[We have a wander around Italy on the hunt for the most typical dishes of our heritage. Which you can also replicate at home, if you fancy. That’s right, because we’re also going to give you the recipe!]
Carbonara is one of the pasta sauces that simply says “Rome”: there’s not one trattoria in the Italian capital that doesn’t display it on the menu – a great classic of those little eateries in the historic centre with their characteristic red-checked tablecloths.
To avoid talking rubbish, I read up on it. And do you know what I found? That Carbonara most likely did not come from Rome but... from Riccione!
It was 1944 and precisely in Riccione – a town on the Adriatic coast liberated from the Germans at the time – where a young cook from Bologna was hired to prepare a lunch for the two victorious armies: a table shared between the Americans and the British.
It was hardly easy to organise a menu in wartime... As American military rations included plenty of bacon, egg powder and milk powder, that young chef decided to use them to dress pasta. And just like that, the first Carbonara in history was born, with ‘Made in the USA’ ingredients...😉
That young cook – born Renato Gualandi – then followed the Allied troops, moving from Bologna to Rome, where he favoured using guanciale over bacon and the freshest egg yolks instead of egg powder, creating a masterpiece of Italian cuisine out of the sauce he had improvised from American rations in Riccione.
You have two options for Carbonara: with cream or without? I prefer it without – I find the cream makes it too heavy without adding much else, so my recipe doesn’t include it.
MY SPAGHETTI CARBONARA
[preparation time: just under half an hour]
Ingredients [serves 4]
- 320 g spaghetti
- 3 egg yolks
- 100 g slice of guanciale (or smoked pancetta)
- 300 g Pecorino cheese, grated (alternatively, Parmesan cheese also works. But the Pecorino would definitely be better!)
- 2 tbsp of our EVO oil (only if you use pancetta instead of guanciale)
- black pepper
First mistake to avoid: heating oil. If you’ve managed to get hold of guanciale, all you have to do is fry it in a non-stick pan, dry, without adding any cooking oil.
If, on the other hand, you use pancetta (which is less fatty than guanciale), cook it in oil, but from cold – otherwise it might dry out.
After removing the rind side and the pepper and spice side, cut the guanciale into medium-sized strips (say a few millimetres wide).
Meanwhile, you will have brought the water for the pasta to the boil (1 litre per 100 grams). Tip in the spaghetti. Remember: never break them! Never.
Now you can turn your attention to the eggs. Mind you: no egg whites in Carbonara! You can keep them aside, in the fridge, to add to an omelette or to make meringues... But we’ll talk about that another time. 😊
Place the yolks in a fairly large bowl, the same one in which you’ll dress the spaghetti.
Mix the egg yolks with 200 grams of grated Pecorino cheese and add a couple tablespoons of the cooking water for the pasta: it will already contain some starch after 5 minutes, which is why we prefer it to plain hot tap water.
How much water do you need? This is a real conundrum, because it depends on the type of pasta, the size of the eggs and countless other variables... In general, pasta prefers fairly thin sauces, so two tablespoons of water can easily become three.
Finish with a sprinkling of pepper and the egg sauce is ready.
A couple of minutes before the time indicated on the packet, drain the spaghetti, keeping some of the cooking water in a cup – you’ll need it to ‘adjust’ the degree of liquidity of the sauce. Yes, this is the real secret to achieving a perfect Carbonara.
Pour the spaghetti into the frying pan with the guanciale, add a little water (!) if necessary, and stir for a minute to make it creamy – just long enough for everything to blend together. Ideally, the oil and guanciale should be nice and hot, but the hob must be off.
Last step: tip everything from the frying pan into the bowl with the eggs. Temperature is key – the egg should thicken with the heat of the pasta, but not get cooked: careful not to make an omelette! Finish with a final sprinkling of pepper and the remaining 100 grams of Pecorino cheese.
Now here we have the real deal: your Carbonara is served. The spaghetti blended nicely into a sort of yellow cream, seasoned with pepper and Pecorino cheese, with crispy guanciale between your teeth.
Buon appetito! 💗