A six-part mini-series featuring metropolitan cities around the globe, Metropolis features Rome in its third episode. There were numerous interesting trivia that include the Roman aqueducts but what caught my undivided attention was how spaghetti alla carbonara was born.
Italy, under Benito Mussolini, sided with Germany in World War II. On June 4, 1944, Allied forces captured Rome.
Roman citizens, who had been living on dried pasta during the war, welcomed food rationed by the Allied forces. What did they get? Bacon and powdered egg. Using such minimal ingredients, spaghetti carbonara was born. Or, at least, that’s what the writers of Metropolis claims.
Was that how spaghetti alla carbonara was born?
Apparently, the history of carbonara is as murky as it is mysterious. It is a fact that the word “carbonara” did not enter the culinary vocabulary until after World War II. It was first mentioned in 1950 in an Italian newspaper called La Stampa. However, mixing eggs with cheese to make a pasta sauce has been an Italian thing for much, much longer.
If you’re not convinced that the Americans had any hand in the invention of spaghetti carbonara, there are at least two other theories about its origin.
1. James Beard awardee Clifford Wright mentions an anecdote about a dish purportedly cooked by woodcutters in the Appenine mountains of the Abruzzo. The woodcutters used penne though, not spaghetti.
2. A second theory says it was young revolutionaries who first cooked the dish. Le Carbonari, the group was called, rose to prominence in the 1800’s.
There is even a third anecdote, a bit self-serving to say the least but, for the sake of curiosity, I will include in the list.
This third anecdote has to do with Renato Gualandi, owner of the famous restaurant, 3G. According to this story, Guanaldi himself invented carbonara when he was made in charge of a banquet to celebrate the end of the war.
Gualandi admitted he wanted to create something new, that could bring together Italian and Anglo-Saxon cuisine; with a bit of help from Slovenian culinary tradition (he said to have been inspired by a soup popular in Isdria, callled “spikrofi”), he concocted a sauce for spaghetti made of bacon, cream, processed cheese and dried egg yolk, topped with a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper.
Cream? Really? Romans will disagree. Vehemently.
As a side note, it is curious that the writers of Metropolis use the term “spaghetti carbonara” rather than “pasta carbonara” or “spaghetti alla carbonara”. It may just be an American thing, or it might be a veiled attempt to avoid controversy by creating a line between Italian pasta alla carbonara and American spaghetti carbonara.
Interested in cooking carbonara the way they must have done it in the ashes of World War II?
American G.I. Spaghetti Carbonara
- 120 grams spaghetti I used spaghettini for this recipe
- 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon butter
- 150 grams bacon cut into small pieces
- 1/4 cup powdered egg
- freshly cracked black pepper to garnish
- grated Pecorino to garnish
Boil a pot of water. Add a teaspoon of salt.
Cook the spaghetti in boiling water.
While the spaghetti cooks, gently heat the olive oil and butter in a frying pan.
Spread the bacon pieces in the frying pan. Cook over medium heat until done and just starting to brown around the edges. Scoop out and set aside.
Scoop one cup of the pasta liquid and pour into a bowl. Stir in the powdered egg.
Drain the pasta and dump into the frying pan with the rendered bacon fat. Toss well.
Pour the powdered egg mixture on the pasta. Toss. Taste. Add salt if needed.
Add the cooked bacon to the pasta. Toss.
Divide the spaghetti carbonara into bowls. Garnish with black pepper and grated Pecorino. Serve immediately.