Today the Italian character of spaghetti alla carbonara is indisputable. But what would you say if I told you that it was born to delight the Americans?

In this article, I will tell you the origins of the recipe and also the recipe itself. 

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To the origins of the spaghetti carbonara 

The spaghetti carbonara and the Americans

According to an article on the Italian site Il Gambero Rosso, The strongest version about the origin of the carbonara says that it was born after the challenge of a Bolognese chef named Renato Gualandi to conquer the stomach of none other than the American army. 

A very creative chef

Renato Gualandi was hired on September 22nd 1944 to prepare the lunch for the meeting between the British and American armies in the recently liberated city of Riccione. For this, he had few resources, typical of the American diet: bacon, powdered egg yolk and cheese. Then the Italian chef came up with the idea of mixing these three ingredients and making a sauce reminiscent of the typical English and British breakfast. 

According to Renato’s testimony: 

 “The Americans had fantastic bacon, delicious cream cheese and egg yolk powder. I put it all together and served this pasta to the generals and officers for dinner. At the last moment, I decided to add some black pepper, which had an excellent flavour. I cooked them rather “bavosetti” and they let the pasta win.

Renato gualandi, creator of the carbonara

The expansion of the spaghetti carbonara

 Gualandi later became the cook for the Allied troops in Rome from September 1944 to April 1945 and this period was enough to spread the fame of the carbonara in the capital. 

Obviously, the story of the carbonara invented in Riccione in 1944 by a Bolognese cook using American army rations, may generate some perplexity in the purists of the Roman culinary tradition, but this does not make the matter any less truthful or plausible. 

However, the written recipe had to cross the Atlantic to return to Italy

The consecration of carbonara as a dish came from the United States to Italy and not the other way around.

In a 1951 film ”A maiden in distress”, there was a scene where the boss asked: “Excuse me a moment, listen a little, but can you make spaghetti carbonara”.

That same year a second quotation appears in the book “Lunga vita di Trilussa” by Mario dell’Arco: “It is difficult for our poet to attack spaghetti ‘alla carbonara’ or ‘alla carettiera’…”. 

Neither the film nor the book intended to make the dish famous, but those phrases were enough to make people start wondering what that mysterious Italian dish was. 

The first carbonara recipe is American

And seems to have been published in 1952 in the United States in a Chicago district restaurant guide entitled “An extraordinary guide to what’s cooking on Chicago’s Near North Side” by Patricia Bronté. 

The first Italian recipe for carbonara

The appearance of the first Italian recipe (but not as we know it today) is dated August 1954, when it appeared in the magazine ‘La cucina italiana’. Here the ingredients were: spaghetti, egg, bacon, gruyère and garlic.

The consecration of the recipe with varied ingredients

Guanciale

In Luigi Carnacina’s 1960 recipe book “La gran cucina”, the pork cheek was introduced for the first time, replacing bacon. This ingredient remains to this day, representing the salty part of the recipe.

Cream

The cream lasted a few decades, even in large quantities. For example, the chef Gualtiero Marchesi made a version of carbonara with one litre of cream for every 400 g of pasta. Today for purists the cream in the carbonara is extremely forbidden.

There were other ingredients that came and went from the famous recipe, such as wine, garlic, onion, parsley, pepper and chilli, showing an extreme variability of composition. 

In the versions of the carbonara of the 90’s all these ingredients will be eliminated allowing affirmation of the three classic ingredients that everyone knows today: the egg (with a clear prevalence of the yolk), the pecorino cheese and the guanciale with the more or less abundant addition of pepper.

Let’s go now to the recipe:

Recipe for spaghetti carbonara

  • Duration: 30 minutes
  • Level: Easy
  • Dose: 4 persons

Ingredients 

  • Spaghetti 320 g
  • Guanciale 150 g (if not, bacon although the recipe specifies guanciale)
  • Medium egg yolks 6
  • Pecorino Romano 50 g
  • Black pepper q.b.

Procedure

Prepare the ingredients

To prepare the spaghetti carbonara, start by putting a pot of salted water on the fire to cook the pasta

Meanwhile, remove the rind from the cheeks or the bacon and cut it first into slices and then into 1cm thick strips. 

The remaining rind can be reused to flavour other preparations. 

Cook the pasta and the pork cheek

Pour the pieces into a non-stick frying pan and brown for about 15 minutes over medium heat, being careful not to burn them or they will release too strong a flavour. When they are cooked, turn off the heat and leave them in the pan.

When the meat is cooked, put the spaghetti in boiling water and cook it for the time indicated on the packet.

Prepare the eggs

Meanwhile, pour the yolks into a bowl, add most of the cheese provided in the recipe and the remaining part will be used to season the pasta.

Season with black pepper, mix everything with a hand blender. Add a spoonful of water from the cooking of the pasta to dilute the mixture and stir. Place everything in the dish where you are going to place the spaghetti, forming a base.

Mix everything

Drain the pasta al dente and place it directly into the pan with the cheeks and sauté briefly to give it flavour

Place the spaghetti and bacon mixture in the dish where the egg yolk and cheese mixture is already with a little water from the cooking of the pasta, so that the mixture will not be so dense. Stir quickly to amalgamate. The heat from the pasta and the bacon will cook the egg, so it is very important to do it quickly so that the pasta is still warm.

The spaghetti carbonara is ready!

Serve the spaghetti carbonara immediately, seasoned with pecorino cheese and ground black pepper!

It is advisable to consume immediately and not to store.