According to the food historian, Clifford Wright, the origin of pasta carbonara is not really known. There are several competing theories, but all are anecdotal.
The first theory is said to come from a dish made in the Apennine mountains of 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 was easier to toss with the eggs and cheese.
The second theory is the one that gives the meaning to the dish’s name – alla carbonara or coal worker’s style. This name implies that the dish was eaten by coal workers or that because of the abundant use of coarsely ground black pepper the dish resembled coal flakes.
Another story is that due to the food shortages after the liberation of Rome in 1944, the Allied troops distributed military rations consisting of powdered egg and bacon which the locals used with water to season the easily stored dried pasta.
There is also a theory that in the province of Ciociaria, in the region of Lazio near Rome, pasta was seasoned with eggs, lard and Pecorino cheese. During the World War II German occupation of Rome, many middle class families escaped the occupation and fled to Ciociaria, where they learned about this dish. After the war, Roman cuisine became very popular throughout Italy and this dish became a prime example.
Another story suggests that the famous restaurant in the Campo de 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 have carbonara on its menu, the restaurant denies any such connection.
The simplest story, and therefore the most likely, is that the dish had always existed at the family level and in local trattorias. Cheese, pork, olive oil, salt, pepper and pasta were all kept fresh without refrigeration and eggs were readily available at local farms. All that was needed was a pot and a fire. An eyewitness account supporting this theory can be found in a cookbook titled, Sophia Loren’s Recipes & Memories. The actress described how during the filming of Two Women in the late 1950s, in the mountains near Rome, the crew came upon a group of carbonai who offered to prepare food for them. They prepared carbonara. The director, Vittorio De Sica, and Loren had second helpings. Loren returned the next day to learn how to make the dish. (An accomplished home cook, Loren claimed the recipe was exactly as the carbonai made it but her rendition calls for cream—an addition most carbonara connoisseurs would not agree with. The dish was also popular among the American troops stationed in Italy; and when they returned home, they made “spaghetti alla carbonara” popular in Italian cuisine.
And, the debate goes on….
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup minced guanciale, pancetta or bacon (about 1/4 pound)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine or other long, thin pasta
4 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano, or more to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.
In a medium skillet, combine the olive oil and pork/bacon and turn heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat.
Add salt to the boiling water and cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve about 1 cup of water before the draining pasta.
Beat eggs in a large warmed pasta serving bowl. Stir in 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan and the bacon and its juices. When the pasta is done, drain and toss with egg mixture.
Add a little of the pasta cooking water to moisten. Season with plenty of black pepper, and serve.
Classic Italian foods such as pizza, bruschetta, pasta, rice, soups, and stews all typically include this blend of herbs. The mixture can be used to season lamb, pork, poultry, fish, and beef dishes. Sandwiches, meat marinades, salads, and flavored breads can also be seasoned with Italian herbs.
One popular use of Italian seasonings involves mixing them with butter and Parmesan cheese to make a spread to use on breads, crackers, and other foods. Vegetables that are particularly good when flavored with Italian seasonings include potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant. Italian seasoning can be used to flavor vinegar, olive oil, and other dips and sauces as well.
Italian seasoning blend is considered a staple herbal mix in most pantries. It can be purchased pre-mixed from grocery stores, farmer’s markets and most places where food supplies are sold. Italian seasonings are usually sold in a plastic or glass jar, though some fresh varieties can be purchased in sealed bags or other airtight packages. Blends can, also, be created from fresh herbs at home.
ESSENTIAL ITALIAN SPICES
Rosemary: The fresh, strong taste of rosemary enhances poultry, fish, and seafood. Italian cooks often add it to roasted lamb with potatoes and many grilled meats as well. Try it in any vegetable dish and in breads, especially focaccia. The woody stems are often used in place of skewers for grilling kabobs.
Sage: This herb is typically found in stuffings, poultry and meat dishes, sausages and soups. Italian cooks also use it, along with garlic, to flavor butter for pasta dishes. It enhances salads (especially bean salads), and dressings. Sage is traditional in Tuscan white beans and in Saltimbocca, a veal dish. Chopped sage can be added to cornbread for a different flavor combination.
Chilies: Italian cooks sometimes use pungent chili peppers to enliven sauces, stews, and seafood dishes. They’re also often found in Italian sausages. Experiment with different varieties for different effects.
Fennel Seeds: The distinct, licorice-like fennel is found in Italian meatballs and sausage and with roasted meats and fish. To enhance the flavor, toast the seeds lightly before adding to your dish.
Chives: For a mild onion flavor, Italian cooks use chives in salads and dressings, pasta dishes, casseroles, soups and stews. Dried chives are a convenient staple.
Marjoram: Like its relative oregano, marjoram is used liberally in Italian kitchens. It’s a versatile seasoning, compatible with many vegetables, meats and poultry. You’ll find it used in recipes for Italian soups, stews, sauces, and salad dressings.
Thyme: Its affinity for tomatoes makes thyme a good choice in Italian cooking. Aromatic and pungent, it takes just a light touch to season poultry, seafood, fish, meats, marinades and stuffing. Sprinkle thyme on top of blue cheese and serve with fresh figs for a great appetizer.
Bay: Bay leaves are an important addition to Italian broths, soups and stews, grilled meats, and roasted poultry. It generally takes just one leaf to fully season a large serving.
Onions: “Sauté onion and garlic” begins many an Italian recipe. Dried onion flakes, onion powder, onion granules, minced onion and onion salt provide maximum convenience. Add them directly to soups and sauces, dressings and casseroles.
Nutmeg: Not just a dessert spice in the Italian kitchen, nutmeg adds a rich scent and flavor to ravioli filling and tortellini dishes. You’ll also find it in recipes for Bolognese meat sauce and Italian stews.
Basil: A member of the mint family, basil has shiny green leaves and a fragrant aroma. Basil’s flavor is sweet and pungent. Good in all tomato, pepper and eggplant dishes. Try adding chopped basil to corn on the cob.
Salsa verde is used as a condiment or dipping sauce for grilled meats, fish, poultry, or vegetables.
- 2/3 cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 3 tablespoons drained capers
- 1 whole garlic clove
- 4 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
Put the parsley, capers, the whole garlic clove, the lemon juice, anchovy paste, mustard, salt, and pepper into a food processor or blender. Pulse just to chop, six to eight times. With the machine running, add the oil and chicken broth in a thin stream to make a slightly coarse puree. Leave this salsa verde in the food processor until ready to serve; pulse to re-emulsify just before serving.
Low-Fat Fettuccine Alfredo
Recipe makes enough sauce for 9 ounces fresh fettuccine pasta, cooked
- 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup half-and-half
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed but kept whole
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until foaming. Whisk in the flour until mixture is smooth and golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk, half-and-half, garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, pepper and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer.
Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Discard garlic, stir in Parmesan and remove from heat.
Spaghetti Carbonara Low Fat Version
I prefer to use egg substitute instead of the traditional raw eggs in this recipe.
- 1 pound cooked whole wheat spaghetti,
- 2 bacon strips cooked, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped garlic
- 1/2 cup egg substitute
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves (for garnish)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Mix parmesan cheese with egg substitute. Set aside.
Heat a large sauté pan and add olive oil. Sauté garlic until fragrant. Add the cooked pasta to the garlic and sauté for about 1 minute to heat
the pasta up. Add the egg substitute mixture and cook until thickened but not scrambled.
Serve in individual portions and sprinkle each with the crumbled bacon and chopped parsley
Sicilian Pistachio Sauce
This orange-scented sauce from Sicily can be served with fish or vegetables, or as a topping for crostini.
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher salt
- 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs, moistened with water and squeezed dry
- 1 cup shelled pistachios
- 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
- 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Turn on a food processor fitted with the steel blade and drop in the garlic. When the garlic is chopped and adhering to the sides of the bowl, stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the salt, bread crumbs and pistachios and process to a paste. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Turn on the machine and add the orange zest, orange juice, and lemon juice. With the machine still running slowly pour in the olive oil. Taste and adjust salt.
Yield: Makes about 1 1/4 cups
Advance preparation: This will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator. It will become more pungent.
Piedmontese Tomato Sauce
Good with gnocchi or as a side with grilled flank steak.
- 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
- 1 large tomato, cored, seeded and roughly chopped
- 1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
In a large skillet combine bell pepper, tomato, onion, oil and pinch salt. Bring to a simmer. Gently simmer, covered, until vegetables are very soft, about 12 minutes. Add vinegar and cook, uncovered, 1 minute more. Process with an immersion blender or strain through a mesh colander and transfer to a serving bowl and set aside.
- 2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 to 2 serrano chilies, cored, and seeded, depending on how spicy you like your food
- 1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/4 cup sliced blanched almonds
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup plus ¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
Place the basil, mint, garlic, chilies, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, and almonds in a food processor and pulse three times to start the chopping process. Add in the oil in a thin stream and pulse four or five times to create a thick paste (not a thin, oily sauce). Add ¼ cup of the cheese and pulse once to mix it in.
Season the pesto with salt, if it needs it.
Butter and Sage Sauce
Good sauce for ravioli or gnocchi and will cover a 8-9 oz. of fresh pasta.
Serves: 4 servings
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 8 sage leaves
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
While your pasta cooks, melt butter in a small saute pan and continue cooking until a golden brown color just starts to appear . Add sage leaves and remove from heat. Add lemon juice and the cheese. Drizzle over cooked pasta.
Easy Pizza Sauce
Makes enough sauce for 2 pizzas.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
- 1- 28-oz. container Pomi strained tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, 5 minutes. Add garlic and chili flakes; cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes, increase heat until sauce starts to bubble. Lower heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally until thickened, 20 minutes. Stir in honey, basil and salt and pepper to taste.
Homemade Italian Seasoning
Makes about 2 cups
- 1/2 cup dried basil
- 1/4 cup dried oregano
- 1/4 cup dried rosemary
- 1/4 cup dried marjoram
- 1/4 cup dried parsley
- 1/4 cup dried thyme
- 1/4 cup dried savory
- 2 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons dried sage
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Combine all ingredients; store in an airtight glass container.
Italian Parmesan Paste
This is a cheese rub that contains herbs and spices for flavor and olive oil and red wine vinegar to turn the mixture into a thick paste. Use this rub on any grilled meat to add great Italian flavor.
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons dried basil
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
Combine all ingredients in a processor and pulse just until combined. Pour into a nonreactive airtight container and refrigerate.
Chicken or Steak Italian Marinade
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 2 tablespoons dry parsley
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Mix above ingredients. Use to marinate chicken or steak for up to 3 days in refrigerator.
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/3 cup cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons white pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cups chopped parsley
Combine water, both vinegars, lemon juice, pepper, garlic and parsley in large saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature, cover and chill at least 2-3 hours. Drizzle over cooked vegetables.
- Spices and Herbs (notecook.com)
- Delicious Marinade With Benefits (perspectivesoneatingforhealth.wordpress.com)
- DiFiore Seasoning Announces New Italian Sausage Seasoning Mix and Wholesale Division (prweb.com)
- 8 Italian Cooking Courses for Garlic Lovers (theflyingfugu.com)