Pasta alla carbonara is a recent addition to Italian cookbooks. An offshoot of the beloved Roman dish cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper pasta), they say the addition of eggs and bacon came from American GIs. It was in a Florentine kitchen during my study abroad that I learned the recipe.
When I was in Florence studying at Lorenzo de’Medici five years ago, I took a semester-long cooking class with an ex-Army general named Gabriele that made a serious impression on me. It wasn’t the recipes that impressed me but the stories behind each and everyone of them. Many people don’t realize that the Italian food we know and love in the USA is not a true representation of Italian food as a whole. Most of the people who fled Italy during WWII were southern Italians. They brought along their knowledge but changed their recipes to fit American tastebuds. That being said: did you know mixing dairy with seafood is sacrilegious, the Italian topping preferences greatly differ from that of Americans, and spaghetti and meatballs, arguably the second-most popular Italian dish outside Italy IS NOT even authentically Italian.
So now that your mind is blown, let me introduce to you a dish that has also been altered in diaspora. One of them is pasta alla carbonara. People who are familiar with this dish know it for its creaminess. But in actuality, a true carbonara has no cream whatsoever. Carbonara sauce is purely egg and cheese fusing so beautifully in a hot pan that it mimics the consistency of cream. The name carbonaro is the Italian for charcoal burner; the Appenine charcoal burners supposedly depended on this hearty, but easy meal to prep, to get through a long day of hard work in the mines. These origins led to the nickname “coal miner’s spaghetti.” This is one of the dishes I never forgot how to make, mainly because it was so easy to whip up and for a novice cook at the time, it was a huge confidence boost to prepare this insanely savory, yet simple, meal!
A few notes about the ingredients
Carbonara sauce can be drizzled over any type of pasta. Spaghetti seems to be the pasta of choice but I’m a bigger fan of linguine as its a bit thicker and a little goes a long way. You can also use fettucine, rigatoni, or bucatine. Just an FYI: Italians prefer their pasta a bit firm aka ‘al dente.’ But I like it soft so I cook it for a minute longer and I always add a pinch of salt and a drop of olive oil to the pot. Also, DO NOT rinse your pasta afterwards. Your sauce will adhere better to the noodles if you don’t rinse it. Fresh parmesan is a must! Don’t opt for pre-grated parmesan. If you’re trying to go the healthier route, replace the butter with olive oil. Also, a note on the bacon. The original recipe, from Claudia Roden’s ‘Food of Italy‘ (p. 267), calls for pancetta. It’s basically the Italian equivalent of American bacon. It’s a bit saltier and has a very robust flavor. Try to use unsmoked, streaky bacon if pancetta is unavailable. American bacon usually weighs the flavor down with all those woodsmoke overtones.
A SHOT WITH THE SIGNAGE BEFORE WE BEGIN
ONTO PREP TIME! GET THOSE VEGGIES AND BACON CHOPPED. GRATING CHEESE BY HAND IS A PAIN BUT SO WORTH IT.
TRANSITIONING INTO COOKING, DON’T FORGET TO DOUBLE-BOIL YOUR EGGS TO KILL THE BACTERIA.
ONCE YOU PLATE YOUR PASTA ALLA CARBONARA, SPRINKLE A PINCH OF PEPPER, GRATE PARMESAN CHEESE OVER THE TOP, AND GARNISH WITH A SPRIG OF PARSLEY! BUON APPETITO!
HERE’S THE TUTORIAL VIDEO SO YOU GET ALL THE STEPS RIGHT:
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