Carbonaraghazi

One of my very, very favorite comfort foods is pasta carbonara. The ingredients are easy and the preparation is easy and the results are fantastic. Even if I can’t find genuine pancetta, a rasher or two of ordinary American-style bacon does just fine.

Thing is, when you go out to a place like the Olive Pit Garden what you get is pasta with a cream sauce with bits of onion and sometimes peas and shrimp. Wrong. Maybe that dish got good numbers out of the corporate focus group, but it’s not carbonara.

My own travels in Italy, including trying to cook for my cousins, reveals that Italy is a nation of finicky, picky eaters who love their own traditional national cuisine and not much else. And carbonara is something that people seem to get wrong all the time, to the great irritation of the Italians.

So when this video from the French online magazine Demotivateur started making the rounds…

Una carbonara alla francese: il video che fa infuriare il web

…Italians quite correctly called it a “horror show” and “Sacrilegio!” The manufacturer of the very pasta used in the video above called for Italy’s Prime Minister to intervene. While I am one to say that if it tastes good and it’s made with wholesome ingredients, by all means eat it, I can’t say as I entirely blame the Italians for this. Raw bacon boiled in the pasta water, onions, crème fraîche, and farfalle are not the ingredients of pasta carbonara. Whatever bizarre Gallic concoction this is, even if it winds up tasting good, this is not pasta carbonara.

Neither is some vegan thing made with cashews, squash, nor spinach dreamed up out of whole cloth in the UK. Maybe that dish is good too (I’m skeptical), but it’s not a carbonara, is what I’m saying.

This is how you make carbonara:

How to Make Carbonara

See, it’s easy. About the only thing I’d add to the video is warm up the service plates in the oven for a few minutes first so they complete the job of cooking the egg sauce all the way through. And it’s really, really tasty. It takes ten minutes, and you probably already have all these ingredients readily at hand anyway. Ora, andate, e cucinare!

Image by gaku.

Image by tsuihin – TimoStudios

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Pseudonymous. Practices Law. Lives in Southern California. Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. Homebrewer. Atheist. No Partisan Preference. Likes: respectful and intelligent dialogue, good wine, and puppies. Dislikes: mass-produced barley pop, magical thinking, and insincere people. Follow him on Twitter at @burtlikko, and on Flipboard at Burt Likko.

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41 thoughts on “Carbonaraghazi

  1. Pasta carbonara was my first real experience in Italian cooking beyond spaghetti and canned sauce. I am not using hyperbole when I say it changed my life. I credit a single meal, around 1994, with making me into a serious foodie.

    Anyway, the recipe you posted is better than the one from France, but I think it’s lacking a bit. You have got to have the onions. This is my go-to, which I contend is the best carbonara on the planet:

    http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/cooking-with-ryan-pasta-carbonara/

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  2. This has been hotly debated among the Italians and people of Italian descent in my social media. Real, proper carbonara is pretty much my favorite pasta dish in the world, but I can’t lie, the French one looks pretty good too.

    Perhaps the most interesting thing I’ve learned in all of this is that the dish may have been invented as a way to use powdered eggs from American troops during the occupation of Italy.

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    • There is no Italian market here in exurbia. There is a decent grocery store. The butcher there thinks it’s a deli meat because it’s like salami. So she doesn’t think it’s her job to order it or stock it. The service deli manager only orders it irregularly. Most of the time, it’s not in stock at all. Sometimes it’s in the deli case, pre-cubed (albeit cubed smaller than I prefer). If it’s in stock in the case, then the kid who works at the deli counter wants to slice it thin like a salami.

      Which, in the kid’s defense, seems to be a way people really do eat it, sort of like Canadian bacon. But I need it cubed, so it’s a bit of a negotiation with the kid to get it as thick as possible — “I just want a slab of it. Can you just slice a slab off with a knife?” Quizzical look, as though I’d asked for the entire pig, or some bizarre piece of offal. Usually this works out. Alsotoo many of these kids think it’s pronounced “pan-sett-uh” so that’s been an occasional stumbling block in the past.

      But that’s when it’s there at all.

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  3. My (Italian) mother tells the story of making this dish for a group of mothers who met once a week, in either the late 70s and early 80s. Apparently several of the mothers refused to eat it because of the “raw” egg. So my mom had to make it again (for a subsequent group dinner) with poached eggs, which she described as blasphemy.

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    • I want a do-over button for the 70s.

      Besides, if you watch the video, it is clear she is using fresh pastured eggs, not raw eggs. At least that’s what I tell folks who dare question our using eggs from our hens.

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    • No. I will not poach your egg for a carbonara. I will heat up some tomato sauce out of a jar in the microwave for you instead.

      Then I will eat all of the carbonara myself, while you watch, grossed out at the notion that I’m eating a raw egg, which I’m not.

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  4. Spaghetti carbonara has been my go-to dish for decades. I ate it often in law school because it was fast, cheap. filling, and delicious. I have used it for seduction and, sometimes, succeeded. I fully endorse the instructions in the video, but, not being a complete purist, I make some room for variation. I don’t think there’s a significant difference between one whole egg and a yolk or two whole eggs. A dash of cream, but no more, is OK if you like it, but not needed. I accept onions as a legitimate addition, and know a place that makes an excellent carbonara with them, but I don’t use them myself. I also like to add a bit of garlic and crushed red pepper to the pancetta, and some white wine, not much, after it browns. Some parsley as a garnish is a nice option as well.
    Now I’m hungry.

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  5. Love your recipe because it’s authentic and delicious. I’ve tried the same thing with a touch of garlic in the oil, and it enhances the dish as long you don’t burn the garlic- which is easy to do. Also, I’ve experimented with really good, thick American bacon instead of pancetta, and I like the American bacon better! Maybe it’s just because that’s what I am accustomed to, having grown up in the USA. To me, I’ve never had pancetta that was a tasty as some of the great American bacons you can get today.

    BTW, I heard from a Florentine chef that it’s called “carbonara” because of the black pepper which is, of course, carbon colored. Does anybody know if this is the actual source of the name?

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    • I’ve heard that the name comes from the coarsely-ground black pepper, and I’ve heard that the name comes from coal miners (carbonari) with whom the dish was popular. But I don’t see coal miners carrying two pans and a pot of water up the mountainside with them to cook their lunch. Some lardo de Colonnata with a hunk of bread and maybe a piece of fruit seems much more likely to have been a miner’s meal, in my opinion. Light enough to easily carry up the mountainside, calorie-dense to keep the miner working.

      I’ve heard stories that the dish originated in World War II, to make use of powdered egg rations that American GI’s gave to Italian families, and others that say the dish came from the peasants of rural Lazio more than a hundred years ago.

      My grandmother reports to me that sometimes her father served pasta carbonara before the war as a special treat, and she hails from coastal Tuscany. I’m not sure how much faith I want to put in her story, as her memory has become quite erratic with the passage of time. She doesn’t like to think about her pre-war and wartime years hardly at all, although I suspect that’s less from the ravages of advanced age robbing her mind of its memories than it is that the memories of those years contain some very, very awful things. I don’t like pushing her to remember those things.

      On the other hand, my grandfather was one of those GI’s. Before he passed away, he told different stories, including many stories of GI’s like himself befriending Italian families and sharing rations with them — but he never mentioned sharing powdered egg rations. Chocolate, coffee, and cigarettes seem to have been the big ones.

      So I don’t know where the dish came from. The legend about the GI’s is a good story, and there’s no better competing story with any real roots in the historical record that I know of, so maybe we just stick with the GI ration card story because there’s no better nor more charming explanation available.

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      • Ever since reading Robert Anton Wilson’s excellent and underappreciated “Historical Illuminatus” books, I’ve had a soft spot for the idea that it was a reference to the Freemason-like secret societies of southern Italy, also known as carbonari (just as the Freemasons used the trappings of stone masonry, the carbonari did the same with charcoal burning).

        Seems unlikely, since apparently the dish is Roman and the secret societies largely sprang from Naples… But according to the Wikipedia page, there’s actually a decent chance that it’s no older than WWII and that any origin story is apocryphal.

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      • Sounds much like my mother’s story. She was 13 when the war ended and my grandmother got her apartment back in Paris. All the GIs in Paris were so well fed! And their uniforms were clean and snappy. Everything that she had was dingy and sad. So when she was old enough she joined the French Consulate in New York, did some translation work at the UN, went on a double-date with a friend of hers …. and met my dad.

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  6. (This was supposed to be a reply. Firefox tab fail on my part)
    Hmm. Just for clarity…
    Thin books, 70s garish psychadelic covers, set in present day (i.e 1970s), lots of drug use, casual sex, and Rand parodies, not heavy on plot, character, or, frankly, coherence? That’s the series he’s famous for, and my college-age self ate it up, but haven’t gone back in more than a decade, since I suspect it will have aged as well as the pop-culture references and background music will have…

    There was a later series, thicker books, subdued black covers, set in the 1770s, and it’s more about what Freemasonry looks like from the POV of a new post-adolescent initiate. Hard to find, because the publishing house that was going to bring out the second went TU between printing and shipping, then the house that picked it up dropped their fiction imprint between the second and third books…

    It’s cool if you bounced off either or both – if we all liked the same thing, there wouldn’t be enough oatmeal in the universe, after all. I call the later series “underappreciated” because the vast majority of people were either disappointed by his earlier work, or because the later series wasn’t more like his earlier work.

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      • Essential to the process is tempering the raw eggs/pamagiano- reggiano mixture with the hot pasta. If you just pour one into the other, you get scrambled eggs. The goal is to get a silky egg finish and this is the real skill in preparing the otherwise simple dish.

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