Who doesn’t like bacon and eggs? And those of you who do not, please refrain from raising your hands. I believe that you are the minority in this situation. Bacon and eggs are meant to be enjoyed—comfort food, breakfast food, brunch food you name it, bacon and eggs goes with it. And you guessed it; Italians really know how to put on a show with these ingredients. Truly.
You knew that this paragraph with going to start with Pasta, right? Bacon and eggs–and pasta—equal wow! It is a special dish that has a fairly recent origin, maybe about 60 years ago. Its history is slightly obscure; however its taste is NOT. There are a few myths about how this recipe took off but none are completely verified.
The first theory dates Spaghetti alla Carbonara back to the period of charcoal makers who would make charcoal by slowly burning wood in the forests. The black pepper in the recipe is said to represent the flecks of charcoal from their work. Many people disagree with this theory: The job required a man to be away from home for a whole season and, as there were no preservation techniques, so eggs would not keep for a long period. BUT I never say never. I believe that people can be very inventive when pushed and Spaghetti alla Carbonara could have been their inspiration.
The next theory claims the dish originated in 1945 when the American soldiers got to Rome at the end of the Second World War. When they went to lunch into the Roman taverns they wanted lard, fried eggs, bacon and noodles, the typical Chinese spaghetti, which at the time was more famous in America. The Roman cooks of that period were supplied these foods by the troops in the wake of the war, and so fulfilled the demand by serving fried eggs and bacon cooked in lard, along with unseasoned and thus insipid spaghetti. In a long standing tradition of working people and troops alike, the American soldiers mixed all the ingredients together, thus accidentally creating the ancestor of the famous dish. However, don’t know how much I buy it.
And the last and the most compelling theory looks to the name, “carbonara.” Many believe the dish was invented by carbonai—a carbonaio is a man who makes charcoal, or carbone—who for centuries worked in the Apennine Mountains near the city. In the old days, carbonai camped outdoors for months at a time and brought most of the ingredients for carbonara with them. Cheese, cured pork, olive oil, salt, pepper, and pasta kept fresh without refrigeration and eggs were readily available at local farms. All that was needed was a pot and a campfire. An account supporting this theory can be found in the cookbook, Sophia Loren’s Recipes & Memories. The actress describes how during the filming of Two Women in the late fifties, in the mountains a few hours from Rome, the crew came upon a group of carbonai who offered to prepare the dish for them. The director, Vittorio De Sica, and Loren had second helpings, and she returned the next day to take notes as the men assembled the dish. (An accomplished home cook, Loren claims the recipe is verbatim. But while the results are tasty, her rendition calls for cream—an addition most carbonara connoisseurs would not abide.)
Common mistakes when people make Spaghetti alla Carbonara outside Italy: adding onions, butter and cream. The use of cream is something you actually may find in the north of Italy, but this is a Roman dish, so, no cream.
It may take a time or two to hone the recipe just right, since you don’t want scrambled eggs in the dish but want a nice creamy texture. Once you try it there is no turning back, especially those bacon and egg lovers. Yep, I’m talking to you. This week’s Sunday Pasta recipe is a must try.
Ed Garrubbo and Donna Picciocchi, Editors