Giada De Laurentiis' Seasoning Tip For Great Carbonara

If you've ever had the pleasure of eating a hearty plate of pasta alla carbonara, you know that the creamy richness of the dish is unmatched. Made with crisp pork bits (commonly bacon or pancetta) simmered in an eggy cream sauce and tossed with fresh pasta, carbonara is the ultimate comfort food. To master the Italian dish yourself, it's usually best to lean on advice from seasoned culinary pros. Luckily, Giada de Laurentiis, a celebrity chef renowned for her Italian home cooking, has a seasoning tip to elevate pasta lovers' dreams even further: Add in cinnamon for a subtle warmth and sweetness.


To make the rich pasta sauce, Giada de Laurentiis first browns chopped pancetta and bacon in a pan. "When it's crispy, sprinkle ground cinnamon over the top," she says in a 2007 Food & Wine cooking video. "The cinnamon adds a little bit of sweetness and a lot of warmth because as the fat renders out of it, it sort of absorbs the cinnamon into the pancetta and the bacon." 

The addition of cinnamon and its perceived sweetness and warm spice accents are subtle enough to enhance the dish without overpowering it while rounding out the richness of the cream sauce and fatty pork pieces.

Cinnamon's aromatic properties balance the sauce's richness

Though you might be used to adding warm spice ingredients like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into baking recipes, these spices are also commonly used in sauces for their aromatic nature. Nutmeg (and sometimes cinnamon) is typically added to creamy French béchamel sauce to counter the richness and add a pop of warmth. In Greek cuisine, cinnamon is added to tomato sauce to brighten it and balance the acidity of the tomatoes. In carbonara, aromatic cinnamon adds a sweet, warm flavor depth.


You can think of cinnamon's subtle sweetness in carbonara sauce as a parallel to other cooking methods like coating bacon in brown sugar and chili flakes — it just works. In her cooking tutorial, Giada de Laurentiis adds the cinnamon atop the pancetta and bacon, takes a savoring whiff of the mixture then promptly asks her studio audience, "Can you guys smell it?" 

It's no mistake Giada de Laurentiis adds the cinnamon once the pancetta and bacon fat have been rendered and are sizzling hot in the pan. In various cuisines such as Indian cooking, spices are often fried in fat to release their aromatics and brighten their impact. When added to make carbonara in this way, cinnamon undoubtedly adds complexity to the sauce. Giada de Laurentiis says, "This dish is one of those things you will dream about. That's how good it is."


A little cinnamon goes a long way

To add cinnamon to homemade carbonara sauce, you don't need a lot of the spice. In her Cinnamon Pancetta Carbonara recipe, Giada de Laurentiis uses just a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon for 2 cups of heavy cream and 18 ounces of fresh pasta. Once the cinnamon has been added to the browned bacon and pancetta, she lets it cook a couple of minutes longer to crisp the pork further and meld in the spice's flavors. Then, she lowers the heat and adds in a mixture of heavy cream, Parmesan cheese, egg yolks, salt, and pepper and lets it simmer. When pasta is added, it beautifully absorbs the richness of the sauce. Though some say the best type of pasta for carbonara is bucatini, Giada de Laurentiis uses fresh fettuccine in her recipe. 


In the comments section of the recipe, one person reported, "I absolutely ADORE the addition of cinnamon in this recipe! It adds a warmth and a very slight flavor that brightens up the richness of all the other ingredients. Surprising, amazing, and a favorite in this house, served on special occasions." 

If you have hesitation about adding in cinnamon, just remember that the spice is used in a small quantity, so its subtle sweetness and warmth will be nothing but complementary to the rich, fatty flavors of the pork, eggs, and dairy. The only way to see the boost of flavor cinnamon can add to the creamy dish is to try it for yourself.