Sunday, July 27, 2014

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Today's photos:


1. Although this is not the original Trattoria Da Carlo al Gianicolo, it is, as far as I know, its location on the Gianicolo just opposite the gate, Porta Pancrazio.

2. Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

3. Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe.

4. Rigatoni all'Amatriciana.

5. No Carbonara here; just a little antipasto for friends.


If you have spent any time in Rome, and especially in the city's typical Roman restaurants, you have probably tried (or at least seen on the menu) several of the pasta dishes which are recognized as "typically Roman".  Just to mention a few: spaghetti alla carbonara (cured pork jowl in an egg based sauce and pecorino cheese), bucatini or rigatoni all'amatriciana (cured pork jowl in tomato sauce) and spaghetti cacio e pepe (pecorino cheese and black pepper). An interesting discovery was recently made about one of these Roman delicacies, the carbonara. Here's how I found out about it.


An across-the-page headline in the Rome newspaper Il Messaggero of 21 July, 2014, caught my eye as I sat down to read my paper that morning: LA VERA CARBONARA E' MADE IN USA (The real Carbonara is Made in the USA). I had to see what this was all about. It seems that the carbonara has its roots in, of all things, the K-Rations of the U.S. soldiers in World War II. This year we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Rome by the Allied (American & English) troops. The history of the carbonara dish is one of the stories which has come out during this anniversary year.


The famous K-Ration of the U.S. soldiers was created in 1942 by the nutritionist Ancel Benjamin Keys. After five years of painstaking research, it was famed archaeologist and food historian Emilio Dente Ferracci who documented the American connection, by way of the K-Ration, to the famed Roman dish. To put it simply, spaghetti alla carbonara did not exist before 1944, the year of the Liberation of Rome. It was not listed on any menu prior to that year. Even the 1930's book on Roman cooking by the  the expert Ada Boni makes no mention of carbonara.


So how did this delectable dish come into existence? The K-Rations of the U.S. soldiers had a base of egg yolk in powder form with bacon; spaghetti was added to the mix to provide additional carbohydrates. This was the army's response to the need for a high carbohydrate food to be eaten by the soldiers, preferably at breakfast. During the liberation of Rome, thousands of K-Rations were distributed to the civilian population. Perhaps because there was little else to eat at the time, the Romans became enamored of this "typical American food".


One enterprising restaurant owner in an area of Rome frequented by American soldiers purchased a truck-load  of K-Rations which he began using to prepare a spaghetti dish, as yet un-named. The first time the dish appeared on a menu with the name carbonara was in 1944 at the Trattoria da Carlo al Gianicolo, where it was listed as the house specialty with the name spaghetti alla carbonara. Many Roman restaurants today propose the carbonara as one of their specialty dishes.


But why the name carbonara? Here the story is anything but clear. Ferracci, the researcher, offers the following possible explanation. During the War and shortly after the Liberation, the Romans would often cook outdoors on makeshift stoves fuelled by coal. The word for coal in Italian is carbone, hence the dish came to be called alla carbonara. Well, whatever the source of the name may be, don't miss trying spaghetti alla carbonara the next time you find yourself in a Roman restaurant!


It should be pointed out that there are several other theories about the origins of this dish, but I like the "American connection" the best!





Post a Comment