Pasta alla Carbonara

On the origins of pasta alla Carbonara there is not an official version. Thera are many and various hypotheses regarding the birth of this delicious dish, typical of the Roman gastronomic tradition.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Spaghetti alla Carbonara ©Trishhhh

Italian origin

A first hypothesis traces the birth of the Carbonara to the woodsmen who went to the Apennine mountains, in the areas between Lazio and Abruzzo, to make coal (carbone in Italian) with wood. They brought eggs, pecorino cheese and guanciale (lard cheek) with them and cooked the pasta on open fires. In this case the recipe would be the evolution of pasta cacio e ova (cheese and eggs), consumed by the peasants of Abruzzo.

But until the second post-war period there is no mention of carbonara in any cookbook – neither national nor popular Roman.

Pecorino Romano Cheese

Pecorino Romano Cheese

American origin

The recipe begins to appear starting from 1944. A date that can provide a clue to understanding the origin of this tasty dish.

Because of the scarcity of food and resources, many restaurants, to continue working, used the “K rations” by American soldiers. These contained dehydrated eggs and bacon, which began to be used to flavor pasta, in the absence of something else.

The combination of the typical American egg, bacon, and pasta seasoned with the cheese became an instant victory on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

K-Ration Breakfast

K-Ration Breakfast

The inventor

There is a story about the origins of the dish, never denied, by Renato Gualandi, a Bolognese chef. He was hired on 22 September 1944 to prepare a lunch on the occasion of the meeting between the Eighth British Army and the Fifth American Army in Riccione, just freed from the Nazis.

The American bacon and the egg powder inspired the recipe.
«I mix everything with cream, cream cheese and finish with a sprinkling of black pepper. […] Spaghetti are a bit ‘drooling’. It’s a success!» recalls Gualandi.

The carbonara in Rome

Even if it is probable that it was not born in Rome, the Carbonara spread and reached the capital, where there were other American soldiers. And then it passed from family to family, until it became a real Roman dish. A dish that, starting from the liberation of Rome from fascism, tells, with its history, the essence of the capital: its welcoming spirit.

The name

Some trace the origin of the name from the charcoal burners (Carbonai). According to another hypothesis, the inventor was a Roman host, after the Second World War, who would have dedicated the recipe to his old work as ” charcoal burner. According to others, he would invent the dish while he was still at Carbonia, in Sardinia, before moving permanently to Rome.

There is also a version that binds the name to a noblewoman from northern Italy who, in the nineteenth century, housed the secret meetings of the Carboneria in her home and used to cook a plate of pasta.

The first recipes

The first Carbonara recipe seems to have been published in 1952 in a Chicago district restaurant guide. In the review of the restaurant, Armando’s the author reports a recipe that leaves no doubt.

The first Italian recipe appears in August 1954 in the magazine La Cucina Italiana. But the ingredients are a bit different: spaghetti, egg, pancetta, gruyere cheese, and garlic.

The consecration of the Carbonara takes place in 1960, with the publication in the recipe book La Grande Cucina. For the first time, the guanciale (cheek lard) is introduced. Over the years many ingredients will be eliminated, allowing the affirmation of the three classic ingredients that everyone knows today: pecorino, eggs, and guanciale, with the addition of pepper.


Guanciale © Popo le Chien

The ingredients

Nowadays the real Carbonara is prepared with guanciale, cut into strips and cooked until it becomes slightly crisp. Among the other ingredients, we find egg yolks, a whole egg, grated pecorino cheese, salt, and pepper.

Absolute ban, on which everyone agrees, for the addition of the cream.

The pasta should be long: to go on the safe side you can choose spaghetti.

It is important not to add the egg to the pot until it is on the stove, or it will ruin the dish. When it comes into contact with a temperature it will cook very quickly, creating the “omelet effect”.

Egg yolk

Egg yolk

If the origin of the carbonara is uncertain, what is certain is that it is an incredibly tasty dish, now entered into the Roman tradition.

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