Carbonara, The Real Thing

About Carbonara there are plenty of annedocts, old and new, and sometimes quite funny! It is one of those dishes that one will get it right, once every four tries!

First myth to dispel; the story of humble and industrious shepherds (or charcoal burners) who since the dawn of time have seasoned their spaghetti with eggs, bacon and pecorino is as fascinating as it is anti-historical.

We saw the first recipe in 1954, published by the renown magazine La Cucina Italiana. And the ingredients back then where: spaghetti, egg, bacon, gruyere and garlic.

Overtime, the garlic was gone, bacon became “guanciale,” and gruyere was substitued by pecorino cheese, and sometimes Parmesan, or both.

Guanciale What is That?

Some swear by it. Must be Guanciale (Italian pronunciation: [ɡwanˈtʃaːle]), cannot be pancetta/bacon. 

Like bacon is a cured meat prepared from pork jowl or cheeks. Its name is derived from guancia, the Italian word for ‘cheek’.

Its flavor is stronger than other pork products, such as pancetta in fact, and its texture is more delicate. Upon cooking, the fat typically melts away, giving great depth of flavour to the dishes and sauces it is used in.

It is a specialty of central Italy, particularly Umbria and Lazio. Pancetta, a cured Italian bacon which is normally not smoked, is sometimes used as a substitute when guanciale is not available.

The Eggs

Some will use just the yolks, some the whole eggs. In these times of “internet-COVID-improvised-chefs” we saw some proposing a poached egg on top to solve the delicate operation of adding the eggs and not getting scrambled eggs over spaghetti.

The Cheeses

I favor parmesan, and I am picky about pecorino. There can be many pecorino cheese, and some have a very strong flavor. I gave some explanations on my post: “Say Cheeses”, where in fact I talk about the many different types of Pecorino.

I do not make carbonare very often, simply because I favor simple flavors, but mostly because it is a dish that can go terribly wrong. So when I do, I’ll try my best and I follow the recipe to the point.

Below are the ingredients and directions, from the most reputable source: La Cucina Italiana.

INGREDIENTS

350 g spaghetti

120 g bacon

30 g pecorino romano

20 g parmesan or grated parmesan (optional)

2 large egg yolks

salt

pepper

PREPARATION

Discover with ume how to make spaghetti carbonara step-by-step. 

First cut the bacon into sticks or julienne.

Mix the egg yolks with the pecorino and the parmesan or parmesan (if you like), adding 40-50 g of water. Mix with a whisk so that the yolks become creamy. Salt and pepper.

Put a pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a pan without oil, over low heat: brown it until it becomes crisp (about 7-8 ‘). Keep in mind the pasta cooking time, it must be ready together with the bacon, so that it can be seasoned immediately.

Drain the pasta al dente, without drying it too much (alternatively, keep a little cooking water, I always do just that), and put it back in the pot or, better still, in a glass bowl: it is important that the pasta is seasoned off the heat. Season it immediately with the bacon and its fat. Mix well.

Pour the egg yolk mixture over the spaghetti and mix, so that it hardens just right, without making lumps, always away from the heat. 

Serve immediately, completing with more pecorino cheese to taste and a grind of pepper.

For me pepper is a must! I just prepared it today. I was told that on a scale from 1 to 10, my Carbonara got an honorable 8.

To you now!

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I lived the most part of my life in Washington DC, now in Italy getting to know again my country. Plenty of surprises, for good and bad, and lots of nostalgia for DC.

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