Eggs, bacon, and pasta; Pasta alla Carbonara is an American favorite because it’s basically American breakfast in pasta form. It’s another Italian dish that is so incredibly simple, delicious, and unique; yet so easy to mess up.
Pasta alla Carbonara is also one of the most adulterated Italian dishes in the world and it’s difficult to find a really amazing and authentic carbonara outside of Italy.
SPOILER ALERT: Hold the cream.
This is an authentic Italian recipe that Giuseppe has been working to perfect for years. When we first met years ago he would always make Pasta alla Carbonara and when we moved to the U.S. he had to substitute guanciale for bacon. Surprisingly, (and very un-Italian of us) we almost prefer Pasta all Carbonara with bacon instead of guanciale. The smokeyness of the bacon adds another dimension to the dish. So if you can’t find guanciale at your local market or butcher then thick sliced bacon will definitely do the trick!
Origin of Pasta Alla Carbonara
Part of Italian culture is debate. Debate about history, debates about food, debates about who has the better olive oil. Italians love to talk about the origins of things, especially food. So naturally there are many theories to the origin of pasta alla carbonara. Today we will cover 3.
3 Theories / Hypothesis of the origin of Pasta Alla Carbonara
The dish would have been “invented” by the charcoal burners (Carbonari in Romanesco) who prepared it using ingredients that are easy to find and store. In fact, to make the charcoal it was necessary to monitor the charcoal for a long time and it was therefore important to have the necessary provisions with them. The carbonara, in this case, would be the evolution of the dish called “Cacio e Ova”, originally from Lazio and Abruzzo, which the Carbonari used to prepare the day before by bringing it in their “tascapane” and that they consumed with their hands. The pepper was already used in good quantity for the preservation of the bacon, fat or lard used to replace the oil, too expensive for the charcoal burners. The Abruzzese-Apennine origin of this dish finds another confirmation in the name of this dish. The term “Carbonada” in Abruzzo refers to pancetta, that is salted pork and cooked on coals.
A final hypothesis would lead to the origin of the recipe for Neapolitan cuisine. This thesis identifies a possible origin of the dish in some of the recipes presented in the 1837 treatise Ippolito Cavalcanti’s theoretical-practical cooking. It should also be noted in support of this hypothesis as in the Neapolitan popular cuisine, unique among Italian regional cuisines, it is common practice to season some dishes, with a technique and with ingredients identical to those of carbonara. It consists of adding after cooking a beaten egg, cheese, and pepper. This same technique, which however appears also in some Neapolitan recipes before the work of Cavalcanti, is still widely used in the preparation of some recipes, including pasta and peas, pasta with zucchini, tripe “pasticciola” and meat stew with peas.
Allied Hypothesis (real theory)
The dish of Renato Gualandi is remembered for the first time in the period immediately following the liberation of Rome in 1944 when in the Roman markets appeared the bacon brought by the allied troops. This would explain why in the carbonara, unlike other sauces such as amatriciana, pancetta and guanciale are often referred to as equivalent ingredients. According to this thesis, it would seem that during the Second World War the American soldiers arrived in Italy by combining the most familiar ingredients they could find, namely eggs, bacon, and spaghetti, preparing to eat, gave the idea to Italian cooks for the actual recipe that will develop completely only later. “When Rome was liberated, food scarcity was extreme, and one of the few resources was the military rations, distributed by the allied troops, of which were part eggs (powder) and bacon (bacon smoked), that bolognese chef which was engaged to prep that meal that mixing dough with the pasta”. Later Gualandi became a chef of the allied troops in Rome from September ’44 to April ’45 and this period was enough to spread the fame of the carbonara in the capital. Obviously, the story of the carbonara invented in Riccione in 1944 by a Bolognese chef using the rations of the American army, can generate some perplexities in the purists of the Roman tradition, but this does not make the matter less truthful or plausible. We like instead to think that it is the result of the great capacity, all Italian, of culinary improvisation that created a masterpiece in one of the most difficult moments of its history.
So as you can see, like many things in Italy, particularly food, there are lots of different opinions about the ‘origin’. The more you know. Now let’s move on to that recipe!
Fill a medium large pot with water, add salt. If water does not taste as salty as the sea add more salt. Bring to a boil.
Finely grate Pecorino Romano and parmigiano reggiano
Cut guanciale (or bacon) into 1/4″ wide strips.
Place the guanciale (or bacon) into a medium large saute pan, cover and cook on low heat. You want the guanciale to ‘melt’. Cook for 15-20 mins on low heat. Guanciale or bacon should be brown but still soft and chewy when done cooking.
With a large slotted spoon remove the guanciale (or bacon) from the pan and set aside. Leave the fat in the pan.
Mix egg yolks and cheeses in a bowl, season with freshly cracked black pepper.
Add pasta to boiling water, stirring every 2 minutes. Cook pasta 3 minutes before ‘al dente’ (see package for cooking time). Keep 1-2 cups of pasta water in a pitcher or glass. Strain the pasta.
Add the pasta to the guanciale (or bacon) fat. Turn heat on high. Slowly add saved pasta water as the pasta gets dry, stir continuously. Cook for 2 minutes.
Add the cheese and egg mixture to the pasta. Add the guanciale (or bacon). Cook 1 minute, continuously stirring.
Turn off the stove and continue stirring ensuring the egg mixture partially cooks. From straining the pasta to turning off the stove approximately 3 minutes should have passed.
Plate immediately. Finish with freshly cracked black pepper and olive oil. Enjoy!