Italian Carbonara, a squabble recipe

In his autobiography, writer Romain Gary tells the story of how Italian-American actor Danny Devito verbally abused a chef who had unfortunately confessed to adding cream to his spaghetti with carbonara sauce. An episode that is not at all hard to believe: various studies, not least the one recently promoted by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, have shown that Italian carbonara recipe – made from eggs, cheese and diced pancetta – is the most wrongly interpreted pasta dish out of Italy, the most bungled but also one of the most popular.

Most authoritative Italian recipe books give no indication of its existence before 1930, which would confirm its recent invention. Among the possible explanations put forward to explain its origins, we like to think it is closely related to the United States: in fact, it starts to get a mention after the liberation of Rome in 1944. It is possible that smoked bacon started to appear on Roman markets round about that period, together with the powdered eggs rationed out to the US troops. But the more nationalistic and romantic among us do not agree. They think that carbonara is a later version of a Roman dish known as “cacio e ova”, carrying the distinctive regional mark of Latium and Abruzzo. The name of carbonara apparently derives from the fact that it used to be prepared by the lumberjacks who went up the Apennine hills to make charcoal (carbone, in Italian). Certainly, no expert of traditional recipes would use belly bacon: the authentic recipe calls for guanciale which is actually cured pork jowl with a high muscle content and a low quantity of (quality) fat.

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Fine Dining 17 febbraio 2015