A report from the Academy of the Italian Cuisine confirms that the most contorted recipe both at home and abroad is with no doubt pasta alla carbonara. There are an infinite number of variations: cheek lard (guanciale) or bacon; pecorino romano or parmigiano cheese; with onions or not; heavy cream or not and so on and so forth. Purists firmly defend the tradition of the Roman recipe but it’s not so easy to determine which one it is, given that there is no real trace of its origin.
According to the Academy of the Italian Cuisine, the charcoal burners of the Umbria Region introduced this dish to the Romans during the 19th century. Given the necessity to control charcoal kilns for long time periods, they usually carried with them ingredients that were easily available and that could be stored for some time, like for example, cheese and eggs. Lard was used to substitute oil which was too expensive for the charcoal burners, while pepper was used in large quantities for the preservation of food.
Another version states that the inventor of spaghetti alla carbonara was Ippolito Cavalcanti, a noble Neapolitan who published this recipe in his article “Theoretical and Practical Cooking” in 1837. In fact, the practice of adding beaten eggs, cheese, salt and abundant pepper after cooking and the subsequent quick creaming to avoid the egg from coagulating, is an important part of the Neapolitan cooking tradition.
The last theory dates the recipe to the post-war period, immediately after the liberation of Rome in 1944 when the American soldiers that were in Italy prepared meals using ingredients they could find and that they were most familiar with like eggs, bacon and spaghetti. This combination gave the idea to Roman cooks for the real recipe that was unknown in Rome until then.
The confused origin of this dish gives way to many interpretations. Even if the most used type of pasta for this recipe is spaghetti, it is often substituted with other shapes of pasta like linguine or short pasta like penne or fusilli. There are also many variations like vegetarian carbonara and seafood carbonara where the bacon is replaced by zucchini or different kinds of fish.
But it’s abroad that the interpretations are the most fanciful: for example in France and Germany, freeze-dried carbonara taste preparations are sold, in England eggs are replaced by béchamel sauce, while in Japan pecorino romano cheese is usually replaced by heavy cream. It’s well known that abroad the preparation of pasta according to tradition is not always easy, but with carbonara pasta we really reach “culinary science fiction”!