Italian food culture – Spaghetti carbonara

spaghetti-carbonara

Table of contents

This post has been written following a logical path that over the years has led me to understand and appreciate much better the cultural wonders of Italy.

On the side you’ll find a Table of contents.

Below you’ll find a Table of contents.

I advise you to read all the paragraphs in their order and I invite you to leave your comment at the bottom of the page, perhaps with useful information and curiosities about this and other typical Italian dishes. Enjoy the reading.

Spaghetti carbonara: a myth of Italian cuisine

Spaghetti carbonara is certainly one of the most traditional dish of the 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.

You will surely know, for example, that 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 carbonara sauce

Given the premise on Marco Polo, if I say that this dish is traditional of Chinese cuisine I would lie unashamedly but one thing is certain; 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.

OMG, Spaghetti alla carbonara is well known to be a Roman traditional dish. Is a myth collapsing?
I am pervaded by a chill of cold !!

In fact, leafing through the historical documents of Italian cuisine we do not find a trace of spaghetti alla carbonara in the Talisman of Happiness, written by Ada Boni in 1930 in which all the recipes of the Roman culinary tradition are registered.
Instead, the spaghetti carbonara recipe seems to have been published for the first time in 1952 in an American gastronomic guide entitled “An extraordinary guide to what’s cooking on Chicago’s Near North Side”, written by Patricia Bronté.

The first appearance of carbonara sauce on an Italian cuisine publication, although the ingredients are NOT ABSOLUTELY 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”, 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, chilli 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, spaghetti carbonara recipe includes four simple ingredients masterfully combined with each other: egg, pecorino and pork cheek with a generous sprinkle of black pepper.

The real history of Spaghetti carbonara between myths and legends

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.

In fact, 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 more easy to undertsand.

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.
Someone therefore 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 a 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.

Spaghetti carbonara recipe

Duration: 30 min
Level: Easy
Servings: 4 people

Ingredients:
350 gr./ 0.88 pounds of spaghetti
120 gr./ 0.250 pounds of pork cheek
50 gr. / 0.11 pounds of Roman pecorino
3 eggs
Black pepper as wished

Duration: 30 min
Level: Easy
Servings: 4 people

Preparation:
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 flavour by the pasta.

Turn off the heat, add the mixture of eggs and pecorino and mix everything quickly avoiding the formation of lumps (the scrambled eggs effect).

If strictly necessary, to maintain the right creaminess, add just a little cooking water. Sprinkle fresh black pepper as wished and serve warm.

This is the creamy Spaghetti carbonara you are looking for.

This is the scrambled eggs result you should avoid.

Little secrets to prepare a superb Spaghetti carbonara

To prepare the carbonara it takes long pasta. Green light 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 a low heat until it becomes slightly crispy.
Btw, nobody kills you if if cut the pork cheek in 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 left over, 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, ad example with a fresh tomatoes salad.

About the author:
Ivano Bruno, also known as Eylife (Enjoy Your Life), is the owner of Olivetreehill.com, an awarded B&B just outside Rome.

Since 2006, with his finnish wife Terhi, successfully hosts travelers from all over the world with whom he shares the passion for the culture and the history of its country which determine that incredible variety of colors, flavors and emotions that make Italy a country loved all over the world. According to them there is a more sustainable, cheap, safe and exciting way to discover the italian beauty.
A passionate local host is certainly a keypoint.

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    4 Comments

  1. 6 Aprile, 2020
    Reply

    i stayed with Ivano in 2007 and 2017.I had a great time. Go there it is great-30 minutes from Rome termini
    corrado d’avanza

    • Ivano Bruno
      6 Aprile, 2020
      Reply

      Hi Corrado, thank you for promoting us.
      We are looking forward to see you and the “kids”. A warm hug to everbody. Ciao, Ivano

  2. Sharon Leetch
    7 Aprile, 2020
    Reply

    Thank you so much for this! Really looking forward to trying this later on this week!

    • Ivano Bruno
      7 Aprile, 2020
      Reply

      You are welcome, Sharon.
      Enjoy and let me know how was it. 😉

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