While it may not be among the most long-established of traditions (it’s only five years old), April 6, Carbonara Day, has its fierce followers! Pasta alla carbonara is one of the most beloved, popular, and revisited—and many times mistreated—dishes in the world.
Italians themselves quarrel about when and where it was born, its ingredients, and how it’s supposed to be properly made.
Some details, however, are set in stone. Italians are simply horrified upon hearing about peas, parsley, or zucchinis tossed into it. And let’s pretend the sacrilegious pizza carbonara has never been served anywhere in the world, of course.
Let’s start with the basics, i. e., the ingredients. Pasta alla carbonara is normally done with pasta lunga—long, preferably thick pasta like bucatini or spaghettoni—although some (the vast minority, however) swear by pasta corta. Next, you need cheese.
The choice is between pecorino romano, the most traditional, or Parmigiano-Reggiano, because… why not? Then comes pancetta dolce or guanciale, then egg—and again, some people only use yolk, others the whole egg—and freshly ground pepper.
Even the less uncompromising carbonara lovers turn up their nose when hearing about cream being added to the mix, however, the nicest verdict being that if you need cream to make your Pasta alla carbonara creamy, you’re doing something terribly faulty. Regarding where and when carbonara was born, there is no agreement either, and no original formula.
This is true for most Italian dishes. While, for instance, most French recipes have been codified by some super famous chefs, this did not happen in Italy.
The original recipe of Carbonara Day
With the original recipe nowhere to be found, and written versions of Pasta alla carbonara available only from 1952 on, local tales and myths abound. According to some, the recipe was invented in Roma in the aftermath of WWII. It is combining Italian pasta and the American army K-ration, which consisted of powdered egg yolk and bacon.
Others argue that pasta alla carbonara is an evolution of the cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) carried on by lumberjacks—named carbonari—who brought pancetta, pecorino and eggs with them into the woods because they were easy to bring along and to preserve … well, everything but the eggs: the weak point of this theory.
Maybe one day the mystery will be solved. In the meantime, check out the internet. Among others, you’ll find the “scientific carbonara recipe” by Dario Bressanini, a well-respected chemist, and a short video from Barilla made for Carbonara Day 2021 that went viral and which embraces that American/Italian authorship of the recipe. Enjoy—and share your #carbonara!
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By Claudia Quesito