipes). You may like? I’ll just force my interests on you 😉 hehe.

    And I can TOTALLY relate to the hummus. I actually stopped adding evoo to hummus and just drizzle it on top. I’ve made the mistake of adding too much. It’s actually quite gross! Anyways, I need to try your recipe asap! This looks divine. DIVINE!

    PS. Your tea towels look like Hudson’s Bay blankets (a Canadian classic). I don’t know if they’re that brand, but it made me feel a little warm and fuzzy 🙂

    1. Allison, thank you so much for ‘forcing’ your interests onto me … that book sounds like it’s absolutely up my street! All I need now is a book shelf of my own to put it on … still not there, unfortunately … not long to go though! Puttanesca is another classic that I’d love to have a go at. So flavourful!
      That hummus really is gross with too much evoo, isn’t it? Haha! I do like a little drizzle on the top, though. Along with some pine nuts = mmmm!
      Wow, so the tea towel looks like a Canadian national treasure, huh? (It’s actually my MIL’s tea towel and I’m not sure she knows I used it so … shhhh) 🙂

  2. I’m with you when it comes to eating pasta that is just swimming {or rather drowning} in lots of sauce! It’s just revolting for some reason! I’d rather have soup lol! I have never tried carbonara because I’ve always been scared that I’ll end up with pasta and scrambled eggs but your detailed step-by-step is convincing me to get cooking! I’ll be skipping the bacon because we don’t eat it but I guess I could add bits of chicken instead! Loved it Helen! <3

    1. Oh, you could definitely add chicken, Samina … or just skip the meat altogether. Some zucchini would be nice!
      I totally know what you mean about being afraid of making scrambled eggs – I’ve been there! It’s really not so difficult, though. Don’t be scared, girl!

  3. I love carbonara pasta and your tips are awesome. I hate when a restaurant serves up a creamy pasta and it is thick and congealed. Serving it right away is a must. Your dish looks delicious!

    1. So glad you enjoyed my tips, Cindy. I agree that it’s really important to serve it immediately. The challenge is getting everyone to the table when you say it’s ready! 😉

    1. Hello, Thea! I get inspiration from just about everywhere – the supermarket, TV, magazines, recipes in cook books and the internet (of course!) … sometimes I use recipes exactly as I find them and other times I change them slightly (or a lot!) according to what I’d really like to eat. Sometimes I even totally make up my own recipe, although that can be tricky! Thanks so much for passing by!

  4. My mum, who is italian, always tells me how it is so easy to please people with italian food because basically it’s all carbs and super simple to make, but I think it is the simple dishes that are the hardest to get right. You are not a food snob, if I got a penny for every time I got an over creamed carbonara….

    My mum always crisps the bacon to an inch of it’s life when she makes carbonara, and I love it!

    1. Ooh, another great tip … to crisp up the bacon more – thanks, Mariana! If this got your mum’s seal of approval I’d be one very happy girl! You’re right – it is very easy to be pleased by Italian food. It is usually extremely simple but the flavours are so ‘fresh and honest’ in a sense. And of course the carbs don’t help! 😉

  5. This is a dish I regularly order when we eat out at Italian retaurants and the results can be varied. I’m keen to try your delicious looking version and thank you for the useful tips too.

  6. I agree, Italian restaurants are guaranteed to send you a cream soup just about every time 🙂 Even their salads are swamped in dressing! At least I never leave hungry, there is something to be said for that. But I like the balance of hot pasts, good noodles, some bacon, and seasoning. I like how you added the cheese on top! I agree with your friend, I think I would be a little nervous about cooking for you. You make such incredible main dishes!

    1. Oh my goodness, if only you knew that only about half to maybe a little bit more of what I make works out well first time – honestly, I do a lot of experimenting and even when I come up with a good final version there’s sometimes still a little room for improvement. But thanks so much for the compliment … I feel very very honoured that you think this!!