Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Authentic Italian spaghetti alla carbonara.

Spaghetti alla carbonara is probably ‘the’ most well known Italian pasta recipe. Well, maybe alongside spaghetti bolognese! And like spaghetti bolognese, it has been reinvented a thousand times outside of Italy. Of course, different versions of carbonara are good too. But the original recipe really needs nothing added to it because it’s delicious as is!

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spaghetti alla carbonara Some alternative alla carbonara history!

Like so many other Italian dishes, carbonara has a disputed history. The most commonly accepted theory is that it probably originated in or near Rome in the Italian region of Lazio. But how is the question!

Theory no 1; It is believed that Umbrian coal men called ‘carbonari’ ate it themselves and  introduced it to the Romans when they came to sell charcoal to them.

Theory no 2; It has also been said that carbonara was named for the ‘Carbonari’ a secret society in existence during the time of Italian unification (Dan Brown take note!)

Theory no 3, which to me may have merit since published carbonara recipes date only from the second war onwards, is that it developed as a result of the demands of American soldiers stationed in Rome after the city’s liberation in 1944 and the fact that these very soldiers supplied the Romans with bacon and eggs.  

spaghetti alla carbonara ingredients

How do Italians make alla carbonara?

Whatever its origins, it’s certain that alla carbonara has become a worldwide favourite pasta dish – although one that has many non-Italian versions!

I have always called spaghetti carbonara ‘Italian bacon and eggs’ because basically that’s what it is; eggs, bacon, pasta, grated cheese and pepper. I think it’s the combination of bacon and eggs that makes this one of the most popular pasta dishes in the West, especially with the British and the Americans.

spaghetti alla carbonara ingredients and grated cheese

No vegetables! No cream!

Over time, authentic Italian carbonara has been altered by the British, the Americans and others. I did a little experiment and searched through Instagram posts hash-tagged  #carbonara. Needless to say, I found a zillion variations including ingredients such as cream (lots of cream, sometimes the pasta is swimming in it!), peas, leeks, broccoli, tomatoes and mushrooms. It seems that these additions have become so common in America and England that it’s now considered the norm to make this dish with some kind of vegetable and cream. In Italy, it really isn’t!

guanciale frying for spaghetti alla carbonara

Like many Italian pasta dishes, alla carbonara is a simple dish with few ingredients. But, it’s the quality of the ingredients and what you do with them that make the difference. The majority of chefs agree that ‘true’ carbonara contains guanciale (pork cheek) and not bacon or pancetta, although both make fine substitutes as long as they are quite fatty and cubed. Mixing the pasta to combine the ingredients is an art and the quality of the cheese (Parmesan / pecorino) and the pasta are significantly important. Black pepper is essential! Some Italians use only whole eggs, others add yolks. My hubby sometimes makes it with just egg yolks. This gives the dish an orangey colour!

mixing pasta and eggs for spaghetti alla carbonara

The pasta.

Spaghetti is the usual pasta for alla carbonara, although linguine, fettuccine, bucatini and rigatoni can also be used. Rigatoni is the second most popular pasta for carbonara in Rome. The recipe I’m giving you is the one my Italian hubby follows and it is also that of the late Antonio Carluccio (author of 20 books on Italian cuisine) who said of his own carbonara recipe, “most people I know get it completely wrong, either adding milk or cream or letting the eggs become scrambled.” You can watch Mr Carluccio making his carbonara on Jamie Oliver’s YouTube channel.

Even if you normally make your carbonara differently, it’s worth trying it the Italian way! I’m sure you’ll love it!

Buon appetito!

(go to next page to see recipe. Just scroll down and click 2)

spaghetti alla carbonara


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