“The secret to a good carbonara… is more about what you don’t put in it, rather than what you put in it,” food journalist and carbonara expert Eleonora Cozzella told AFP on Tuesday.
She was speaking in Rome at the launch of “CarbonaraDay,” a once-a-year online marathon of carbonara-themed events organised by Italy’s pasta-makers’ association.
Classic pasta alla carbonara, typical of Rome and its surrounding Lazio region, is made with eggs, pork cheek (guanciale), pecorino cheese and pepper – and, as any Italian will tell you, absolutely no cream.
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As you might expect, many Italian cooks get touchy when ingredients are changed or added to the mix – often saying anything that deviates from the classic recipe should not be called carbonara.
There was outrage earlier this year when the New York Times’ cooking supplement featured a “Tomato Carbonara” recipe, which included tomatoes along with the eggs, and replaced pork cheek and pecorino with bacon and parmesan.
Fun fact. The word ‘carbonara’ actually comes from carbonio, which refers to the ashen remains of the NYT headquarters after an angry mob of Italians burned it to the ground pic.twitter.com/avy02ON2H0
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"if my grandmother had wheels, she would be a bike" https://t.co/Vy8FJO9KGp
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Coldiretti, a farming association, called the US newspaper’s recipe “a disturbing knockoff of the prestigious dish from Italian popular tradition,” and complained that carbonara was “one of the most disfigured Italian recipes”.
But some gourmands are more tolerant of carbonara adaptations, pointing out that the recipe has evolved over time.
The dish was developed in Rome towards the end of World War II, when US soldiers brought bacon to Italy.
A spokesman for the pasta-makers association, Matteo de Angelis, said some old Italian recipes for carbonara – from the 1950s – included incongruous ingredients such as garlic and gruyere cheese.
Cozzella said she is “never scandalised” by unorthodox variations on carbonara. But she added: “Some versions may be seen as a homage, and other ones more as an insult.”
“The important thing is never to cross the line that betrays the spirit of the dish.”
“The problem is never tradition versus innovation, but tradition versus betrayal,” she concluded.
You can find the classic carbonara recipe here.