La Vera Cucina

Maria’s Spaghetti Carbonara

At King Umberto Restaurant, the Cesarano family satisfies their Elmont, NY, regulars with a variety of Italian specialties, from Pizza al Metro to Vitello Toscano.

But at home, the family recipe that always brought restaurateur Giovanni Cesarano running to the table as a boy was his mother Maria’s Spaghetti Carbonara. Born in Napoli, Maria’s version features pancetta, in place of guanciale, and is lightly seasoned with garlic and caramelized onion. Maria says the secret to her Carbonara’s mellow sweetness is cooking the onions nice and slow.


  • ½ pound pancetta (or guanciale)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1 pound dry spaghetti
  • 1 tablespoon fresh fall harvest olive oil
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ¼-½ cup hot pasta water
  • Additional Parmigiano Reggiano and black pepper for garnish


Cut pancetta into ½” cubes. (If using traditional guanciale instead, first trim away skin.) Place egg yolks, pepper, and ground cheese into a mixing bowl and stir to combine.

Heat water for pasta, adding a little salt for flavor. Add spaghetti; cook until al dente. When done, set aside ½ cup hot pasta water before straining pasta.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium flame. Add pancetta, stirring occasionally to render down the fat. Once the pancetta has browned, remove from pan and drain on paper towel. Reduce heat to medium, add chopped onion and garlic to pancetta fat in the pan. Cook nice and slow until softened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add pancetta back into pan.

Add freshly cooked pasta to warm pancetta/onion mixture in pan. Toss pasta to coat throughout. While constantly stirring, gradually add egg and cheese mixture to hot pasta. The egg sauce should gradually thicken and stick to the pasta. Gradually add hot pasta water to help further thicken the mixture.

Plate and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and black pepper.Immediately enjoy! Serves 4-6.

Guanciale vs. Pancetta

Guanciale (gwan-chee-al-ay) is the Italian word for cured unsmoked pork cheek. In addition to its meat, fat rendered from guanciale also adds unique richness to dishes like bucatini all’amatriciana (ah-mah-tree-see-ah-na). Guanciale cured with skin on requires trimming before use. As an ingredient, pancetta (pan-chet-ah) – cured, unsmoked pork belly – offers somewhat similar flavor but wider availability.