The story of carbonara, like all tales about something legendary, is shrouded in mysteries, mythology and a good dose of fantasy.
The origin of carbonara, according to those most romantic and attached to tradition, is to be linked to the ancient shepherds who, many years ago, discovered the hidden wonders of combining pecorino, eggs and guanciale on pasta.
The truth, however, is far less romantic and far more unexpected than you might expect.
Let’s discover it together!
The history of carbonara you might not expect
The first hints of carbonara as we know it today appear in cookbooks from the 1700s, when the first enlightened cooks began combining egg and pasta together, where, however, the former was used as thickeners for more elaborate recipes (such as fried pasta balls, timballi and similar preparations).
A primordial version of carbonara would have to wait another century, when a Neapolitan chef had the intuition to combine cacio and eggs with pasta.
In short, a small step for the world of pasta dishes, but a big step for humanity.
Of the use of guanciale as a condiment for pasta, however, is recorded even later, after World War II: in the first examples, however, the egg was absolutely excluded from the equation resulting, more like, in a 1.0 version of gricia.
Now, the question arises: when and how did the definitive version of carbonara arrive?
The history of carbonara begins in the States
Although its appearance is certified by some Italian films from the 1950s, it seems that the first, official, recipe for carbonara appeared in a cookbook from the United States.
Yes, you read that right.
The story speaks for itself: in 1952, Roman table pride appeared in a Chicago restaurant guide.
In Italy, in fact, things are quite different: in the recipe for carbonara found dating back to those years, in fact, there are a whole series of ingredients that today would turn our noses up if they were presented in our dishes:
The history of carbonara in Italy, as we know it, began in the 1960s, when bacon was replaced with guanciale and cream was eliminated in favor of the great combo of beaten eggs and pecorino cheese.
Over the thirty years between the 1960s and the 1990s, the recipe settled down: eliminating vegetables and superfluous additions such as wine, in fact, the dish established itself as a skillful mix of three main ingredients: egg (mostly the yolk), guanciale, and pecorino.
But so how did carbonara come about?
Given its widespread popularity in North America, it would be plausible to think that the origins of the quintessential Roman dish are to be found in the military rations disseminated after the war to soldiers present in Italy.
Eggs and bacon, after all, is not such an unusual pairing if one thinks of the U.S. culinary tradition, but the person who actually found the right way to make it a beloved pasta dish all over the world was a chef from Bologna, Renato Gualandi.
The young chef was hired to prepare a lunch in Riccione in honor of the meeting between the British Eighth Army and the American Fifth Army, and he succeeded in creating a dish capable of meeting the tastes of his diners.
Later, the cook followed the Allied troops to Rome from September ’44 to April ’45, and it was during this time that carbonara spread to the capital, shaving its heart and palate.
In short, whether it was born in some suburb of Chicago or in a kitchen in Riccione, only one thing is certain: carbonara, the kind that moves anyone who tastes it, is now an undisputed symbol of Rome (so much so that it has a day dedicated to it) and a must-try experience for anyone who steps on even a single cobblestone.
THE 10 RULES FOR A PERFECT CARBONARA
- The guanciale: the use of smoked bacon is allowed in extreme cases if-and only if-you do not have the possibility of finding guanciale; the latter should be cut into strips and then browned in a pan without adding fat, until it becomes crispy.
- The eggs: originally, as a poor dish, the whole egg was used in carbonara, without too much finesse.
Today the most quoted school of thought wants only the yolk for a creamier result; in order not to make the dish too heavy, my advice is to use 1 whole egg for every 3 yolks (considering 1 yolk for every 100 g of pasta per person).
- The pecorino cheese: a firm NO to Parmesan and any cheese other than Roman pecorino (preferably DOP).
- The black pepper: there is no carbonara without it! Prefer the one to be freshly ground for a pleasantly aromatic result.
- NO to the omelet effect: the eggs should be worked together with the pecorino with a whisk in a clean bowl, away from the heat, while the pasta is cooking. Once al dente, the pasta should be drained and stirred in the bowl (not over a flame) for a creamy result.
- Absolute ban on cream: I’ll latch onto the previous point by talking about creaminess. Eggs, expertly whipped-with enough pecorino cheese to make firm, thick cream-are enough on their own, along with any tablespoon of pasta cooking water, to achieve a creamy effect. Never cheat by using cream or a drop of milk.
- Spaghetti, mezze maniche, rigatoni or elicoidali: the strictest tradition prefers long pasta, generally spaghetti.
For a more enjoyable result, vermicelli or spaghettoni are also fine. But there are not a few Roman trattorias that use mezze maniche rigate and rigatoni.
- No onion: although this variation can give a pleasant result appreciated by many, the purist recipe for carbonara does not call for it.
- No pepper: the typical spicy touch of carbonara is given by pepper.
Pasta al dente: if overcooked pasta is never a good choice, for the preparation of carbonara this rule applies double!
- 1/2 cup of guanciale (cured pork).
- 1 cup (200 grams) of pasta (rigatoni, spaghetti)
- 1 cup of Pecorino Romano cheese
- 3 egg yolks
- pepper and salt to taste
Cut guanciale into thin strips and place on a cold skillet,
cook over low heat to sweat the guanciale and extract all the fat,it will be 100% crispy.
Grate the pecorino romano cheese in a bowl.
In a bowl put the 3 egg yolks, pepper and salt and the grated pecorino cheese.
Mix until creamy.
Once the fat from the guanciale has come out, put a tablespoon and a half of it into the previously created cream.
Now run the cream in a bain-marie, continuing to stir and adding a teaspoon of hot water (for 5 minutes).
Cook the pasta; remove the guanciale that has now become crispy and leave the fat in which you will finish cooking the pasta for the last 4 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat, add the cream and guanciale and stir slowly.
Plate, and sprinkle with more pecorino Romano cheese.
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