The historical origins of carbonara: hypotheses compared

maccheroni alla carbonara

The history of carbonara is uncertain, mysterious and debated. In fact, there is no official version recognized by everyone but many and various hypotheses regarding the birth of this delicious dish pasta dish typical of the gastronomic tradition of Lazio, like the Amatriciana and the Gricia. So they circulate many theories debated on the history of carbonara as well as many existing versions of the recipe of this apparently simple pasta dish but on which suggestions and debates follow one another: do you use bacon or pancetta? parmesan or pecorino? The egg yolk or the white? Is pepper or chilli better? Garlic or onion? And who invented it: the American soldiers during their stay in Italy or the coal miners of the Apennines? The history and true recipe of carbonara are enigmas.

There is a nationalist hypothesis that traces the birth of carbonara to lumberjacks than during theirs seasonal migrations they went to the Apennines in areas between Lazio and Abruzzo to make charcoal from wood. In their saddlebags they carried eggs, pecorino and bacon and prepared pasta on open fires. The recipe in this case would be the evolution of the "cacio e ova" typically consumed by the farmers and woodcutters of these lands. But why then was there no mention of carbonara in any cookbook – neither national nor popular Roman – until after the Second World War? It must be considered that carbonara is not present even in Ada Boni's Roman cuisine manual published in 1930.

The fact that no trace of pasta carbonara is reported in cookbooks published before 1944 would therefore testify to the recent invention of this dish. In fact, there is a version that hypothesizes that the recipe was born by chance during the occupation by American troops in Italy, around 1944 with the introduction of bacon and freeze-dried egg pouches. In fact, it is said that in Naples (therefore Rome would not be the place of birth but the capital of Campania) an American soldier ordered a plate of spaghetti and, finding it not very tasty, added his K ration composed of bacon, liquid cream and powdered eggs. The dish was very successful and also spread among the Neapolitans who made it their own by making some modifications. After the liberation of Rome, the dish spread here too, increasingly becoming part of the menu of Roman taverns from 1946 onwards.

So there is uncertainty regarding historical hypotheses on the birth of pasta carbonara as much as there is freedom on the execution of the recipe which is not at all fundamentalist as happens with other typical dishes (even if it has often been mistreated). Although the version with bacon and pecorino has definitely established itself as a traditional version, the preparations that you could taste around the city are actually varied. In carbonara you could find spaghetti as well as other pasta shapes, bacon or bacon, both sweet and smoked, egg yolk and whole egg, parmesan or pecorino romano, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil depending on your preferences of everyone. In fact, it is not known which version is historically correct nor the exact birth of carbonara. All that remains is to experiment and continue to enjoy this tasty first course of the Lazio and Roman tradition in particular.