…is Spaghetti alla Carbonara.
There are a number of competing theories surrounding the origin of Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Although this dish forms part of a Roman repertoire of dishes involving pasta with cured pork, cheese, and pepper (including spaghetti alla gricia or cacio e pepe), the name may in fact have derived from a dish made by woodcutters in Abruzzo who made charcoal for fuel. Other more probable theories given the meaning of “alla carbonara” – coal worker’s style – are that the dish was eaten by coal workers or that the abundant use of coarsely ground black pepper resembles coal dust. Yet another story is that food shortages after Rome’s liberation in 1944 were so severe that Allied troops distributed military rations consisting of powdered eggs and bacon which the local population rehydrated with water to season the easily stored dried pasta.
There are hundreds of different recipes for Carbonara out there and although a simple dish, it has admittedly taken me years to nail it. I use only egg yolks in my version and save the whites for a guilt-free breakfast the next day!
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
From Majella Home Cooking
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a first course
1 lb spaghetti
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 lb diced pancetta
3 egg yolks whisked with 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano-Reggiano) plus more for sprinkling at the end
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook spaghetti according to package instructions minus one minute. Add olive oil to a wide, deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until it starts to color, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat. While the pasta is cooking, add 3 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water to the egg yolk and cheese mixture and whisk immediately to combine. Reserve another 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water and set aside. When you are ready to drain the pasta, set the pan that contains the pancetta over medium heat, and add the drained pasta and reserved 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water. Using tongs, stir to combine and allow to bubble away until the water has evaporated, about one minute, and turn off the heat. This next step has to happen quickly or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs! Add the egg yolk and cheese mixture to the pasta and with tongs, toss very quickly and vigorously until the spaghetti are completely coated. Add salt, lots of freshly-ground black pepper and more cheese. Serve immediately. Buon appetito!
My Extra Two Cents – In Rome, the dish is traditionally made with guanciale, cured pork jowl, but pancetta works just as well. I’ve used bacon before, but I personally think it’s too greasy and the smokiness overpowers the flavor. Use very fresh eggs since they are only cooked by the residual heat at the end. Pecorino Romano is the cheese of choice in Rome, but Parmigiano-Reggiano works as well and is my personal preference.