. . . Rome is as good as it gets, particularly when you throw in Italian food.~ Roger Federer
The cuisine of Rome is like its people ~ direct and energetic.
Throughout the city and the surrounding region of Lazio, strong flavors prevail in dishes made with humble ingredients of the highest possible quality.
Spaghetti Carbonara, Rome’s signature dish with the oh-so-creamy sauce, is one of these.
It’s a delicious meal with simple ingredients that’s simple to prepare.
This is true even though, in regards to the number of ingredients, carbonara is the most complex of the tantalizing three tomato-free pasta sauces the Eternal City is best known for.
Rome’s Tantalizing Three (& Tomato-Free) Pasta Sauces
Cacio e pepe
For example, the sauce for spaghetti cacio e pepe (cheese and black pepper) is made with — you guessed it — cheese and black pepper.
And any sauce for spaghetti alla gricia will contain salt-cured pork as well as cheese and black pepper.
But carbonara sauce goes the gricia sauce one better. Its essential ingredients are cheese, black pepper, cured pork, and eggs.
That’s how Spaghetti Carbonara got the nickname: “Italian-style bacon and eggs.“
Oh, yes, this is Italian home-style cooking at its finest, and here’s all you need to prepare it…
Spaghetti Carbonara ~ What’s In There
- EGGS ~ Large, at room temperature, and whole, traditionally. Now, it’s true that some cooks, in their quest for the silkiest carbonara sauce possible, separate the eggs and use only the yolks. But ain’t nobody got time for that.
- BLACK PEPPER ~ Freshly ground and plenty of it.
- PASTA ~ Typically spaghetti, but you can use any high-quality dry pasta with enough texture for the sauce to cling to, like rigatoni. Or mezze maniche (half-sleeves), a pasta with rigatoni-like ridges but only about half as long.
- CHEESE ~ Pecorino Romano, the hard, salty, and aromatic milk cheese produced by pasture-raised sheep in Sardinia, Lazio, and southern Tuscany is the more traditional choice. However, many Romans prefer the milder taste of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. (Some chefs use equal parts of freshly grated Pecorino and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese; you might prefer this, too.)
- SALT-CURED PORK ~ Ideally sourced from guanciale, that is, salt and pepper cured pig jowls. Yes, pig jowls. You can’t get more humble than that.Guanciale adds a level of porky-ness to foods other cuts of pork don’t. Many modern-day Romans have gone as far as to say ~
If it doesn’t have guanciale, then it’s not Carbonara!
However, unless you happen to live where there’s a butcher shop or deli that specializes in Italian foods, guanciale can be a bear to find.
So if you absolutely, positively cannot get a hold of guanciale, all is not lost.
Use thick fatty bacon instead.
American bacon with all its glorious smokiness does not taste like guanciale but if tastes is all you’ve got, run with it.
You can still prepare a Carbonara good enough to make everyone around your table beg, “More, please!”
NOW THEN . . .
How did “Spaghetti alla Carbonara” come to be?
As is the case with traditional dishes elsewhere in Italy, the origin of Spaghetti alla Carbonara (or simply, Spaghetti Carbonara) is rooted in local history, the stories of Lazio and Rome.
One story tells about the charcoal makers ~ or carbonari ~ the dish is named for.
These were artisans who eked out a living in the countryside by turning wood into coal. They spent many days and nights in the mountains away from home to complete the work.
So to sustain themselves in the field, they took along inexpensive pork and pecorino cheeses preserved by salt. Just like the soldiers of ancient Rome had done centuries before them.
Now, Spaghetti Carbonara is one edible bit of Italian history that doesn’t go back nearly that far, which brings us to our second story ~
This is the one about how American powdered eggs and bacon fed hungry Italians at the end of World War II. And how American GI’s stationed in Rome shared their enthusiasm for bacon and eggs with the people there . . .
Who, being Roman, improved upon what the Americans started by swapping out the powdered eggs with fresh eggs, bacon with guanciale, and American cheese with their beloved pecorino.
Then the people remembered these specific foods together were what the carbonari once used to eat. So they named the new dish accordingly, adding lots of black pepper to taste.
No wonder there’s no mention of the dish in any cookbook anywhere before World War II.
This central Italian “classic” we call Spaghetti Carbonara is less than 100 years old!
Yet, in that short time, it has become one of the world’s most recognized Italian pasta dishes. If you’ve tasted Spaghetti Carbonara before, you know why. If you haven’t, doncha think it’s time to taste what you’ve been missing?
- Head for the kitchen and start bangin’ some pots together for this easy-to-prepare and easier-to-love Spaghetti Carbonara recipe.
- How exactly did the carbonari make charcoal back in the day? This article featuring one of the last remaining carbonari at work shows you.
Featured image, Carbonara on white dish by Studio Gi; Guanciale “72,” by Giorgenko; Roman Forum with a Touch of Purple by Eustaquio Santimano; Pancetta che soffrigge in padella/frying lightly in a pan by Paolo Fornaseri; Pecorino Romano by Deanna from Chicago ‘burbs.