They say ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’…but when it comes to carbonara, you should always cook it as the Romans do. No matter what city you’re in. Carbonara has been interpreted and arguably misinterpreted by pasta lovers around the world. Some use cream, garlic or onion and others use more butter than anyone should consume in a month. However, none of these ingredients belong in a traditional Roman carbonara. Documentation of the dish in the Lazio region traces back as far as 1839 so we can be sure that they know what they’re doing. Some say the name carbonara comes from carbonaro meaning ‘charcoal burner’. This may indicate that the dish was named after the Italian charcoal workers who were regular consumers of the dish.
Carbonara is traditionally served with spaghetti, fettuccine, bucatini or rigatoni and is found in most restaurants around Rome. One of the best places to try it is at Salumeria Roscioli, a high end deli and restaurant owned by Alessandro Roscioli and his family. Alessandro is the fourth generation to run the family business and his philosophy is all about quality of ingredients.
Below is his recipe found in Italian on Identità Golose (from the book Roscioli. Il Pane, la cucina e Roma written by Elisia Menduni and published by Giunti.) It stays true to the classic version with the exception of a little added Parmigiano Reggiano. With a personal deli counter holding over 300 specialty cheeses you can’t blame him!
The most important ingredients are the best quality fresh eggs, guanciale; a cured pork cheek with a more complex flavour than regular bacon or pancetta, and pecorino; a hard, salty, sheep milk cheese.
360 g good quality spaghettoni or rigatoni
240 g guanciale
4 egg yolks (retain a little moisture from the egg whites when separating)
210 g pecorino romano cheese
40 g parmigiano reggiano aged 24 months
20 g freshly cracked black pepper
- After removing the pepper and rind, cut the guanciale into 1cm cubes. Saute them in a hot pan on medium to high heat. Once one side of the meat becomes crispy, start to toss them until the fat dissolves completely.
- Transfer the pan to a low heat and leave the guanciale to caramalise in its own fat for about 20 mintues.
- Grate the two cheeses and mix together
- Drop the spaghettoni or rigatoni in boiling salted water
- Gently beat the egg yolks in a bowl large enough to accommodate the pasta later. Add a handful of the cheese to the raw egg yolk and combine with the black pepper (ground in a mortar and pestle for a coarse grain).
- When the pasta is almost al dente, retain a cup full of the pasta water and drain the rest, adding the pasta directly into the bowl of eggs, cheese and pepper. The residual heat will cook the egg without scrambling it.
- Leave it to rest for a minute and add the crispy guanciale and a small spoon of its oils from the pan.
- Toss the pasta by making circular movements with the bowl from high to low. This will emulsify the hot pasta with the creamy egg, cheese and guanciale. It needs speed and eventually a dash of the pasta water to help bring it all together. The success of the carbonara is determined in this last minute.
- Add a sprinkle of the remaining cheese and pepper to serve.
The perfect Sunday lunch. Buon appetito!