Classic carbonara is made with bacon, eggs, and cream, tossed with spaghetti noodles and finished with cracked black pepper. What a great idea! But where this delicious dish actually comes from is unclear, the stories however are somewhat interesting.
The first thought is that it was created by Roman woodcutters who made charcoal for fuel. They would use penne or a short pasta rather that spaghetti for ease of preparation.
The second thought is that this food was eaten by coal miners for a hearty meal, and that the use of black pepper resembled coal flakes.
It is also rumored that food shortages were so severe after the liberation of Rome in 1944, that Allied troops distributed military rations. The local people mixed the powdered eggs and cured bacon with water and added it to their dried pasta.
Yet another version of the story claims that a famous restaurant in the Campo dé Fiori in Rome named “La Carbonera” is responsible. The restaurant denies having created this dish even though it has been on their menu for years.
There seem to be as many ways to prepare carbonara as there are stories from whence it came. Some versions use only the basic ingredients, while others are a bit more adventurous adding vegetables and spices. The one thing that all of the recipes do seem to agree on, is that bacon and eggs are the perfect paring.
To prepare Penne alla Carbonara:
- ½ pound bacon, cut in to 1” pieces
- ½ cup onion, finely chopped
- ¼ cup roasted red pepper, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
Cooks Note: Cook the pasta while you prepare the sauce. It is important that the pasta be hot when the raw eggs are added in order to finish the sauce.
Ladle about 1 cup of pasta water into a bowl and reserve.
Separate the eggs. Place the yolks in a small bowl with the grated cheese and mix well. (Hold to the side to be added to the hot pasta).
In a large sauté pan, over medium heat, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels. Pour off all of the oil except for about 3 tablespoons. Add the onion and red pepper. Sauté until onions become translucent. Add garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Add the crispy bacon, drained pasta (do not rinse), and fresh ground black pepper. Mix well, turning pasta to coat with oil. Cook for about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat.
Off of the heat, add one half of the parsley and the egg / cheese mixture. Stir well to allow hot the hot pasta to cook the egg and create the sauce. Add reserved pasta water as needed to create a creamy consistency. Top with the remaining chopped parsley, grated cheese and ground black pepper.
I like to serve this dish with fresh spinach wilted in some of the bacon renderings.