Cooking “The Goldfinch” Part 2: Spaghetti Carbonara

by Cara Nicoletti on January 11, 2014


There’s pretty much no worse time to give people a recipe for spaghetti carbonara than the week after New Years. Right now all of your food blogs are bright with beet juices and quinoa bowls, stocked with tips for eating clean and getting yourself to the gym and here I am telling you what other kinds of fatty cured pork can sub in for guanciale. A strange thing happens to New Years resolutions when a polar vortex descends on your city. All of the pictures of women with svelte abs and glowing skin that you’ve pinned on your most secret motivational pin boards suddenly don’t feel as urgent when you’re walking in the door from work with tears and snot frozen to your face. On Tuesday afternoon I walked in the door after work and the tip of my braid snapped in half like an icicle, so I immediately started cooking this pasta. Really, I had no choice. We’re still cooking our way through The Goldfinch, aren’t we?


I sat on the floor with my back against the side of his dresser, counting silently to myself: this time only three days ago she was alive, this time four days, a week. In my mind I went over all the meals we’d eaten in the days leading up to her death: our last visit to the Greek diner, our last visit to Shun Lee Palace, the last dinner she’d cooked for me (spaghetti carbonara). (86)


Spaghetti Carbonara
Makes 4 hearty servings
Notes: This is a traditional carbonara so it may differ from recipes you’re used to seeing that add cream and onions or use bacon. Guanciale and pancetta both have very strong porky flavors. Some say “gamey”–I don’t think so at all, but they certainly aren’t bacon, so if you’re squeamish about bold meat flavors (this is starting to sound like a Taco Bell commercial) stick with a mildly smoked bacon or salt pork. This recipe also calls for loads of black pepper, if you aren’t a fan of black pepper normally, you probably won’t be a fan of it here either, so adjust it accordingly.

2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ pound thinly-sliced guanciale or pancetta (if you can’t find either a mild bacon will work just fine) cut into small cubes (about ½ inch)
1 ½ teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper (I garnished mine with about ½ tsp more, but I like lots of pepper)
2 cups finely grated good quality parmesan
1 large egg plus 3 large egg yolks
salt to taste
1 pound spaghetti


Heat olive oil and butter in a medium saucepan until butter is melted and add your pork (guanciale, pancetta or bacon). Cook over medium heat until lightly crisp and brown, stirring occasionally—about 8 minutes. Add pepper and cook about 3 more minutes, or until you can really smell the peppercorns. Let this mixture cool slightly then transfer it to a very large bowl and whisk in 1½ cups parmesan, eggs and egg yolks (bowl should be large enough to toss cooked pasta in later). Set aside.


Bring a large pot of salty water to a boil and cook your spaghetti until al-dente—usually about 8-10 minutes (I used vermicelli, which is slightly thicker than spaghetti because it was all they had at the store, so mine cooked just a little longer). Reserve ¾ of a cup of the pasta water and drain the rest of the water out. Toss spaghetti in bowl with egg yolk/parmesan mixture. Slowly add the reserved pasta water, tossing and mixing to create a thick, creamy sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with remaining ½ cup of parmesan. Eat until your bones feel warm again and don’t even think about feeling guilty.


Speaking of resolutions, one of mine is to do some tidying up around here, so you may notice some changes in the next couple of weeks and months. I’ve already culled close to thirty entries from the archives that I felt needed tweaking—-re-writing, re-testing, re-thinking. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, four years of work on this blog and suddenly my recipe index looks glaringly sparse. But! It will be worth it. That being said, if there’s a recipe you’ve made in the past that you’re dying to re-create and you can’t find it here anymore, email me and I will gladly send it your way. Happy 2014, friends, it’s going to be a great one, I can feel it.

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Leave a Comment

Noodle January 11, 2014 at 1:11 pm

yum Cara! My New Year’s Resolutions just went out the window…at least until I try this.
Great book, too–I’m reading it as well.


Roy Schoenfeld January 11, 2014 at 1:47 pm

This recipe sounds like the real thing, the kind they serve you in Italy, not the restaurant stuff buried under a gallon of dairy products. I’m sure it’s delicious, too.


Darla Langione January 11, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Wonderful book. Delicious looking recipe. Can’t wait to try!


Elizabeth Aquino January 11, 2014 at 9:53 pm

This recipe — those photos — have made me salivate. I’m reading “The Goldfinch” right now, too, and I look forward to this series!


Michelle January 13, 2014 at 8:28 pm

What resolutions? Bring on the carbonara.


india January 14, 2014 at 7:49 pm

this is one of my favorite things you’ve done – i love the idea of “cooking our way” through a large novel together. can’t wait to see what other goldfinch recipes are in store.


Alice April 23, 2014 at 8:23 am

Dear Cara,
how great to finally find a REAL recipe for the Carbonara! I love Yummy Books and you are one of the people who inspired me to start my own blog. And to get reading again! If you are interested I have a very good story about the origins of Carbonara; I am not sure how true it is but in my family we swear by it!


Adrienne Butvinik August 18, 2014 at 10:51 pm

I have been dreaming of jasmine Caramels ever since i read about them! Thank you for providing a recipe!


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