Pasta carbonara or pasta alla carbonara is a famous Italian dish based on pasta, eggs, bacon, cheese and black pepper. The pasta variety most commonly employed in making an authentic pasta alla carbonara is the spaghetti, which makes the dish to be called spaghetti alla carbonara. The other varieties of pasta that may replace spaghetti in this Roman delicacy include the bucatini, rigatoni or fettuccine. Created some time back in the mid 20th century, the original recipe of this dish favors either parmesan or pecorino for cheese and pancetta or gunaciale bacon. Cured bacon goes best with this pasta preparation and smoked bacon is generally avoided. The pasta is cooked al dente and somewhat chewy and the eggs are just allowed to curdle.
The basic preparation of this dish is begun by frying the pork in lard or olive oil and then the hot, pre-cooked pasta is tossed with the pork. A combination of butter (or cream or olive oil), raw eggs and cheese is then mixed with the hot pasta. However, the mixing is done away from direct heat to keep the eggs from coagulating. The eggs form an integral liquid component of the carbonara sauce in which the pasta is further cooked.
History of Pasta Alla Carbonara
There are many hypotheses surrounding the origin of pasta carbonara. The name of this dish birthed from the Italian word “carbonaro,” meaning charcoal burner. According to popular belief, the dish had once served as a hearty meal to the charcoal workers of Italy. This led to the dish being called spaghetti alla carbonara or coal miner’s spaghetti. Some suggest the delicacy was created as a tribute to the charcoalmen or the carbonari, a secret community that played a significant role in Italy’s unification. Then there are those who say that the dish was created by the charcoal woodcutters who lived in the Appenine Mountains of Abruzzo. However, some argue that these workers used penne instead of spaghetti. This was because penne was comparatively easier to toss with cheese and eggs.
No records of this recipe have yet been found in the cookbooks published before the World War II. However, post the war, the recipe was described to be a Roman creation. This was at the time when several Italians were living on bacon and eggs supplied by the United States troops. The recipe of Carbonara had featured in the English cookbook titled “Elizabeth David's Italian Food”, published in 1954 in Great Britain.
Pasta Carbonara Recipe Overview
Ingredients: This is one of the most followed traditional recipes that recommends the inclusion of spaghetti, pancetta, butter, eggs, grated parmigiano reggiano, pecorino cheese, nutmeg, parsley and salt and pepper seasoning.
Preparation: Butter is first melted over medium heat and bacon dices are stirred in it till crisped and browned. The pasta is cooked in salted water till al dente and drained. The pasta water is reserved to cook the carbonara sauce. A mixture is made by beating eggs with the cheeses, nutmeg, parsley and seasoning. The pasta is tossed in the butter, oil and bacon and with the heat lowered, the egg mixture is poured in along with the pasta water and the combination is cooked with continuous stirring.
Serving Pasta Alla Carbonara
Pasta carbonara is served steaming hot, immediately after being cooked. Popular garnishes for the dish include grated pecorino or parmesan cheese and parsley. Rarely, basil leaves are also used to garnish the dish.
Variations in Pasta Carbonara Recipe
The use of cream is observed in the French and western versions of pasta alla carbonara. Many Anglo and French variations of the dish incorporate broccoli, peas and assorted vegetables for an enhanced color. Some American pasta carbonara recipes also call for the addition of mushrooms. It has also been observed that the non-Italian pasta carbonaras tend to have more sauce. Yet again, there are versions of this dish which are prepared with readymade sauces bought from stores. Other popular additions to the pasta carbonara dish include white wine, fresh linguini, garlic, ham, red pepper flakes and heavy cream.
A pasta carbonara cooked with heavy cream may yield as much as 290 calories, contributed by 34 grams of carbohydrates, 12 grams of fat and 12 grams of protein. The dish can be given a healthier twist by cutting down the cheese content to half and skipping the cream. Whole grain pasta can make the dish richer in fiber. Bacon bits can replace pancetta or bacon strips to cut down the fat. Moreover, the butter can be substituted with skim milk and fewer egg yolks may be used.
- There is a popular belief that the dish is a specialty invented by the famous La Carbonara restaurant, located in Rome’s Campo d’Fiori. The dish is thought to be named after the restaurant. However, even though pasta carbonara does feature in the restaurant’s menu, the restaurant itself has declared all claims of it to be false and cites other reasons for the restaurant’s name.
- Cream is recommended in many pasta carbonara recipes as it lends a creamy texture to the carbonara sauce besides preventing the egg from getting scrambled.