Vita Gazette

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The journey of Carbonara, one of our pearls of taste

by Assunta, queen of the Italian Table

Since the beginning, shepherds or coal burners have prepared humble meals with eggs, bacon, pecorino and Spaghetti. The journey of Carbonara, which is based on these out-of-history stories, is equally fascinating.

There are various rumours about the origin of Carbonara. However, one stands out in the historical, sociological, and cultural context: It seems that the culinary culture of post-war Italy and the food culture of the USA necessarily merged, and Carbanora emerged, which influenced the whole world. Its combination of the typical American taste of eggs and bacon and pasta flavoured with cheese made it an instant success on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

But we can reach the origin of a dish through documentary books and movies. So let’s start the time travel:

Francesco Palma, a Neapolitan, describes in “The Prince of Cooks” of 1881 the Maccheroni with cheese and eggs, combining cheese, eggs and lard in a macaroni dish.

Ada Boni published a recipe for Spaghetti with bacon in “The Little Talisman of Happiness” in 1949. However, the recipe did not include eggs.

In the same year, we hear the name Carbonara in an Italian film: Totò’s film, Totò La Nuit: here, in front of Ave Ninchi, the famous face of Italian cuisine on television, a waiter passing by shouts the name of Carbonara di, who has just taken the order. And this, so far, is the oldest frame on the pasta symbol of Roman cuisine.

Two people sitting at the table of a restaurant in the heart of Rome, in Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere, with them, serving the guests, the owner and the waiters of the restaurant. “Four amatriciana”, says one of these when reporting an order, which a colleague follows shortly after: “Coda alla vaccinara for two and spaghetti alla carbonara for three”. The protagonists in that inn, filmed by the director Giuseppe Amato in the 1949 film Yvonne la Nuit, are Nino (played by Totò, in one of his scarce dramatic roles) and Nerina Comi (played by Olga Villi), but leaving the world of cinema, what might seem like an entirely typical scene represents, for the history of cuisine, nothing less than “the first document in which the presence of pasta carbonara is attested.”

The culinary expert and critic Angelo Carrillo took the first reported mention of the famous dish back at least a year: “Already in 1949, spaghetti carbonara was, together with a series of other famous recipes such as the “amatriciana” and the coda alla vaccinara, on the menu of a famous trattoria in the heart of Rome.”

In particular, Carrillo explains: “Before 1944, Carbonara was never mentioned and, as it has a very high protein content, it tends to fall outside of Italian gastronomic culture as a dish. For this reason, it is associated with the famous “K rations” (freeze-dried egg yolk, bacon and spaghetti) of the American soldiers, from which the chef Gualandi, according to his reconstruction, created the recipe in 1944.”

Then, we hear a question about Carbonara during a corporate interview in the US movie. In the 1951 film “The waitress offers beautiful beings” during an unusual job interview with the waitress Maria, played by Elsa Merlini, the employer asks: “Excuse me for a minute, listen, but do you know how to make spaghetti carbonara?”. But the server does not know it (amatriciana knows how to prepare spaghetti).

In the same year, a second quote 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 cattier’…”

The first carbonara recipe seems to have been published in 1952 in the United States in a restaurant guide for a district of Chicago entitled “An extraordinary guide to what’s cooking on Chicago’s Near North Side” by Patricia Bronté. In the review of “Armando’s” restaurant, the author reports a rather precise recipe, and you can’t be wrong: it is the caCarbonarahat we all know.

The first Italian recipe (but not as we know it today) appeared in the magazine La Cucina Italiana in August 1954. The ingredients are spaghetti, egg, bacon, gruyere, and garlic.

The recipe appeared in “La Cucina Italiana” in 1954. The following year, caCarbon published an actual recipe book for the first time, “The Lady in the Kitchen” by Felix Dessì, in a version more similar to today’s, with the presence of eggs, pepper, parmesan (but if you prefer spicy, a good pecorino can replace it), and bacon.

The national recipe was published in Luigi Carnacina’s cookbook “La Grande Cucina” in 1960. For the first time, pork cheek was introduced, replacing bacon and cream, often present in the recipe until the end of the year. ‘80 with even large quantities (as in the 1989 version by Gualtiero Marchesi, who recommends a quarter litre on 400 g of spaghetti). In its first forty years of life, in addition to cream, other ingredients found their place in the recipe, such as wine, garlic, onion, parsley, bell pepper, pepper and chilli pepper, demonstrating an extreme composition variability. In the versions of caCarbonararom in the 90s, all these ingredients will be eliminated, allowing the slow but constant affirmation of the three classic ingredients that everyone knows today: egg (with an apparent prevalence of the yolk), pecorino and bacon with the addition of more or less abundant than pepper.

Renato Gualandi: A young chef of Bolognese origins

It was only after the arrival of the Anglo-American troops in Rome that Carbonara indeed established itself, when the egg and bacon-based preparation supplied to the American army ended up on a plate of pasta and was mixed with Parmigiano (or Pecorino) and there the name – the hypotheses of the origin are genuinely many and different – Carbonara.

The hypotheses are different, but the story of Renato Gualandi seemed to prevail over all of them. This young chef of Bolognese origins was hired on 22 September 1944 to prepare lunch during the meeting between the English Eighth Army and the American Fifth Army in the newly liberated Riccione. Making a virtue of necessity, he unknowingly created a dish destined to become famous worldwide: “Americans had fantastic bacon, delicious cream, cheese and egg yolk powder. I put everything together and served this pasta to the generals and officers for dinner. At the last moment, I decided to add some black pepper, which released an excellent flavour. I cooked enough ‘bavette’, and the pasta won them over.” Subsequently, Gualandi said that some time ago, he became a chef for the allied troops in Rome from September 44 to April 45. This period was enough to spread the fame of Carbonara in the capitCarbonarausly the story of the Carbonara invented in Carbonarain 1944 by a Bolognese chef using American army rations has generated several doubts, mainly because in his biography – written recently – he doesn’t talk about all this at all.

Here, however, it is helpful to consider the statements of the culinary expert and critic Angelo Carrillo together with the historical development:

“Before 1944, Carbonara was never meCarbonarand because it had such a high protein content, it tended not to fit into Italian food culture as a dish. He is thus associated with the famous ‘K rations’ (freeze-dried egg yolk, bacon and spaghetti) of the American soldiers, for which he created the recipe in 1944, according to chef Gualandi’s reconstruction”.

Is the history of Carbonara important, or is the Carbonarae taste the one that brings the pearls of Italy?

Of course, it tastes…

It’s so delicious! Enjoy your meal…

Spaghetti Carbonara recipe


Spaghetti 320

Bacon 300 g

Yolks 5

Egg 1

Pecorino Romano 50 g

Black pepper g.b.

* Cut Bacon into slices and then into strips about 1cm thick.

* Pour the pieces of Bacon into a non-stick pan and brown it for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat (be careful not to burn it; otherwise, it will release too strong an aroma).

* Meanwhile, put the spaghetti in boiling water and cook al dente.

* And pour the egg yolks and egg into a bowl.

* Add the Pecorino and season with black pepper.

* Mix everything with a hand whisk until you obtain a smooth cream.

* Meanwhile, the Bacon will be cooked; turn off the heat and use a spoon to remove it from the pan, leaving the cooking juices inside.

* Transfer the Bacon to a small bowl and set it aside. Add a ladle of pasta water to the pan, along with the bacon fat.

* Drain the pasta al dente directly into the pan with the cooking juices.

* Sauté it briefly to flavour it.

* Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the egg and Pecorino mixture. Stir quickly to combine.

* If needed, you can add a little pasta cooking water to make it creamy. Add the Bacon, mix one last time, and serve the spaghetti carbonara immediately, adding more pecorino on the surface and a pinch of black pepper.


The Bacon must not be browned too much; otherwise, it could release a bitter taste. Furthermore, adding the Bacon only at the end is a good idea to maintain its crunchiness.

To avoid the omelette effect, it is important to add the egg yolk mixture only with the heat off. Creaming is an important step; you need to mix until the cream has thickened. You can adjust the consistency by adding pasta cooking water.

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