Anchovy Carbonara

Plate of Anchovy Carbonara.

This Anchovy Carbonara recipe is a rich, creamy, salty twist on the Italian classic that I can’t stop eating. Seriously, the next time a carbonara craving hits and you don’t have any guanciale (or bacon) to hand, a few anchovies are the perfect substitute. Also, if you have never tried making carbonara before it is much easier than you think, and I’ve included lots of hints and tips to ensure success every time. The only tricky thing is you need to make it for at least two people (it’s a great date night dish) because you can’t half an egg!

Close up of anchovy carbonara made with giant penne.

Why this recipe works

Yes I know, using a heading like ‘why this recipe works’ makes me sound like one of those bloggers trying to cram in as much not necessarily relevant texts into their posts so that Google will like them. But really, for this recipe I think a bit of explaining as to why anchovies are fantastic in this Anchovy Carbonara is necessary because I know there are some pasta purists who might be freaking out a bit at this recipe right now.

(Though, as I think recipes like my Charred Tenderstem Broccoli Caesar Salad prove I’m a MASSIVE anchovy fan. If you don’t love the taste of anchovies, this recipe is not for you!)

The key to a good carbonara is to emulsify eggs and cheese together with something super salty for flavouring – usually cured pork in the form of guanciale, as it’s fat also helps with the emulsifying process – into a sauce with the cooking water of warm pasta so it turns silky, smooth and clings to the pasta. Anchovies are also intensely flavoured and salty, and pair well with creamy dishes. Also, you’ll want to use anchovies packed in oil for this recipe, as the anchovy-infused preserving oil will provide an excellent alternative to the fat that would have rendered out of the pork, guaranteeing a still silky carbonara.

Help! What to do if your carbonara is not working

Especially the first time you make a carbonara, it can seem slightly unbelievable that the mess of raw eggs and cheese will become a silky pasta sauce. But, with patience and practice it is such and easy, last minute dinner to throw together. Here are some hints and tips to ensure success, and to help you out if things are not working quite as they should:

  • Finely grate the cheese. It needs to melt completely into the sauce so the finer the better. I swear by this microplane zesterad, which is also great for citrus, and mincing both garlic and fresh ginger.
  • Be patient. It will take at least a minute of stirring for the sauce to form.
  • My sauce is too clumpy! Add a splash of the cooking water, and if need be tip it back into the pan over a very low heat, stirring constantly to help things along.
  • My sauce is too thin! Again, place it back in the pan, over a very low heat, stirring constantly until you’ve reached the desired consistency.
Pasta carbonara made with anchovies and topped with grated cheese.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does it matter if I use pecorino or parmesan in my carbonara?

Pecorino is traditional and is what I usually keep in the fridge, so is what I use here. Natoora’s one is a cut above any other I’ve tried, even though it is a bit pricy. But, it honestly does not matter if you switch in parmesan or Grana Padano – just make sure if you’re feeding this to a pescatarian that no animal products are in the cheeses, as Italian hard cheeses like this often contain them.

What sort of pasta shape is best for baking carbonara?

Obviously spaghetti works really well at holding carbonara sauce, but I actually prefer short chunky shapes like rigatoni where it has a chance to get inside the holes, along with bits of anchovy (or pork). In these pictures I’ve used pennoni which is a slightly larger form of penne. This is ‘lisi’ pennoni which means it is smooth, but if I’d had any in the cupboard pennoni ‘rigati’ would have been the better choice because it’s ridges would have helped the sauce cling better.

Can I use this recipe to make a regular carbonara?

Yes! You’ll want about 80g of guanciale, pancetta or bacon. Whilst the pasta is cooking and you’re making the cheese and egg mixture, cook it in a splash of oil until the fat has rendered out. Stir 1/2 tsp of the cooking fat into the egg mixture. Then, mix the pasta into the frying pan, off the heat, then add the egg and cheese mixture and continue with the recipe.

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Plate of Anchovy Carbonara.

Anchovy Carbonara

  • Author: Rachel Phipps
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 2
  • Category: Dinner
  • Cuisine: Italian


This delicious Anchovy Carbonara recipe is a seafood, store cupboard twist on the creamy Italian classic, made traditionally with eggs, pecorino and a splash of pasta cooking water.


  • 200g pasta shapes or spaghetti
  • sea salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 50g grated pecorino (see note), plus extra for serving
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • 6 anchovies packed in oil, plus 1/2 tsp of oil from the jar


  1. Cook the pasta as per the packets instructions in a pan of salted water. I usually start checking around the 12-14 minute mark if I’ve not used the brand and shape before.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk together then eggs, pecorino, a generous amount of black pepper and the 1/2 tsp of oil from the anchovy jar. Don’t be tempted to add any salt: with the seasoned pasta, anchovies and cheese the carbonara will be salted enough already! Chop the anchovies and stir them into the mixture.
  3. Drain the pasta – reserving a little cooking water – and tip it into the bowl with the eggs and cheese. Using a large metal spoon, stir until the sauce has thickened and is clinging to the pasta. If it needs thinning a little, add a little cooking water.
  4. Serve immediately in warm bowls topped with more cheese and a little more black pepper.


Don’t use pre-grated cheese as usually things are added to stop it clumping that will mess with your carbonara!