Wednesday, April 18, 2012
The story of the origin of this dish and its place in cucina Romana is essentially contested. There are several competing theories, but most are anecdotal or food mythology.
First, although often thought of as a typical Roman dish, the name is said to come from a dish made in the Appenine mountains of the Abruzzo by woodcutters who made charcoal for fuel. They would cook the dish over a hardwood charcoal fire and use penne rather than spaghetti because it is easier to toss with the eggs and cheese.
Second, is more obvious , that given the meaning of "alla carbonara", coal worker’s style, that the dish was a dish eaten by coal workers or that the abundant use of coarsely ground black pepper resembles coal flakes.
Another story or myth is that food shortages after the liberation of Rome in 1944 were so severe that Allied troops distributed military rations consisting of powdered egg and bacon which the local populace used with water to season the easily stored dried pasta. This GI's invented the dish story is very popular with American tourists in Rome.
There is also a theory that in the province of Ciociaria, in the region of Lazio about halfway between Rome and Benevento, pasta was seasoned in a Neapolitan style with eggs, lard, and pecorino cheese. During the German occupation of Rome during the World War II, many middle class families dispersed from Rome into this region to escape the oppressiveness of the occupation and learned about this dish. After the war, Roman cuisine became very popular throughout Italy and this dish, now transformed into carbonara, became a prime example.
Another story suggests that the famous restaurant in the Campo d’Fiori in Rome, La Carbonara, was named after its speciality. Although the restaurant has been open since the early part of the twentieth century, and does in fact have carbonara on its menu, the restaurant when I spoke to them they denied any such connection .
A highly unlikely story told in Il nuovo cucchiaio d’argento ( The Silver Spoon) is that the dish was originally made with black squid ink and therefore acquired its name as it was as black as coal.
Thanks to Daniel Young and Katie Parla I recently had the pleasure of meeting the great Roman Chef Arcangelo Dandini in London and we discussed this dish , I was pleasantly surprised to find that we used exactly the same ingredients Pasta Secca (Spaghetoni in this case) Guanciale , Pecorino Romano and Egg Yolks. What I did learn were a few tips on technique and that the egg yolks should be fridge cold before use. Arcangelo actually wrote out his recipe for me on a paper napkin see above .
Anyway here is the recipe :
Use the best possible, bronze dye-extruded durum wheat dried pasta; my preference is for Pastificio dei Campi. The guanciale should first be sliced lengthways into 5mm thick slices, either by knife or slicing machine, then cut by knife into 20mm lardons that look like a lean meat sandwich with fat at each end. The pepper should not be ground or milled; briefly roast whole peppercorns in a pan for a couple of minutes then crush medium–fine in a mortar and pestle — this brings out the aroma and oils of the pepper to infuse the dish. Egg yolks from marigold-fed hens are a deep gold in colour and contribute colour to the finished dish — in the UK you could use the Italian imported eggs or Burford Brown eggs from Clarence Court.
For four servings:400g spaghettoni-size long pasta, such as Pastificio dei Campi Vermicelli 80g pecorino Romano (Brunelli if possible), finely grated 100g Lazio-produced artisan guanciale, cut into lardons 5x20mm 3g black peppercorns 4 fridge-cold free-range egg yolks.
Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, well-salted water for around 7-8 minutes, until al dente. Drain, but keep back some of the pasta water for the sauce.
Meanwhile, fry the guanciale in a frying pan until crisp but not charred; there is no need to use any fat. Retain all the fat and the crisped lardons and let them cool a little.
Beat the egg yolks with one third of the grated pecorino and 1.5Tbs of cooled guanciale fat and juices.
Finish the dish in a large bowl. Tip in the pasta then add the guanciale with the remaining fat, then some pasta water, then beaten eggs, then pepper, then another third of the cheese, mixing in between each stage; by the end there should be a creamy emulsion forming on the sides and bottom of the bowl. The emulsion is created from the mixing of the starch in the pasta water with the cheese, eggs and fat.
Use the remaining cheese to sprinkle on each 100g portion.
Many people are tempted to use cream in this dish but it is totally unnecessary as the cream like emulsion that is created by the yolks, fat, cheese and pasta water is the whole purpose of this dish. In Italy when made properly this dish has the perfect ratio of ingredients and is not too wet or over sauced , each component of the dish is both distinctive and at the same time perfectly blended , the perfect synthesis ! Buon appetito
The very best :
Pastificio dei Campi , Vermicelli
Pastificio Mascarelli Spaghetti
Great value and often superior quality :
Supermarket own brands are often better than some of the more expensive globally marketed Italian industrial brands and are often half the price – these often change and therefore need to be monitored but recently I tasted Morrisons and Tesco’s top of the range own brands made for them by a top Pasta maker in the Naples area. Both were bronze –dyed extruded and the quality was very impressive.
However it’s really worth getting the best even at £10 or 12 + per kg the very best pasta secca is only going to cost £1 per portion.