|Course||Primo (Italian pasta course); main course|
|Place of origin||Italy|
|Main ingredients||Guanciale (or pancetta), eggs, hard cheese (usually Pecorino Romano, occasionally Parmesan, or a mixture), black pepper, spaghetti|
|Variations||Using penne, or adding cream, garlic, or vegetables|
Carbonara (Italian: [karboˈnaːra]) is a pasta dish made with eggs, hard cheese, cured pork, and black pepper. The dish took its modern form and name in the middle of the 20th century.
The cheese is usually Pecorino Romano, parmesan, or a combination of the two. Spaghetti is the most common pasta, but fettuccine, rigatoni, linguine, or bucatini are also used. Normally guanciale or pancetta are used for the meat component, but lardons of smoked bacon are a common substitute outside Italy.
As with many recipes, the origins of the dish and its name are obscure; most sources trace its origin to the region of Lazio.
The dish forms part of a family of dishes involving pasta with bacon, cheese, and pepper, one of which is pasta alla gricia. Indeed, it is very similar to pasta cacio e uova, a dish dressed with melted lard and a mixture of eggs and cheese, which is documented as long ago as 1839, and, according to some researchers and older Italians, may have been the pre-Second World War name of carbonara.
There are many theories for the origin of the name carbonara, which is likely more recent than the dish itself. There is no good evidence for any of them:
The names pasta alla carbonara and spaghetti alla carbonara are unrecorded before the Second World War; notably, it is absent from Ada Boni's 1930 La Cucina Romana ("Roman cuisine").
In the Guide of Italy of the TCI, 1931 edition, is recorded a pasta (strascinati) dish from Cascia and Monteleone di Spoleto in Umbria, whose sauce contains whipped eggs and pork fat and lean, and could be considered as a precursor of Carbonara.
The name carbonara is first attested in 1950, when it was described in the Italian newspaper La Stampa as a Roman dish sought out by American officers after the Allied liberation of Rome in 1944. It was described as a "Roman dish" at a time when many Italians were eating eggs and bacon supplied by troops from the United States.
According to another unverified hypothesis a young Italian army cook, Renato Gualandi, created the dish in 1944 together with other Italian cooks working for the allies for a dinner for the US army as the Americans "had fabulous bacon, very good cream, some cheese and powdered egg yolks".
Food blogger and historian Luca Cesari states that carbonara was born in Rome around 1944, just after the liberation of the city, probably because of the bacon that flowed in quantity with the American army. He adds that the first mention of the dish is in an Italian movie from 1951 (but see above about a reference in 1950), while the first attested recipe is in an illustrated cookbook published in Chicago in 1952 by Patricia Bronté. According to Cesari, it is likely that the recipe was brought to the United States by an American serviceman who had passed through Rome during the Italian campaign or by an Italian-American who had met it in Rome. This makes carbonara a dish that closely links Italy and the United States, according to Cesari. The Italian academic Alberto Grandi also said that carbonara's first attested recipe is American, citing Cesari, a claim that has been criticized in Italy. According to Alberto Grandi, the dish was created by Americans living in Italy after World War II. The American soldiers initially referred to it as "spaghetti breakfast." Eggs and bacon were their common snack, and they decided to incorporate pasta into it, thus creating the dish.
In 1954, carbonara was included in Elizabeth David's Italian Food, an English-language cookbook published in Great Britain.
The pasta is cooked in moderately salted boiling water. The guanciale is briefly fried in a pan in its own fat. A mixture of raw eggs (or yolks), grated Pecorino romano and a liberal amount of ground black pepper is combined with the hot pasta either in the pasta pot or in a serving dish, but away from direct heat, to avoid curdling the egg. The fried guanciale is then added, and the mixture is tossed, creating a rich, creamy sauce with bits of meat spread throughout. Although various shapes of pasta can be used, the raw egg can only cook properly with a shape that has a sufficiently large ratio of surface area to volume, such as the long, thin types fettuccine, linguine, tagliatelle or spaghetti.
Guanciale is the most commonly used meat for the dish in Italy, but pancetta and pancetta affumicata are also used and, in English-speaking countries, bacon is often used as a substitute. The usual cheese is Pecorino Romano; occasionally Parmesan. Recipes differ as to how eggs are used—some use the whole egg, some others only the yolk, and still others a mixture.
Some preparations have more sauce and therefore use tubular pasta, such as penne, which is better suited to holding sauce. Cream is not used in most Italian recipes, with some exceptions. However, it is often employed in other countries. Similarly, garlic is found in some recipes, but mostly outside Italy. Outside Italy, variations on carbonara may include green peas, broccoli, broccolini, leeks, onions, other vegetables or mushrooms, and may substitute a meat like ham or coppa for the fattier guanciale or pancetta.
Since neither guanciale nor bacon are allowed for Muslims and Jews, these are replaced in carbonara in two ways: either by using another type of jerky, such as coppiette or turkey bacon, or with zucchini. Thus the dish becomes halal or kosher.
Carbonara sauce is sold as a ready-to-eat convenience food in grocery stores in many countries. Unlike the original preparation, which is inseparable from its dish as its creamy texture is created on the pasta itself, the commercial versions of carbonara are prepared sauces to be applied onto separately cooked pasta. They may be thickened with cream and sometimes food starch, while often using bacon or cubed pancetta slices as its meat of choice instead of guanciale.