Carbonara Day has been celebrated on 6 April for six years now, to renew a celebration of the first dish most loved by Italians, and not only. Among curiosities, events and rankings, let's see how the tastiest pasta is evolving and redefining itself at the time of the "almost" Post-Covid.
In just six years, the #CarbonaraDay event, which is celebrated every 6 April throughout the social and non-social world, has been a true celebration of the first dish most loved by Italians (and apparently also by foreigners) and with an audience of no less than 1 billion fans in live streaming. We therefore ask ourselves:
Why do they like it so much?
What alchemy lies behind this first course that is so simple to prepare but truly gratifying to the palate?
And above all, can we talk about a Redefinition of Carbonara 2.0?
A brief history of the 'best-loved' First ever
"I know another story, the one my grandfather told me. He was a coal miner from the Marches. When they went to the mountains, these tireless workers took guanciale, a fatty, protein-rich food, with them. They would prepare Gricia (or Griscia), pasta with lard and cheese, and add eggs to make an even more nutritious dish. So it was made with guanciale (pork cheek) and pepper was added to recall the soot, the memory of coal, from which it then took its name."
(Luciano Monasillo Disappore Web)”
The biggest mystery surrounding perhaps the world's best-loved pasta dish lies in the origins of its picturesque name, 'Carbonara'. The enigma deepens if you think that the recipe for carbonara is not found in any of the books on Roman cuisine until 1944. While to date, there is no certainty as to the officiality of any one version in particular, the debate remains almost open on the three main reconstructions of its debut in modern society and history, so much so that it is worth recounting them, both to better appreciate this eighth wonder of taste, and to explore and understand a piece of Italian traditional history that is almost completely forgotten.
Here, therefore, are the three stories about the origins of Carbonara:
Carbonaio Appenninico (charcoal-burner of the Apennines): as pointed out by Michelin-starred chef Luciano Monosilio, in the post-war seasonal migrations, it happened that the so-called charcoal-burners of the Marche region or coal miners, used to carry saddlebags or large bags to eat in the open air, with guanciale (cured pork cheek bacon), pecorino (sheep's milk cheese) and eggs, cooking the pasta at the moment, to obtain a super-protein dish, given the difficulty and hardness of working in the mine;
Ration K: the unwitting creators of the most fascinating version of the three, does not concern the Romans, whose full paternity to this dish is said, but rather the American military who, during the Second World War, used the famous Ration k, invented by the biologist Ancel Keys for the troops, and who is the same as the later discovery of the Mediterranean diet. In Ration k, there was egg yolk powder and bacon= called bacon, and then the added spaghetti discovered in the Italian peninsula, perfect for giving the right ratio of protein and carbohydrate value to soldiers in war;
Neapolitan influence: The most distant origin is undoubtedly that of the Neapolitan nobleman Ippolito Cavalcanti, who wrote a book in 1837 entitled 'La cucina teorico pratica' (Theoretical and Practical Cuisine), in which he mentioned a certain pasta 'cace ed ova', but without the presence of lard.
The pleasure of pasta is not only gluttony
"Whoever puts on the cream should go to jail."
In celebrating World Pasta Day on 25 September, the aim is above all to promote the use and not the abuse of an ideal dish, both for health and good mood. In fact, many studies have been dedicated to the benefits that a good pasta dish brings to our body, palate and even brain.
The #worldpastaday, promoted by the Italian Food Union and the International Pasta organization, is a unique occasion that enhances the healthy nutrition of a dish rich in all the useful ingredients for a balanced daily requirement.
Among the most popular first courses, we also find the famous bucatini alla amatriciana, which during the pandemic period suffered from a real bucatanigate, then summarily resolved, in connection with their disappearance from American shelves. But it is Carbonara that is perhaps even more popular than Amatriciana, due to the alchemical combination of its '5 incredible elements', which are present in a few simple ingredients:
egg, bacon, pecorino cheese, EVO oil and preferably long pasta cooked al dente.
Pasta lovers all over the world are therefore warned. The event being planned on the most famous social networks, including Instagram with the ashtag #CarbonaraDay, will see the day of 6 April, super rich in events and with a myriad of photo and video sharing from all over the world of Pasta Addicted to be shared strictly in the virtual way. For example, on the well-known site that promotes pasta culture, Welovepasta, you can already find a list of guests and initiatives for the tastiest event of the year. (click on #CarbonaraSharing, #WelovePasta, #Worldpastaday)
For the #CarbonaraDay, Barilla proposes its own recipe, respecting tradition as much as possible, but with only one "dispassionate" indication, namely to use Spaghetti n°5 from the Barilla factory itself. We recommend watching the beautiful short film about CareBonara, with an account of the origin of the legendary pasta, in the original language with Italian subtitles. An important contribution in film, which unites the history, tradition but also the evolution of a dish, which is worth much more than what it represents, thanks also to the social project created by Chef Bottura Food for soul together with Barilla, pasta unites people, dispensing as many as one million plates of pasta in its refectories around the world.
Here in short is the classic recipe (to copy), perfect for beginners, cooking experts and lovers of good food:
SPAGHETTI ALLA CARBONARA
Ingredients for 2 persons
160g Spaghetti N°5
80g guanciale diced
60g grated pecorino cheese, medium seasoning
qb. Black pepper
Bring plenty of lightly salted boiling water to the boil.
In the meantime, separate the yolks from the egg whites, placing the yolks in a bowl with 2/3 of the grated Pecorino Romano and a generous grinding of black pepper. Whisk and set aside.
Heat a non-stick frying pan and brown the cubes of guanciale in their own fat, without adding oil, until they become crispy.
Drain the pasta al dente, retaining some of the boiling water.
Pour the spaghetti into the frying pan, letting them flavor with the guanciale.
Remove from the heat and pour in the egg yolk and Pecorino cheese mixture, continuing to stir so that the yolks coagulate with the heat of the pasta in a homogeneous and delicate way, without forming lumps.
Serve sprinkling with the remaining grated Pecorino and a final grinding of black pepper.
Carbovegana for non-meat eaters
"Never say 'carbonara' and 'vegan' in the same sentence."
For those who choose not to eat meat, there is also the highly sought-after vegetarian or even vegan version of Carbonara, which experts say is 'almost' better than the real thing cooked with lard.
The classic proposals presented by various TV chefs, such as Chef Rubio and others, are good-naturedly clashing with the most extravagant ones, among all in the evolution of the so-called Carbovegana, which not only intrigues a growing number of culinary neophytes with new flavors, but also gains further applause from the so-called "purists", who do not disdain at all the alternative way of the new 2.0 cuisine, based exclusively on vegetable foods.
Below are the two versions that we have enjoyed the most, as they are easy to make and have been tried and tested. Although faithful to the magic that the traditional Carbonara can give our senses, frankly the two choices have positively surprised us. The two recipes recommended here are dictated by the illustrious blog Giallo Zafferano and the well-known Roman chef Alessandro Borghese, who has tried his hand at a different but equally tasty version (try it to believe it). Moreover, Borghese himself, who at the end of 2021, was the testimonial in a commercial for his most famous workhorse (i.e. Carbonara) at the NittoATP Tennis Finals, (one of the most important tournaments in the world which was held in Turin from 14 to 21 November), in which during an interview he recently admitted that: "both Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe should be Unesco World Heritage Sites as should all Italian cuisine". And how can we say no to him...!
320 gr farfalle (Pasta)
200 gr Courgettes
5 fresh yolks
Pecorino cheese 100 gr
Evo as needed (Extra virgin olive oil)
Pepper to taste
Salt to taste
400 g spaghetti
250 ml unsweetened soya milk
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric and saffron to taste for the yellow colouration
100 g smoked seitan
We also add:
2 tbsp rice flour
The fake version of 'smoky' carbonara from the USA
"Always use bacon. If we wanted bacon we'd go to America."
Together with the news of the Bucatinigate, which fascinated the world during the Lockdown period, (unobtainable above all on the shelves and tables of the States), not long ago came another reference linked to pasta and the USA. An American version of the Smoky Carbonara, much acclaimed by the Yankees themselves, and which certainly could not go unnoticed by the eyes and refined palate of Italian gourmets.
The Smoky Tomato Carbonara recipe under investigation, included in the cooking page of the authoritative New York Times, follows the basis of the famous amatriciana with the addition of egg, bacon (not cheek) and tomato. It is unmistakably another recipe, given the confusion of ingredients, or pure nostalgia for the momentary disappearance of bucatini, you might say. But no, the suggestion seems entirely intentional and already has many followers of this new version, popular only in the USA.
But even if Americans are still far from understanding that some dishes are "hard to die for" or that they "really change their identity", there is a story that questions the very origins of the legendary dish Carbonara, which was first popular in the Roman capital, and which allegedly concerns Americans.
From Barilla's short film Carebonara, the curious tale of an American soldier and an Italian cook and an unlikely alliance that gives rise to strong emotions, is the incipit in this mini film, which we recommend seeing:
From the main narrative of Ration K, already listed above, further possible narrative cues are interwoven here in the following details:
The young Bolognese cook, Renato Gualandi, at the end of the Second World War, was commissioned to prepare a meal for the British and American troops in Riccione. He liked the pasta with the ingredients that were available in the American army's rations for that occasion (bacon, cream of milk, cheese, red egg powder and black pepper) so much that he was promoted to cook for the Allied troops in Rome at the end of the war. In confirming or denying a story that may be quite acceptable, given the historical and dramatic context of the conflict, what is certainly striking is the innate creativity, of knowing how to overcome difficulties, originating a dish that is unique in the world and loved by everyone, everywhere.
If there were an award ceremony on the subject, the category for the worst Carbonara ever would undoubtedly go to Jamie Oliver, who between the guanciale, pecorino and eggs, dared to insert an ingredient light years away from the no longer hidden truth of the beloved dish: garlic. Yes, you read that correctly. And if you don't believe what you are told here, here is the recipe step by step, with the inclusion of garlic (which is cunningly put as optional, and who knows why?1?) of the famous English Chef, who has created his own personal English-speaking version, appreciated perhaps only by the subjects of the English Queen.
In Rome, the real Carbonara is at home (here's where)
Redefining Carbonara in the times of the Post Covid, is not at all easy. Thinking about the tons of pasta consumed at home during the Lockdown period both in Italy and in the rest of the world, often choosing Carbonara as a quick and super tasty dish even for the most demanding palates. In reconsidering Carbonara, no longer as a poor pasta but as a true gourmet first course marked by high standards in the raw materials, there is a good-natured clash between the so-called purists and innovators, which in times of Covid has intensified, for two main reasons:
for the American version of smoky carbonara;
for the alternative meatless version favorited by vegetarians, vegans and culinary influencers.
In order to understand where Carbonara is going, or how it is evolving, it is necessary first of all to understand in which direction the Italian culinary tradition as a whole is proceeding.
The main risk lies in the frenzied tendency to experiment with new gastronomic territories, which can unnecessarily distort the uniqueness of a dish rich in history, with the sole aim of grabbing a slice of the new and extravagant markets, reserved for particularly demanding palates, with the intrusion of high-protein ingredients, such as edible insects (which are part of Novel foods) and in favoring the entry of the new European regulations that accompany a new concept of eating with a lower environmental impact, to all European countries, including Italy.
Dedicating continuous in-depth studies to the culture of good Italian cuisine could be an excellent way to fully appreciate the essentiality and quality of good Italian food on the one hand, and be useful if taught in schools to the new generations on the other. To know and love the origins and originality that lie behind the presentation of a dish; as it is precisely for the legendary carbonara.
And so as not to forget the tradition and at the same time the unchanged passion in those who grew up with guanciale and eggs in their blood, namely the Romans, let's try to move to the favorite city of Carbonara. To Rome. In the eternal home of the history of mankind and good food, proudly reported by its modern Roman citizens, comes a special journey documented by no less than Gambero Rosso, which in 2020 visited or rather we could say "performed" a TEST of TASTINGS in 21 Roman restaurants on the legendary Carbonara, in just 4 days. From the expert taster, (not Roman) chosen for this important mission, we at OUTSIDERPOST have extrapolated our three favorite places, just remembering that:
"Your beloved Carbonara can also be found in your own home restaurant".
Pipero's mezze maniche. piperoroma.it Price: €32. With Chef Ciro Scammardella, guanciale in large chunks is combined with mezze maniche rigate from the Graziano pasta factory to create a riot of unique flavors, including real Pecorino Romano DOP cheese and strictly yellow eggs.
Carbonara is spoken at the Parliament. ristoranteparlamento.roma.it Price: €12. The medium Gragnano spaghetti, cooked al dente by Chef Simone Mugnaini, is the peculiarity of this high-level dish, in which the mix of 40% Pecorino Romano DOP and 60% Parmesan cheese and the whole eggs make it a real treat for the eyes and palate.
A Bistrot in Centocelle. menabovinoecucina.it Price: €10. In the suburbs, there is a popular trattoria, where the working-class and peasant souls of the two brothers Paolo and Daniele are perfectly reflected in the Roman traditions of their dishes, in which the Carbonara a Spaghettone squared and of generous portion, is magically linked to Pecorino Romano DOP and guanciale (bacon) from the Casale Nibbi farm in the Amatrice area and with the use of almost double eggs. All presented without frills, but with an intensity of flavour that is really hard to forget.
And to explore the topic of Carbonara (but not only), here are 4 recommended books.
"La carbonara perfetta. Origini ed evoluzione di un piatto di culto", by Eleonora Cozella, 2019.
"5 Segreti per una carbonara perfetta: Segreti e Tecniche della cucina italiana", by Mario Perrino.
"La carbonara non esiste. Indagine sul piatto principe della cucina romana (che forse romano non è)", by Alessandro Trocino, 2019
"L'identità italiana in cucina", by Massimo Montanari, 2013