What are the true origins of Pasta Alla Carbonara?
Pasta comes in all shapes, sizes and flavor combinations. There’s a reason these starchy, saucy Italian dishes are one of the world’s favorite meals!
Of course, not all pasta is created equal. If you were to explore every single town in Italy, you would soon realize there are thousands of local specialties, all based on the ubiquitous pasta.
One of the most cherished dishes in the category is the pasta alla Carbonara. Rome’s most popular meal is deliciously creamy and comforting and being incredibly easy to put together with just a few ingredients, it’s easy to see why we all have fond fillings towards the cheesy dish. Here’s all you need to know about it.
What is Carbonara, Anyway?
Eggs, cured pork, cheese and a pinch of freshly cracked black pepper are all you need to make your own Carbonara. It’s the very definition of ‘beauty in simplicity,’ but to get it just right, you must carefully choose your ingredients.
The Carbonara sauce is often used to coat spaghetti but don’t be surprised to see fettuccini or linguini versions too. The type of pasta matters, but not as much as the sauce’s ingredients.
Purists will only use egg yolks as a base ingredient, leaving behind the egg whites that could dilute the sauce’s flavor. As for the cheese, Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, or a combination of the two is quite acceptable, as long as you use the good stuff, and lots of it.
Then we have the cured pork. The most reliable recipes call for fried guanciale, air-cured pig’s cheek, but if you can’t find it, you’ll discover pancetta has a similar flavor. Combining these ingredients results in a creamy pasta that makes most people think there’s cream involved. Actually, cream is a big no-no if you want to craft Carbonara sauce in its purest form.
The True Origins of Carbonara
Some experts suggest the name ‘Carbonara’ refers to the region’s coal workers, who might have enjoyed straightforward dishes like these during lunch. Still, the term could very well come from the locals cooking this dish over a coal fire in Rome’s countryside — that we’ll ever know for sure.
Although the city of Rome is as old as time, and so is the use of coal for cooking, the Pasta alla Carbonara is probably a relatively recent invention. It appeared first in print in the 1950s.
One unpopular theory suggests that American troops and their egg-and-bacon rations gave birth to the popular recipe during World War II. Still, everyone knows you can’t make Carbonara with powdered eggs.
Digging deeper on the dishes history, it has become clear that the dish, as we know it today, was created in the 1950s, and evolved naturally from of other similar specialities typical in the region. The ‘cacio e pepe’ pasta and the ancient ‘pasta alla gricia,’ made with Pecorino Romano cheese and guanciale are suspiciously similar to the Carbonara. Is it hard to picture them as the famous dish’s predecessors?
Evidently, there’s an endless list of restaurants and cooks that attribute the creation of the decadently unctuous pasta to themselves, something quite useful in the touristy city of Rome.
At the end of the day, we’ll never know for sure how this authentic Roman masterpiece came to be. The only thing we can do is enjoy it and make a toast for the anonymous creator of the Carbonara.
May your pasta be always al dente, and your Carbonara creamy!
You can check our Pasta alla Carbonara recipe here.