By Carol Dzadony-Mancini
I love the classics.
It speaks of integrity and longevity that stands the test of time. It speaks of exceptional quality, influential and widely appreciated works that endure long after its creation.
Think stoic philosophers like Seneca or Marcus Aurelius. Think musicians like Wolfgang Mozart or Frederic Chopin. Think classic writers like William Shakespeare or Miguel de Cervantes – contemporary classic writers like Ernest Hemingway or Jane Austen – the poetry of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. King, Brown, Rowling – do we lump them into the classics? Not yet?
Think fashion – your little black dress – a pinstriped suit, Levi's and a white t-shirt. Penny loafers, Doc Marten boots, Birkenstocks. Yes, all classic fashion trends. When both my kids and I wear Birkenstocks, you know they are considered classic!
Food, as Julia Child would say, in the classic sense would be a master recipe that utilized time-honored techniques.
French classics like boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and quiche Lorraine or country cooking from the South, Brooklyn pizza, Pittsburgh pierogies. They are all classics in my book.
Italian like risotto from Piedmont, pizza from Napoli or spaghetti alla carbonara from Rome.
But did you know that spaghetti alla carbonara isn't classically made with cream? You'd think it is a cream sauce, right? I did, too.
What makes it so especially creamy is the classic technique by which it is prepared.
Like a classic hollandaise, a classic carbonara is made with eggs. Raw eggs that must be incorporated just at the precise temperature or they will scramble. (more on that later).
The history of spaghetti alla carbonara is a subject of much debate and speculation, as the exact origins of this beloved Italian dish remain unclear. Several theories exist regarding its creation, and while none can be definitively proven, they offer interesting insights into the dish's evolution.
One theory suggests that spaghetti alla carbonara emerged in the mid-20th century in Rome, a city known for its rich culinary traditions. It is believed to have been inspired by the American military rations of bacon and eggs, which were combined with available Italian ingredients to create a new dish. The name "carbonara" is derived from the Italian word "carbone," meaning coal or charcoal, possibly referring to the black specks of black pepper resembling coal dust in the dish.
Another theory traces the dish's origins back to the Apennine mountains, where charcoal workers (carbonai) prepared a similar pasta dish. They used readily available ingredients like eggs, pancetta, and cheese to create a hearty and nourishing meal that provided sustenance during their physically demanding work. (I'm going with this version!)
Some culinary historians argue that spaghetti alla carbonara might have evolved from an older Roman recipe called "cacio e ova" (cheese and eggs). This dish consisted of eggs, Pecorino Romano cheese, and black pepper, which were mixed together and served with pasta. Over time, pancetta or guanciale (cured pork jowl) was added to enhance the flavor and create the distinct smoky taste associated with carbonara.
Regardless of its exact origins, spaghetti alla carbonara gained popularity in Rome and eventually spread throughout Italy and the world. Its simplicity, yet rich and comforting flavors, captured the hearts and palates of many, earning it a spot among the classic pasta dishes of Italian cuisine.
Today, spaghetti alla carbonara is prepared with slight variations in different regions and by different cooks. However, the core ingredients of pasta, eggs, cheese, and pancetta or guanciale remain constant, providing a luscious and satisfying dish that continues to delight food lovers everywhere.
Roman cuisine has evolved over centuries, influenced by various cultures and traditions. Here are some classic Roman food dishes:
Carbonara: A pasta dish made with spaghetti, eggs, pecorino cheese, pancetta or guanciale (gwaan-CHAA-lei) and black pepper.
Cacio e Pepe: A simple pasta dish made with spaghetti, pecorino cheese, and black pepper.
Give me anything "carbonara" and chances are I'm eating it. Especially the broccoli carbonara salad at the now-closed Frantangelo Italian Market in Moon Township. It's the way you can get me to eat my broccoli! It's an interpretation, in the true sense, of reinventing a classic. It's not made with pecorino and guanciale – but cheddar cheese and bacon. I'll be making it for one of the summer salad blogs. Look for it soon.
Red onions, bacon, cheddar cheese in a creamy slaw dressing. I mean you'd be hard pressed to find something I wouldn't eat "alla carbonara".
Classic carbonara is made with a few simple ingredients. Like other classics, it's stood the test of time and endured. Pork, eggs, cheese and black pepper are essential to the dish.
As you savor a plate of Spaghetti alla Carbonara, remember that its history may be shrouded in mystery, but its irresistible taste is a testament to the enduring appeal of Italian culinary traditions. The Classics.
Let's get cooking.
Cooking Class with Carol: Things to Consider
When you're making this, it can go wrong. And for me, it has. Once it happens to you, it rarely happens again. The egg and cheese.
component which is how the sauce is made can "scramble" if added to a pan that is too hot. Therefore, the process of heating a bowl to mix the pasta in is SO important. The residual heat from the pasta and the heated bowl is all that you need to essentially cook the egg/cheese "sauce." This is what happens when the pan is too hot. Notice how the sauce is "chunky" essentially, I made pasta with scrambled eggs. Now don't get me wrong, it tasted just like the correct process, but the texture was off. It's all wrong. I had to start again (I ended up losing those noodles and meat). It's not a cheap mistake. Try not to make it like me.
Avoiding the scrambled mess is simple. As the pasta is cooking, heat a stainless steel or glass bowl, either with adding boiling water to it and allowing it to stand 10-15 minutes or like me, use the bowl as a lid for the pasta water, heating it from underneath as the water comes to a boil. Be careful and use hand protection to remove it from the pot. It will be hot.
The quality of products is so important, especially the eggs used for not only the pasta but also the carbonara sauce. I purchased organic eggs and farm-raised eggs from a local farm stand – each carton was great, but the proof of the quality of the eggs was when I cracked them open.
Several eggs are used not only for the fresh pasta, but also for the sauce. You will taste the difference in good, quality eggs. Getting local farm fresh eggs is great, especially if they are about the size of a "large" egg. Because farm eggs vary in size, try to pick like-sized eggs to use for the pasta as any variety can make a huge difference in the texture of the pasta.
Using a blend of dry-aged cheeses would be a great idea making the dish even more flavorful. I used Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano. The ratio I used was 2-1 Pecorino Romano to Parmigiano-Reggiano. As Parmigiano can be more pungent, I used less of it. But that is a matter of personal preference. Experiment with varieties and ratios.
For a vegetarian version, you can substitute the pancetta with sautéed mushrooms or smoked tofu for a smoky flavor.
While pancetta is the traditional choice for spaghetti alla carbonara, you can also use guanciale *(which I am) or even bacon if needed. Guanciale, the jowl of the pig, is typically smoked and cured and has a delicious depth of flavor that makes the dish unbelievably decadent.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon olive oil
What to Do
Using the well method, measure out flour. Hollow out the center of the flour to make "the well.” This is where all of the ingredients will go in order to incorporate into the flour.
You may not use all of the flour measured out – especially on the outer perimeter, depending on the moisture in the air and the time of year you are making the pasta. It's easier to add flour than to remove it – and adding more liquid just messes up the ratios of the noodle.
Incorporate all of the ingredients by whisking with a fork grabbing flour from the interior wall until dough begins to resemble a more solid mass. Continue into a smooth ball and allow to rest 30 minutes to an hour in the refrigerator.
Cut into three sections and roll out on a pasta machine, twice on each setting until you reach setting 5 or 6 depending on how thin you want it. Attach the pasta cutter to the machine.
Place sheets into a cutter of desired thickness.
Cut pasta sheets and toss in flour so it doesn't stick together and place on a sheet pan to use later.