Carbonara is for sure one of the most famous Italian pasta sauces in the world, and let me tell you, for one reason! A well executed, authentic carbonara is one of the most delicious thing your taste can experience. So, no surprise you are looking for the real carbonara recipe: you are in the right place!
The origin of its name is discussed, as well as the origin of the recipe itself (but this is very typical of highly successful ones).
The most accredited explanation links carbonara name to workers transforming wood into coal (carbone in Italian). It was a common work in the Apennines of Central Italy, between Abruzzo and Lazio, and also the ingredients suggest this origin, being all very common in the area.
Another explanation, completely different, links carbonara etymology back to American troops arriving in Rome at the end of World War II. At that time, people were starving, and the soldiers’ rations were suddenly an important source of food. Militar rations included bacon and eggs (in powder), and this would explain the genesis of this recipe. Even if it does not clarify the etymology, what is true is that before WWII carbonara recipe was not part of roman tradition.
Real carbonara Decalogue
Even if the real carbonara recipe seems a very simple one, you need to consider two main factors.
First: the list of ingredients is short and the recipe sounds easy, but perfect technical execution is not!
Second: it is one of the most abused Italian recipes, both abroad and in our own Country.
While to address the first issue I will give you some tips in the recipe instructions, the second topic is developed with typical roman humour in a ‘real carbonara recipe Decalogue‘. Widely spread in roman dialect via social apps, I do my best here to share it with non-Italian readers … hoping the translated version will make you smile half as much as the original one 🙂
- always use guanciale, not bacon – if we meant bacon, we would have gone to the USA (note: guanciale is the pork cheek, while bacon is part of the belly)
- no parmigiano reggiano, just pecorino cheese. Who says “half and half” has something to hide (Note: I love Parmigiano Reggiano, I even wrote a guide about it, but always remember that Italian food is regional: with carbonara you are in Lazio, so don’t use a cheese from Emilia Romagna)
- never cook the egg, it is not an omelette!
- no garlic, no onion, it’s not a ragù!
- no oil, no butter, no lard. Just the fat from guanciale
- no spicy pepper, it is not Calabria (i.e., not from the Southern region of Italy famous for spicy foods)
- no spices other than black pepper are allowed
- who adds cream should go to jail (you know, we take it seriously about food, sometimes too much…)
- never, never say ‘carbonara’ and ‘vegan’ in the same sentence
- tonnarelli, spaghetti, bucatini, rigatoni (note: four different shapes of pasta). They are all good, just don’t overcook it!
Before I start with the instructions, writing about real carbonara I cannot help thinking of one of my favorite restaurants in Rome, Lo scopettaro. I hope you will enjoy at least once their amazing traditional cuisine, including one of the truely authentic carbonara I have ever had! And if you love Italian pasta but you prefer tomato-based sauces, don’t move from Rome and cook with me an authentic Amatriciana 😉
Real carbonara recipe
- 400 gr pasta Best choice: spaghetti. I use "spaghetti alla chitarra" in this recipe.
- 150 gr guanciale
- 6 egg yolks Depending on egg size, about 1.5 each person.
- 120 gr grated pecorino cheese pecorino from Rome is the best choice, the one with the black rind.
- q.s. black pepper according to taste, on top
- 1 pinch salt in the water to cook the pasta
- Prepare all the ingredients and put the water on high heat. Salt it when it's warm.
- Start cooking the guanciale in a pan. First, at low heat, to let the fat melt, then at medium heat, to make it crispy (but not fried).
- Separate the yolks and whip them with a fork.
- Add the grated pecorino cheese and keep on whipping until you obtain a nice cream.
- In the meanwhile, guanciale should be ready.
- Remove some cooking water from the pot where the pasta is almost done.
- A minute before the pasta is done, remove it from the water and pour it in the pan over the cooked guanciale. Mix it in the melted fat.
- Add the egg and pecorino cheese cream.
- Add some spoons of the cooking water and mix the pasta.
- Serve it, add some parmesan cheese and (according to taste) some black pepper. Buon appetito!
- as stated in the Decalogue, never cook the egg, so turn off the heat before adding the cream
- use the cooking water to add starch and make the sauce even more creamy.