There are many stories about the origin of the name "Carbonara", but I wouldn't bet on them! Researchers have yet to find any reference of this dish in old original recipe books. It is likely that the dish has probably been invented later, in the 20th century; probably during WWII time, when the Americans consumed large amounts of bacon and eggs. It is from this that, maybe, someone started to create a carbonara sauce to top pasta.
Another story, not supported by any official records, says that the dish gets its name from the Italian word “carbonari”. “Carbonari” were the foresters making charcoal (”carbone di legna”) from wood in the central mountains (”Appennino”) of Italy. These men, living probably in the 19th century, allegedly invented this rustic dish.
It is a dish that requires some skill because timing is important when adding the egg mixture at the final stage. Certainly, it is a recipe which you may have to try a few times before getting it just right.
If you want to make the CLASSIC CARBONARA, as most people do in Italy, especially in the Lazio region, then follow my directions but SKIP the wine & onion stage. However, there is a growing minority of people who add onion to the carbonara, because this is the way they like it (and I am one of them); it is one of the many variations existing in the country and if you want to try it, then follow my directions in full, by adding the two optional ingredients listed.
Ingredients (Metric & Imperial measurements)
Nutrition facts: Calories 650 per serving.
Ingredients (U.S. measurements)
About the salt: Spaghetti is boiled in salted water, the bacon is salty and the Pecorino cheese is salty, so take care seasoning with salt!
Note: I suggest using thin slices of streaky bacon (pancetta tesa) because this is what you can easily find if you live abroad. In Italy, for this specific dish, it is a must to use diced “guanciale” (cured pig jowl or cheeks). I is important that the streaky bacon is unsmoked; lightly smoked or smoked bacon will make the dish a bit too rich and some people would find it too strong. I did the recipe using streaky bacon cut in thin slices (it cooks evenly), however you can dice it if you prefer to do so.
I found these streaky bacon slices at the supermarket. They were already thinly cut, so the only thing I had to do was to cut the slices in two pieces to make the slices shorter.
Put 3 egg yolks plus 1 whole egg into a large bowl.
While whisking, add the Pecorino cheese, but add it gradually because the cheese will dry the mixture and you need a smooth and creamy mixture. In my case I added only 40 g (1 1/2 ounces) because 50 g (2 ounces) would have dried the mixture too much (the remaining cheese can be used later for topping the pasta if you like).
Take the crushed pepper you have previously prepared.
Add the pepper to the bowl.
Whisk until the mixture is smooth and creamy, and then leave it to rest.
Put the oil into a frying pan and when it is hot move the pan around distributing the oil all over the pan surface.
Lay all the bacon slices into the pan and cook at medium heat.
After a minute or so, start stirring the slices in order to cook them on both sides. When you see the first sign of browning, remove the pan from the cooker and go to the next step.
Transfer the bacon slices into a small bowl and leave them for the moment. Now, put your spaghetti into the boiling water and while boiling start cooking the onion.
In the same pan you cooked the bacon slices, which is still hot, add the onion rings and cook them for a couple of minutes.
Then, add the wine and cook for a couple of minutes. Then, turn the heat down and gently cook the onions until caramelised.
This is what it should look like after a few minutes.
Remove the pan from the cooker and put the bacon slices back into the pan.
With the pan away from the cooker (we do not want to overcook the bacon), stir everything together and set aside.
When the spaghetti is ready, put the saucepan containing the bacon and the onion back on the cooker (low heat) and meanwhile drain the spaghetti (remember to leave the spaghetti a little wet). Be quick draining the spaghetti because we do not want it to cool down. Put the drained spaghetti back into the large pan you used to boil it, which is still hot, and quickly add the bacon and onions.
Stir quickly for 10 seconds and move on to the next stage.
Quickly add the egg mixture.
Stir everything together for 20 seconds. The heat of the spaghetti and the heat of the pan is enough to cook the egg mixture. Do not carry out this procedure on the cooker otherwise, you will dry the spaghetti too much (I do not think you want to reach this stage to have spaghetti and scrambled eggs!). The final result should be a creamy sauce coating the spaghetti. Please, do not use any cooking cream, milk or butter; these are "tricks" that people use to cover their mistakes (even in Italy!).
Serve immediately and feel free to season with more pepper if you like, or sprinkle with some of the remaining Pecorino cheese, if you have any left. You can also try garnishing the plate with some parsley (flat leaf - torn by hand), but not too much.
Federico Pezzaioli is an ex-badass Italian Paratrooper on a mission - to make creating delicious authentic Italian food really easy. He researches, writes and photographs each recipe with the same attention to detail he used to apply to packing his parachute.
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