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The History of Pasta Carbonara (+ Traditional Roman Recipe)

There are many famous Italian pasta dishes, but one of the best known must be pasta carbonara. It is delicious, creamy, and super comforting. Like every other pasta dish, creamy pasta carbonara has many variations. Some say that only a traditional recipe can be called carbonara, while others disagree. The most important thing is that this dish is tasty and made out of fresh and top-quality ingredients.   

But we want to talk about the history of carbonara, where did pasta originate, and share with you the traditional Roman recipe for creamy pasta carbonara. And once you try it, you’ll know which version of it you like the most.   

The Origins of Pasta Carbonara   

The story of it must start with the question of where did pasta originate. And many will agree that the history of carbonara started initially in Rome. 

Before pasta carbonara was created, the Neapolitan pasta dish was first mentioned in a cookbook from 1839. There are stories that the inspiration for this dish came from a similar pasta dish from Naples, called cacio e uova, meaning cheese and eggs. Comparing the two recipes clarifies that the Neapolitan one was indeed the inspiration, for now, one of the most famous Italian pasta dishes.  

But still, the history of carbonara is not entirely clear, but at least it’s everything but dull.   

Some stories say it was created as a dish that’s easy to make and comforting for the outdoor workers. This theory exists because the name carbonara comes from the word Carbonaro which stands for coal burner.   

Others will say that pasta carbonara was first made after World War II, as an act of gratitude towards American soldiers, after the liberation of Rome.   

There were no written mentions of this incredible dish as we know it today, before 1950. And that year, the dish was presented in a newspaper, La Stampa. There it was described as a dish that was loved by American troops.  

Whatever the truth is, the history of carbonara is super fascinating, and the most important thing is that this dish is so good. And even if we don’t know where pasta originates, it doesn’t mean we can’t eat it.   

The Famous Italian Pasta Dishes: Traditional Pasta Carbonara   

The traditional creamy pasta carbonara is a straightforward dish with extremely simple yet delicious ingredients. It’s easy to make, and you don’t have to complicate it with extra ingredients unless you want to.   

The secret to an excellent creamy pasta carbonara is cheese. The authentic recipe calls for Pecorino Romano, a sharp cheese made out of sheep’s milk. You can substitute it with parmesan cheese, but pecorino gives it a special kick.   

The second most important ingredient is the bacon, but not any bacon. The one that is used in a carbonara recipe is guanciale. This bacon comes from pork cheeks and jowl, and it is first seasoned with various herbs and cured for three months.   

Eggs are the star of the recipe, and they should be as fresh as possible. And the secret ingredient that gets you the creamy sauce is the pasta water, the one you cooked with your pasta.

You don’t use any kind of pre-made sauce in the traditional recipe, not cream, crème Fraiche, or anything similar.   

The Modern Carbonara   

Modern versions are slightly different from the authentic recipe, and while many don’t approve of them, we must say they are good. The world is evolving, and so are the recipes of famous Italian pasta dishes.   

The history of carbonara lets us make changes while still honoring the original recipe. Outside of Italy, many variations will make your taste buds tingle. There are variations with different types of bacon, different types of cheese, with additions of various vegetables like peas or artichokes, and there are even great vegan recipes. Many enjoy making their carbonara with seafood rather than bacon, and it’s incredibly fantastic on summer days.   

Also, as you saw, the authentic recipe calls for spaghetti or rigatoni, but in reality, you can make creamy pasta carbonara with any pasta shape that your heart desires.   

You can also experiment with other spices if the freshly ground pepper isn’t enough for you. Try including sage, rosemary, and of course garlic; the aromas will be incredible.   

The only direction you need to follow when preparing pasta carbonara is to use fresh ingredients. Whichever recipe you follow, make sure that you get the best and freshest ingredients that you can. It would also be good to avoid using heavy cream when making carbonara, but who are we to judge.   

The Authentic Pasta Carbonara Recipe  

Next time you go grocery shopping, remember to buy some guanciale, fresh eggs, and Pecorino Romano. And yes, don’t forget to buy some good-quality pasta, you can choose between spaghetti and rigatoni.  

Once you try this recipe, you will enter the universe of the famous Italian pasta dishes, and once you perfect it, you can play and experiment with it, adding different ingredients, spices, and herbs.   

But for now, let’s learn how to prepare the best authentic pasta carbonara with this simple recipe for two.   

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces of spaghetti or rigatoni  
  • 7 ounces of guanciale  
  • 1 whole egg   
  • 2 egg yolks  
  • 1 cup of freshly grated Pecorino Romano  
  • Freshly grounded black pepper to taste  
  • 1 cup of pasta cooking water  

Preparation  

  • Fill a large pot with water, salt it heavily with sea salt, and bring it to a boil. Add your pasta, and cook it to your likening, preferably al dente.   
  • Chop the guanciale, and simmer it in a skillet over low heat. You should fully render the fat before removing the skillet from the heat.   
  • In a bowl, whisk the egg and the egg yolks, add the Pecorino Romano and freshly ground pepper to taste. Combine everything.   
  • When the pasta is cooked, please remove it from the pot, and reserve one cup of the pasta water.   
  • Add the pasta to the guanciale, and combine it with the rendered fat.   
  • Slowly pour the egg and cheese mixture and stir as you pour.   
  • When everything is combined, start adding pasta water, little by little. You shouldn’t add all of the water at once. While you are adding water, stir continuously.   
  • Once everything is finely combined, let it sit, covered with a lid.   
  • Serve with extra Pecorino Romano, and enjoy!  

We didn’t lie when we said that this dish is straightforward and doesn’t contain complicated ingredients. And we sure don’t lie when we say it’s delicious. Pasta is one of the best dishes that come from Italian cuisine, and what’s even better is that there are many different pasta dishes.   

One of them is this one we showed you. If you want to try how this dish tastes with a unique twist, we invite you to visit us at Mi’talia. A Miami’s gem where we offer dishes that perfectly combine Italian flavors with modern culinary trends.

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