Spaghetti Carbonara: the history and recipe for two
The first time I went to Italy, I ate the same thing for every. single. meal. For me, there was nothing better than Spaghetti Carbonara, twirling those noodles coated with the thin and rich sauce. The simplicity. The flavour. The porky bits.
Sometimes I scold myself for not having trying more dishes on on that first backpacking trip in my early 20s, but then I think “Meh, why not eat the thing you love?”
I have a serious love affair with cheesy pasta, and as anyone who knows me could tell you, I could eat pasta all day, everyday.
And the best thing about Carbonara? The dish is SO easy to make. Like any good Italian classic, Carbonara has five solid ingredients (which, btw, does NOT include cream) and like any good pasta dish, has several origin stories.
What’s in a name
Cabonara is derived from the Italian word “carbone” which means charcoal. The most wide-spread origin story for this dish is that it was regularly consumed by charcoal workers:
Spaghetti alla Carbonara = Coal Miner’s Spaghetti
There are also stories that the dish was created by a secret society, The Carbonari (oooooou), who were heavily involved with the unification of Italy in 1870. Most others stories aren’t so glamourous. Others attribute this name to the way the dish was originally cooked, over charcoal, or that is was just a simple shepherd dish that got popular.
Many attribute the name to the restaurant in Rome where Spaghetti Carbonara was “invented” in 1912, La Carbonara. I myself am skeptical of this one. Food historians debate the significance of the fact that this dish didn’t make its way into the Roman culinary annals until the 1950s and 60s, with some claiming this was due to American soldiers demanding the dish they ate with powdered eggs after the Second World War.
Wherever it came from, I’m thankful for the pasta gods for bringing this dish into my life! Spaghetti Carbonara is a great weeknight dish, and quick to make. I adapted this recipe from The Kitchn’s version because it was just too big for two people on a weeknight. While Adam and I could definitely polish off a pasta dish made for six people with absolutely no problem, I felt like we didn’t need to go there. Some people put peas in theirs…but gross. Other cooks will toss in a clove of garlic, but I say no way! If you want authentic, avoid these ingredients.
So, go on, make spaghetti carbonara.
- ½ pound dry spaghetti *Note: I always struggle with how much spaghetti this is, especially when cooking for two. A good rule of thumb is to use about a quarter's size of uncooked noodles per person — so in this case about 50 cents worth
- 2 eggs
- 4 ounces of guanciale or pancetta *Note: more often then not I use the 150 gram President's Choice pancetta
- ½ cup of Parmesan-Reggiano
- ¼ cup of Pecorino Romano *Note:unless you are a stickler for authenticity this is not a necessity like the parm is, but it does add a punch of sharpness that is truly delicious
- lots of fresh cracked pepper
- sea salt
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt the water generously (the directions on The Kitchn say it should taste like ocean, which I thought was a great tip! Cook pasta until al dente. Strain pasta, reserving ½ cup of that salty pasta water.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the guanciale for a few minutes until crispy and delicious and remove from heat.
- Whisk up the eggs and cheese, but do not over mix.
- Put the pan of guanciale back on medium heat and add half of the pasta water. Toss in the spaghetti and shake pan until most of the water has evaporated.
- Take off the stove and add the egg-cheese mixture into the pan and stir quickly, very quickly — if you don't it will turn into a weird scrambled egg mixture. If the sauce seems too thick, add a little more pasta water to make it creamy and slick.
- Crack that pepper, lots of pepper. Salt to taste. (If you really made your water ocean-y, you probably won’t need to salt)
- Serve immediately and enjoy it right away. When it gets cold it's a big CarbonarNO.