What is the original recipe for spaghetti carbonara?
There are so many recipes and data online that make even harder to prepare properly this myth of Italian cuisine.
This post has been written following a logical path that over the years has led me to understand and appreciate much better this dish.
I advise you to read all the paragraphs in their order and invite you to leave your comment at the bottom of the page. If you want to add some more information or curiosities about the recipe of spaghetti carbonara you are more than welcome!
Table of contents
Spaghetti carbonara: a myth of Italian cuisine
Spaghetti carbonara is certainly one of the most traditional dishes of Italian cuisine. Particularly common in the central part of Italy, carbonara sauce is probably the most difficult of the pasta seasonings.
There is a lot to be said about the origin of spaghetti carbonara (in Italian, Spaghetti alla carbonara) which, like many other Italian foods, has a really interesting history.
Italy, known for its pasta with tomato sauce, would not have this gastronomic reputation if Marco Polo’s navigation had not led him to know the “golden apple” (this is the literary translation of tomato) as well as for soy spaghetti (noodles) or potatoes whose transformation led to the creation of famous specialties of traditional Italian cuisine.
Well, even spaghetti carbonara seems to be actually the result of these migrations and cultural imports of which Italy is certainly jealous and appreciated guardian.
In search of the origins of the recipe for spaghetti carbonara
The recipe for pasta alla carbonara only appears after the Second World War and, in this case, sees nothing less than American soldiers as protagonists.
Is a myth collapsing? I am pervaded by a chill of the cold !!
We do not find a trace of a recipe for spaghetti alla carbonara neither in the Talisman of Happiness, written by Ada Boni in 1930 in which all the recipes of the Roman culinary tradition are registered.
It looks like, the recipe for spaghetti carbonara seems to have been published for the first time in 1952 in an American gastronomic guide written by Patricia Bronté.
The first appearance of carbonara sauce on an Italian cuisine publication, although the ingredients are NOT those of carbonara spaghetti known today, seems to date back to 1954. The ingredients reported in this version of spaghetti carbonara are egg, bacon, Gruyere, and garlic.
No, no, no !!! Italian pride rebels.
Only in 1955 in the “Lady in the kitchen”, an Italian cookbook written by Felix Dessì, spaghetti carbonara is presented in a version more similar to today, with the presence of eggs, pepper, parmesan.
Over the years, other ingredients such as wine, garlic, onion, parsley, pepper, chili pepper find space in the carbonara spaghetti recipe but the definitive consecration of the carbonara spaghetti as a national recipe takes place with the publication in Luigi Carnacina’s recipe book “La grande cucina ” dated 1960.
For the first time, pork cheek is introduced, replacing the bacon, and the cream that will often be present in the carbonara sauce recipe until the end of the 80s.
In today’s version, as recognized in Italy, the recipe for spaghetti carbonara includes four simple ingredients masterfully combined: egg, pecorino, and pork cheek with a generous sprinkle of black pepper.
The roots of Spaghetti carbonara
The true origins of this fantastic Italian recipe are not entirely clear.
Someone wants carbonara sauce to take its name from the Abruzzese lumberjacks who collected wood to make coal, others that it was the typical dish of shepherds in transhumance or that it was a typical dish of Roman cuisine at the time of the carbonari but, according to the most accredited sources, the history of spaghetti carbonara seems to be linked to the Americans and the Second World War.
It seems that the traditional dishes in use at the time had been enriched with meat to satisfy the wishes of Americans, who have always been great consumers of meat.
But what was the local tradition of Italian cuisine?
Let’s introduce some data so that the probable origin of spaghetti carbonara is easier to understand.
Pasta carbonara is now recognized as a typical dish of Roman cuisine but in reality linked to the gastronomic culture of two Italian regions: Lazio (the region of which Rome is the capital) and Abruzzo.
Both these regions are crossed by the Apennines, a gentle mountain range where in the past abundant flocks of sheep passed to spend the winter in the coastal plains of the south, in particular in the Region of Puglia, and then returned in spring on the fresh and greener meadows of the Apennine heights of central Italy, in particular of the Abruzzo region.
And it is precisely in central Italy, where the sheep fed in the spring, that there is a higher consumption of the famous pecorino, a cheese made from sheep’s milk.
The history of Spaghetti carbonara between myths and legends
Someone, claims that during the Second World War on the Reinhard line, between Lazio, Molise, and Campania, bacon was added to the pasta “ovo e cacio”, a typical dish of Abruzzo cuisine, to please Americans who have always been great consumers of meat.
But still today the most accredited, documented, and never denied version is that of Renato Gualandi.
This young chef from Bologna was hired in September 1944 to prepare lunch on the occasion of the meeting between the English Eighth Army and the American Fifth Army in the newly liberated city of Riccione.
In his memories Gualandi quotes: “The Americans had fantastic bacon, delicious milk cream, cheese, and egg red powder. I put it all together and served this pasta to the generals and officers for dinner. At the last moment, I decided to put black pepper which gave off an excellent flavor.”
Subsequently, from September 1944 to April 1945, Gualandi was hired as a cook for the American troops in Rome and it seems that it was then that the fame and use of Spaghetti carbonara spread in the capital and became a traditional Italian dish.
Little secrets to prepare a superb Spaghetti carbonara
To prepare the carbonara it takes long pasta. Greenlight for bavette or bucatini, but the pasta indicated for carbonara sauce is spaghetti.
The pork cheek, with the more delicate flavor of the bacon, should be cut into strips and cooked on low heat until it becomes slightly crispy.
Btw, nobody kills you if cut the pork cheek into little cubes.
When you saute the past with the pork cheek the pasta has to look shining and slightly creamy, no dry, no wet. If necessary, at this stage fire is still on and you can use just a little boiling water to reach your target. Add the eggs only after switching off the fire.
The use of bacon, smoked bacon, cream, and other ingredients other than eggs, pecorino, pork cheek, and pepper, although endorsed by some cooking manuals, is not strictly philological.
Spaghetti carbonara is not a day after dish. Do not try to heat them but, in the very rare case you get some leftover, do not throw them away. Even a couple of days later you can beat some eggs, mix with pasta and cook in a pan with a drizzle of olive oil. You will get an excellent Frittata to serve, for example, with a fresh tomato salad.
This is the creamy Spaghetti carbonara you are looking for
This is the scrambled egg result you should avoid
The original recipe for spaghetti carbonara
350 gr./ 0.88 pounds of spaghetti
120 gr./ 0.250 pounds of pork cheek
50 gr. / 0.11 pounds of Roman pecorino
Black pepper as wished
Duration: 30 min
Servings: 4 people
Boil the water for the pasta.
In the meantime, cut the bacon into thin slices (2mm. /0.08 inches) and then into strips of 5mm / 0.20 inches) and cook over low heat until it becomes crispy.
Separately, beat the eggs, add the pecorino and stretch with 40 gr /2.5 ounces of water. Mix with a whisk so that the eggs become creamy and salty.
When the pasta water boils, add sea salt and cook the pasta. Drain the pasta and saute it in the pan whit the pork cheek to allow the absorption of the pork cheek fat and flavor by the pasta.
Turn off the heat, add the mixture of eggs and pecorino and mix everything quickly avoiding the formation of lumps (the effect of the scrambled egg).
If strictly necessary, to maintain the right creaminess, add just a little cooking water. Sprinkle fresh black pepper as wished and serve warm. Enjoy and let us know if you liked it.