Macaroni Alla Carbonara
My friend, Angelina, and her family went on a ten-day trip to Italy this summer so I of course had to pick her brain about the food she ate throughout the vacation. Unsurprisingly, Angelina gushed about the “paste della tradizione romana” (traditional Roman pastas) that she ordered at almost every meal. Angelina said her favorite meal was Carbonara pasta she had on her last night in Rome.
She ordered the dish at Ristorante Sangallo, which is located in the heart of Rome, just five minutes from the famous city-square, Piazza Navona. She described the dish as creamy, rich, and “mouth-wateringly” good. Her only complaint was that the Italians were a bit too liberal with their use of fresh black pepper. Carbonara is a heavy and filling dish, and I can imagine it hit the spot after a long day of sight-seeing. Angelina’s description of the meal sounded so good it made me want to put up a recipe of this delicious golden and eggy dish.
First a Little History of Carbonara
How did this richly creamy combination of eggs, cheese, bacon and starch originate?
Pasta alla Carbonara is thought to have come from the region of Lazio in Rome, Italy. The etymology of the name is “carbonaro” which is the Italian word for a man who makes charcoal. Thus, the pasta dish may have been consumed initially by Italian charcoal burners working in rural areas with only cured pork, eggs, and fresh pasta at their disposal.
Another theory proposes that American troops brought rations of bacon and eggs to Italian locals during World War II. Italian families then cooked the ingredients in charcoal burners on the streets of Rome during the occupation and produced this delicious classic.
Others say that Carbonara simply gets its name from the generous amounts of black pepper Italians sprinkle on top—so much that it looks like charcoal is seasoning the dish. Whatever the true origin, we know two things for sure about this meal: It hails from Rome and it is darn tasty.
There are really only three main ingredients you need to make a great Carbonara: pasta noodles, bacon, and eggs. In terms of the noodles, it’s traditional to use spaghetti but you can also try penne, macaroni (like Angelina had), or really any pasta you have laying around in the pantry. The key to the dish isn’t the noodles, but the sauce. Some people add butter or cream to the eggs and bacon, but it’s up to your own discretion how rich you want the dish to taste.
Italians generally prefer pancetta in their Carbonara but the Americanized version calls for bacon that you should keep partly tenderized when cooking the fat. Generally, copious amounts of a cheese like pecorino or parmesan is added to the egg to ensure that the sauce reaches its desired decadent and creamy texture.