Spaghetti Carbonara to the Rescue

If you are looking for a new family favorite, give this classic Roman dish a try. Scroll down for an easy-to-make recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara.

by Larissa Phillips

I love family dinners - even if I have to remind myself of this fact constantly. The other night I repeated it like a mantra as my 2-year-old daughter stood up and danced on her chair, and my 6-year-old son laid his head on the table, moaning that he didn't like peas, he didn't like ham and he especially didn't like - and he never ever EVER would like - this weird rice.

Our dinner crashed and burned that night, and not because of any mistakes I made at the stove. As anyone who has ever tried to feed a family knows, dining together is a challenge. There are the likes and the dislikes. There are the conflicting schedules of parents' jobs and children's bedtimes. And there is the whining.

On this particular night, I had introduced risotto for the first time, and instead of using brown rice or wild mushrooms or asparagus as I would have preferred, I made it plain with white Arborio rice. I was sure my kids would go crazy for it. Creamy, delicious and pure white. What's not there for a kid to love?

Plus, I was getting ready to write the first installment of this column, and I figured a classic one-dish meal would be a fine beginning.

But when I mentioned my plan to a friend who is a great cook and whose kids are great eaters, she looked skeptical. "My kids don't like risotto," she said. "They think it's weird."

What's in Season?

Eating seasonally leads to eating riper, tastier and, often, more locally grown food. Forget watermelons and strawberries, which are virtually tasteless this time of year. Although it's not likely to have been harvested in your neighborhood, kiwi fruit is at its peak now. Serve it peeled and sliced as a snack - or at dessert, arranged on a pretty plate, with fancy toothpicks.

I ignored her. I was going to illustrate the meat and bones of my food philosophy through my family's newfound love for a new food. See everyone? I was going to write. Offer new foods to kids - whole, homemade food with real ingredients - and they will eat.

What was I thinking?

My kids wouldn't touch the stuff. Not that night. Not three nights later. And not three nights after that, either, even after I got desperate and tried making it with smoked ham and peas.

I couldn't believe it. I am six years into this parenting business, I love food and cooking, and I am still struggling with feeding my kids. I was one of those brand new parents who bought organic butternut squash, cooked and strained and pureed it, only to discover that my baby did not care for butternut squash, not now and not ever, ever, EVER!

He still doesn't care for it - and I still haven't learned my lesson. And that's O.K., because that is really the point of this column. We can't give up trying to feed our kids well, and we can't be offended when they turn up their noses at things we have made, because that is exactly what they are supposed to do.

It is their job, as kids, to be suspicious of new tastes and textures. And it is our job as parents to keep calling everyone to the table and offering real food.

It's not just that eating together is a great opportunity for family time, or that it leads to higher SAT scores (which, statistically, it does). It's also that kids will also carry these food experiences into adulthood, and their adulthood will be a healthier one because they will be people who eat vegetables and love greens and know how to feed themselves and those that they love.

Someday, somewhere, my kids will eat risotto. In the meantime, I had smoked ham and Parmesan cheese - and not much else - in my fridge. Bracing myself for the upturned noses, I made spaghetti carbonara, another first for my kids. What was I thinking, so quick on the heels of the last failed effort?

I shushed my son's protests that he hates spaghetti, as I tossed the eggs with the hot spaghetti and added the cheese and the ham. For the adults, on a whim, I put chopped parsley, lemon and black pepper on the table.

What do you know? Everyone loved it, even the (former) spaghetti-hater.

We'll get back to the risotto in a few months, but in the meantime, we have a new force in our nightly efforts to dine together.

Recipe: Spaghetti Carbonara

In Rome, this classic dish is never made with cream. Well, it's not made with lemon or parsley, either, but some deviations are worth your while. Not a meat-eater? Omit the pancetta and let those bright parsley and lemon flavors carry the dish.


  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

  • 1/2 onion, chopped finely

  • 4 to 6 thick slices pancetta (Italian bacon)

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 package spaghetti

  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

  • Optional:

  • 1 bunch parsley, chopped

  • Lemon

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  1. Combine the olive oil, garlic, onion and the pancetta cut into small squares. Let simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes, until the onions are soft and transparent.

  2. In a bowl, beat the eggs with a pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper.

  3. Put a pot of water on to boil. Cook spaghetti until al denté, drain and immediately add egg mixture to pasta, and mix. The pasta should be hot enough to cook the eggs. Stir spaghetti and eggs until it is well mixed. Pour in the olive oil and bacon mixture. Add Parmesan cheese.

  4. Serve with chopped parsley and lemon. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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