Pasta Carbonara with Shrimp

First of all, allow me to apologize for my brief absence from the blog.  These summer days just seem to get away from me and although I’ve been cooking lots, I haven’t had the time to sit down and publish anything!  So, expect to see some of what I’ve been up to over the next couple of weeks!

Now, on to the good stuff.  Pasta Carbonara.  My, my, my.  The first time my husband and I went to Italy was in March of 2009.  Neither of us had ever been before and we planned to begin our adventures in Rome.  For those you geography nerds out there, Rome is considered northern Italy and its cuisine reflects its own signature tastes.  The thing to eat in Rome is pasta carbonara.  By the truckload if possible.  However, my husband and I were raised in families both with roots in southern Italy…think Calabria, Napoli, Sicilia, etc.  This means red sauce all day.  Meatballs, parmigiana, pasta and pizza.  There are no cream sauces to be found in southern Italy, most likely due to the fact that the volcanic ash in the soil provides the perfect opportunity to grow the world’s most delicious tomatoes.  Northern Italy’s climate and terrain is mountainous and cooler, providing the opportunity for more dairy farming and thus creamier sauces.  However, contrary to popular belief carbonara IS NOT a cream sauce.  This is what makes it distinctly Roman.  Although the texture of the dish is incredibly creamy, the sauce gets its velvety texture from raw egg and not milk or cream.

Needless to say, my husband had never had pasta carbonara.  I’d had it before, but never made it as part of my own repertoire.  Anyway, we both knew that when we got to Rome this was going to be the meal of choice, and boy it did not disappoint!  We flew overnight to Rome and planned a tour of the Vatican in the early afternoon.  We were very jet lagged and decided to go to our hotel and take a nap before hitting the sights.  Unfortunately, we overslept and narrowly missed the tour we scheduled!  Our first views of the beautiful city of Rome were from us dashing through the streets trying to figure out a city that we’d never experienced before.  All while speaking very little Italian!

We made the tour narrowly and our guide did not disappoint.  We explored every nook and cranny of the Vatican…and what an amazing experience.  More on that some other time.  Afterward, we were starving and our guide pointed us down a narrow street with many trattorias.  He said, “You will-a have-a fantastico meal at any of these places.” Or some thing like that.  So, off we went.  We stopped outside the door of a trattoria where the owner was outside smoking a cigarette.  He seemed friendly, so we walked in and were surprised to see no one in the restaurant.  It was probably 6 pm at this point and we had not eaten all day.  We were starving and fully expected that there would be people eating dinner at this hour.  Well, we were wrong.  It happened to us multiple times on our trip where we booked reservations for 7 or 7:30 pm only to find out that restaurants in Italy typically don’t open until 8 pm or later for dinner!

However, this nice Roman man and his family took pity on us and allowed us to come into his restaurant and order food.  We actually at the table alongside his family that we preparing for the dinner service in a few hours time.  We looked like total amateurs, but we didn’t care because, well, carbonara!  OMG.  The carbonara was unlike anything we’d ever eaten before!  And, my husband was instantly in love.  Asking me, “Do you think you can make this at home?!”  No.  No, I cannot make this famous Roman carbonara at home.  But, I can come close.  So, I found some recipes and began adapting them.  This one from Dishes and Dustbunnies comes closest to my own recipe.

So, for my carbonara I typically add shrimp which is very un-Italian of me!  The true carbonara purists would NEVER add protein to this dish, particularly not shrimp!  Many people believe that seafood and cream and/or cheese should not be served together.  But, I’m a rule breaker when things are delicious.  So, get at me.  I love shrimp, particularly in the summer.  To make things even better, my good friend Megan (shout out girl!) recommended that I try the thick cut bacon from Sussex Meat Packing.  Local peeps — it really is outrageous.  Get yourself some!  So, I had all the ingredients and my husband asked if I could “make that pasta that he liked from Rome,” so I  had to oblige.  The result, fabulous Pasta Carbonara with Shrimp!

Pasta Carbonara with Shrimp

(Serves 2-4 depending on how hungry you are!)


12-15 Jumbo Shrimp (cleaned, peeled and deveined with the tail on)

4 T butter

2 cloves of minced garlic (or I like the squeeze tube of garlic that you buy in the produce section)

3 slices thick cut bacon, chopped into small cubes

1 T chopped fresh Italian parsley

1/2 lb pasta (I used gluten free brown rice pasta)1/3 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese (about a handful or so)

1 large egg, beaten

2/3 c reserved water from cooking pasta


  1. Set a pot of water to boil your pasta.  Remember to reserve 2/3 cup of pasta water prior to draining.
  2. Melt all the butter in a large skillet and add the garlic.
  3. Add the shrimp.  Cook approximately 3 minutes per side until the shrimp are pink and opaque.  Remove the shrimp and butter from the skillet and into a bowl.  Add salt, pepper and parsley.
  4. Replace the skillet on medium heat and add the bacon.  Cook until crispy and then drain on a paper towel.
  5. Check your pasta!  If it’s done, drain and wait for the rest of the ingredients.
  6. Wipe out the skillet and and return to medium low heat.  Add the shrimp & butter, bacon and reserved pasta water.  Combine all together.
  7. Add the pasta to the shrimp and bacon and be sure to toss the pasta and coat it well in the sauce.
  8. Turn off the heat under the skillet and add the raw, beaten egg into the pasta mixture.  Make sure to keep tossing to avoid scrambled eggs!  The dish should achieve a creamy consistency.  If too thick and gloppy, add more pasta water to thin.
  9. Add the grated cheese and toss it all together.
  10. Plate, sprinkle with parsley and serve!

This is one of our favorite recipes and please enjoy and post some comments!  Mangia 🙂



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