If there is a pasta dish, which is adulterated and irrelevantly adapted from cooks throughout the world, it’s carbonara! I never understood why there is so much obsession among spaghetti lovers with borrowing its name for dishes that have nothing to do with the authentic recipe, and could successfully (or not) be named whatever else. If they gave it another name, they wouldn’t create confusion in the palate of those who eat pasta with cream and cheese and a little bacon, and wouldn’t be necessary to ask details about how the dish is prepared.
Because povera carbonara, the authentic one, contains neither cream, nor mascarpone, nor ham, nor butter, nor wine, no.., no… NO, it contains none of those ingredients and NO is as absolute as the NO of the 28th of October! * Carbonara sauce is a mixture of eggs with pecorino cheese made with hot sautéed pancetta, usually cut into small cubes according to most recipes. As simple as that! Pecorino Romano is the locally produced cheese with PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) – Parmigiano could be accepted as a substitute, if you are out of pecorino.
Debates over a pasta dish
Carbonara remains one of the three dishes (unless specifically described in the menu) whose recipe I always ask for at restaurants (the other two being the margarita cocktail and tiramisu). Even in restaurants with Italian cuisine (or its abuse), maybe in order to adapt to the taste of the poor, misled clients who have gotten used to such altered version of the dish, the cooks add eggs and cream to the recipe in an attempted compromise or fusion of Franco-Italian cuisines, which only enhances the existing confusion.
A frequent result of all this is the uncalled-for verbal confrontations that often occur with ignorant waiters (something that noone looks forward to on paying to go out to eat), who strongly defend the spaghetti dish in front of you that swims in cream (with or without butter) as the true Italian carbonara, the authentic one.
That said, and on the occasion of a recent experience involving a similar persistent debate, I thought of sharing at “pandespani” the real thing. Even if someone prefers this or that variation (every man to his taste and habit) it is salutory and useful for anyone to know how the authentic carbonara is really made.
Carbonara and some history
There are several scenarios about the origin of the name carbonara. The most reliable refers to the workers that made wood charcoal (=carbone) in the mountains of Lazio, who used an easy way to flavour their pasta with a sauce of eggs, bacon and cheese. During the German occupation the Romans that fled to the mountains tried the dish and learned the recipe and, when in better times returned to the cities, they popularized it.
As for the pancetta, which is made from pork belly (=pancia) and only resembles bacon, while being quite different, Italians, (who make several types according to different methods), insist that the ideal is the one called “guanciale”.
is prepared from the cheeks (= guancia) of the pork (the neck meat is added, too),
- is cured in a different way from the bacon (namely covered with salt and pepper for 3 months without being smoked),
- it is made from a special cut of the meat between the muscle of the cheek and the neck and the meat has better cohesion, and
- has, of course, a different taste.
All these are small print for some parts of the world including Greece (unless you want to be characterised as eccentric) and I suggest that, if you cannot find pancetta labeled (di) “guanciale” (from the cheek), use regular pancetta or regular bacon and not smoked bacon.
*the anniversary of the NO DAY is celebrated from Greeks all over the world to commemorate the rejection of the Greek Prime Minister of the ultimatum of the axis powers to enter Greek territory.
Authentic carbonara recipe
Preparation: 10 minutes all together. Prepare the sauce while you cook the spaghetti. Beware not to over boil them and not to be tempted to keep them for long in the pan. If possible, buy the ‘guanciale’ (or pancetta) in one piece and cut it in small cubes. Depending on the season remember to heat the plates where you will serve the pasta. Easy and quick recipe, very tasteful although not light.
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 package of spaghetti (450-500 gr)
2/3 cup guanciale cut into oblong pieces (if you cannot find it, use pancetta or bacon)
2 tbsp of oil
1 garlic clove, peeled, whole or broken (not crushed)
3 eggs, in room temperature
¾ cup of freshly grated pecorino (or parmigiano cheese)
salt and freshly ground pepper
To prepare the pasta: Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente according to the instructions on the packet.
To prepare the carbonara sauce: Heat the oil in a large deep saucepan and sauté the guanciale (or pancetta or bacon) and the garlic until the fat from the cured meat has been rendered and lightly coloured and crispy (not burned). Remove, throw the garlic and keep the mixture warm.
While you cook the pasta, put on top of the pan with the boiling water a large open serving bowl to heat it and add the eggs. Add the pecorino (or parmigiano cheese), salt and lots of pepper and mix well.
When the pasta is ready, drain (reserve a cup of the pasta cooking water), and quickly add it in the saucepan with the oil and the pancetta or bacon. Stir a couple of times for about half a minute, while the heat is on and heat them well. Remove and add the pasta to the serving bowl with the eggs. Mix well and serve immediately.
To serve: Carbonara served on the table is beautiful. It smells delicious and appetizing. Serve with extra grated cheese for everyone to add to taste.
Note: For a relatively lighter version of the recipe, simmer the guanciale or pancetta or bacon without oil. If you do the opposite, that is if you remove the fat from the bacon and add it fatless at the end in the heated oil, the taste of the carbonara won’t be the same.