That’s pasta Alfredo in the photo, not carbonara. The bacon is just a little extra for the carnivores in the family. You’re still thinking it’s carbonara? I know, they look so similar. But this really is pasta Alfredo.
What’s the difference between carbonara and pasta Alfredo anyway?
The sauce of pasta carbonara is made with beaten raw eggs and grated cheese (Pecorino, traditionally). The hot noodles are thrown in and tossed until the eggs emulsify into a creamy mixture. That’s carbonara. No cream in the sauce. Just eggs and cheese.
The sauce of pasta Alfredo is butter and cheese. Nothing else. Butter is melted in a pan and hot noodles are tossed in.
Grated cheese goes in next and they are all tossed together until the cheese melts. If the sauce is too stiff, you add some of the water in which the pasta was cooked. No cream.
But why are there so many recipes of both carbonara and pasta Alfredo with cream in them? Well, that may be attributed to the “commercial” version of these pasta dishes. Cream is cheaper than cheese. Cream is easier to work with than raw eggs.
If you’re interested in the history of both pasta dishes, click the links below.
Fettuccine al Burro or Fettuccine Alfredo, Italy Magazine (this article explains who “Alfredo” is)
On Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Eggs in Cookery: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery 2006
- Cook the pasta. Drain and reserve a cup of the pasta water.
- In the still hot pan but with the heat off, melt the butter.
- Add the hot pasta and toss a few times.
- Add all the cheese, toss and keep tossing until the cheese melts and turns into a creamy mixture.
- If the sauce is too thick, add the reserved pasta water, a tablespoon at a time, until the sauce has the consistency of thick cream.
- Taste the pasta. Add salt and pepper, as needed.
- Sprinkle with chopped parsley for a little color.
- Serve the pasta Alfredo at once.