Carbonara (American or Italian?)

carbonaraDon’t shoot the messenger! 🙂  The title of my post may stir up a heated debate on the origins of this beloved pasta.  Mi scusi, allow me to explain.  Food historian Luca Cesari, author of A Brief History of Pasta, says carbonara is an American dish born in Italy towards the end of WWII. It is believed that an Italian chef made carbonara in 1944 for US Army guests to celebrate the Allied liberation of Rome.  One has to realize that before the war, pork was used only on special occasions and pasta was eaten only on Sundays.  In Tuscany beans and potatoes were a typical food staple.  Italians pre-war could ill afford a pig.

American GIs brought their daily ration of eggs and bacon to local restaurants to supplement the limited Italian menu. Carbonara comes from the word carbonaro, coal burner.  Some believe the dish was created as a hearty easy-to-make meal by men working outside. In Ippolito Cavalcanti’s 1839 Neapolitan cookbook, there is a Neapolitan dish of pasta tossed with melted lard, beaten raw eggs, and cheese.  No mention of pork. Cavalcanti was an Neapolitan aristocrat (a Duke).  His sphere of influence included a small circle of noblemen who helped govern the city along with helping Cavalcanti publish his recipe book.

Two Michelin star chef Marco Sacco offers a middle path. “In the kitchen, the protection and care of tradition must be able to coexist with the desire and the possibility to innovate and experiment,” he explains. “The original recipe, or the oldest versions, must be defended and preserved, just as an artistic asset is protected in a museum or a UNESCO site. But this does not mean that maximum freedom should not be given to experiment, innovate or adapt to the territory with new ingredients.”


guanciale, sliced
1 egg and 1 egg yolk
70g finely grated pecorino romano


eggs mixed with cheese before the rendered fat is added

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add spaghetti and cook according to packet instructions. While the pasta is cooking, grab a frying pan and add sliced guanciale. Cook over low heat as you want the meat to slowly brown but not burn. In a bowl add eggs and cheese. Stir to combine and add freshly ground black pepper. Remove the meat from the pan and pour the rendered fat into the egg mixture. Stir to combine. If too dry, add a bit of the pasta water to loosen slightly but not runny. Drain pasta and place in frying pan used to cook the guanciale and immediately pour in the egg sauce. Mix until combined and a creamy sauce occurs. Place spaghetti on plates or bowls and top with the cooked guanciale. Add more ground pepper.


Guanciale is typically available at speciality markets. If you cannot find this, use pancetta or bacon. Enjoy!