Ah, carbonara – is there a more simple meal that feels quite so utterly indulgent? I think not. It lifts bacon and eggs to their highest’s heights and celebrates all that is wonderful about the comfort of carbs, the indulgence of a bit of fat and the sweet saltiness of cured (and preferably smoked) pancetta.
Carbonara is a classic I feel quite passionate about so it surprised me when it worked so well in the Instant Pot. The benefits being only needing the one “pan” and how much faster you can cook the pasta. Honestly, I’m never making it on the stove again – Instant Pot Carbonara all they way.
I recently treated myself to a book I’ve fancied for ages – The Geometry of Pasta by Caz Hildebrand & Jacob Kennedy. I absolutely adore it and am kicking myself for not purchasing it sooner. In it, you will find out lots of lovely details about all possible types of pasta and the sauces which go best with each shape.
Now I knew that a traditional carbonara was just eggs, pancetta and cheese (no cream) but I didn’t realise that spaghetti wasn’t the traditional choice – a shape called bucatini (teeny, tiny “holes” that look like mini Cheerios) is what is cited in this fab new book of mine as the first choice for carbonara. I am also charmed to learn carbonara means “charcoal” and can’t think of a better description for the flavour of cooked, smoked and salty pancetta.
Now, you may struggle to find bucatini if you don’t have an Italian deli nearby but if you do, pick up (pig up?) some guanciale whilst you’re there – cured pig’s cheek – for a supremely authentic and divinely tasty piggy treat in place of the pancetta. I use nests of spaghetti or linguine for my Instant Pot carbonara as they fit in easily (long strands don’t lay flat unless you have the giant 8 litre Instant Pot!).
Just be sure to cover it well with water so it has room to expand and leaving a little of the fat rendered from the pancetta will minimise the chances of stickage. The final thing to say about carbonara is how I season it – I am like Nigella in that I love lots and lots of black pepper (there is salt enough in the cheese and pancetta) with a light grating of nutmeg. A much underused spice in my book which gives that special something to many a dish.
This is a true giant in classic Italian cookery usually done on the stove but I can promise you it works beautifully in the Instant Pot too!
- 150 g pancetta*, cut into small dice (discard any skin)
- 150-200 g dried pasta - look for nests of spaghetti or linguine (they fit in the Instant Pot better)
- 3 medium-large eggs
- lots! of parmesan or pecorino cheese (about 1/4-1/2 cup's worth feels right for two)
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
Start by cooking the pancetta (or guanciale) on Sauté mode until the fat has rendered out - remove the cooked pancetta to a plate and discard most of the fat. I leave about 1 tsp worth behind. Cancel Sauté mode.
Place the pasta nests in the inner pot and cover with at least 1.5 inches of cold water. Check how long the packet says it takes for the pasta to cook and halve it (see notes). Place the lid on, program the requisite number of minutes on Manual High.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, cheese, nutmeg and black pepper together in a jug or bowl. Feel free to add more cheese - 1/4 cup if I'm being virtuous, a half cup if I need comfort food stat! 😉
When the timer goes off for the pasta, wait 30 seconds for the pasta to settle and then release the pressure (do a QPR) - again see notes below. Strain the pasta over a bowl so you keep the starchy cooking water.
Return the Inner Pot to the base and put it back on Sauté and adjust to Low. Quickly add back the cooked pancetta, the drained pasta and the egg and cheese mixture. Stir gently but thoroughly until the pasta is covered in the sauce which will cook in the gentle heat. Use the reserved pasta water to loosen the texture as desired and serve in deep bowls with extra black pepper and cheese on top. Devour immediately!
- Avoid dried pasta which still has a coating of flour on it - it can go all starchy and spurt when you release the pressure. Ironically, cheaper brands are better here as they don't tend to have a dusting of flour on them.
- Check your pasta cooking instructions and halve the time stated on the pack to get your Instant Pot cooking time. If it's an odd number, round it down to the nearest minute e.g. if the packet says 7 minutes, cook in the IP for 3 only.
- *= if you can find "guanciale" use that instead (cured pig's cheek - much more traditional for a proper carbonara).
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