Rigatoni alla Carbonara from Rome’s Trattoria Sorra Lella

Rigatoni alla Carbonara from Sora Lella in Roma
Rigatoni alla Carbonara from Sora Lella in Roma

This is my second in a series of posts to recreate some of the authentic Roman dishes I recently ate on my trip to the Eternal City. My first post for Abbacchio alla romana (Baby lamb Roman-style) was quite true to the dish I ate in Testaccio district of Rome.

This post is for Rigatoni alla Carbonara from the famous Trattoria Sorra Lella on the tiny Isola Tiberina in the middle of the Tiber river. Our friend Francesco Ripaccioli from the Brunello winery Canalicchio di Sopra in Montalcino, Italy recommended this restaurant to me. At the restaurant, I was able to sneak a few questions to the waiters on how this dish is made! Sorra Lella uses guanciale (cured pork cheek) but I used pancetta (cured pork belly).

Rigatoni alla Carbonara Los Angeles
My version of Rigatoni alla Carbonara in Los Angeles

There is great controversy over the origins of “carbonara” dishes. They range from a dish made by Italian charcoal workers’ wives, to grateful Italians during WWII making American GIs a pasta dish with bacon and eggs – familiar tastes to the hungry American soldiers.

Regardless of the origin, this dish has evolved to a higher form in good restaurants. The REAL KEY is finding super farm-fresh eggs with almost orange-golden yolks. These can be found at local farmers’ markets around the US. Honestly, if you can’t find farm-fresh eggs, I’d take a pass. Also, as said below, the eggs must be added off the heat or you will end up with scrambled eggs. Not bad tasting but not attractive!

This recipe serves 2 as a main course or 3-4 as a primo piatto.

Ingredients and Directions:

  • 4-6 slices of good-quality pancetta (about the thickness of American bacon), cut into 1/2-inch pieces – use guanciale if you can find it
  • 4 farm-fresh eggs (3 yolks only and 1 whole egg – reserve the 3 egg whites for another use)
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • ½ lb high-quality rigatoni
  • ¼ to ½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for cooking the rigatoni.
  2. In a large saute pan over low heat, add the cut pancetta. Slowly render out the fat and crisp up the pancetta. Do this slowly, otherwise you’ll just sear the fat into the pancetta—about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat when done.
  3. Start cooking the rigatoni. Cook to al dente or to 1-2 minutes short of the specified cooking time.
  4. In a small bowl, add the 3 egg yolks and 1 whole egg and beat with a fork until it’s a smooth, creamy consistency. Season generously with fresh ground pepper and salt. Taste to check the seasoning. You only have the eggs, pancetta and drippings and cheese to season this dish so the seasoning of the eggs is very important.
  5. As the rigatoni is finishing, reheat the pancetta and drippings over medium heat. Prepare to drain but you’ll reserve a cup of the pasta cooking water. Add the drained rigatoni to the pancetta and drippings. Add a little pasta water and toss the rigatoni creating a small amount of starchy thick sauce. About 1 minute.
  6. IMPORTANT!! – Now remove the pan from the heat and add the prepared eggs. Toss to coat rigatoni in the egg mixture – stirring for about 1 minute.
  7. Serve in a white or light-colored bowl to offset the golden-orange color of the eggs and serve with grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

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