Probably the best thing that Italy has given the world is Pasta Carbonara. But seriously, this is my favorite Italian dish (though it is properly a Roman dish – Italian cuisine is very regional).
The name “carbonara” refers to coal merchants. It is said that this was a typical plate of theirs, reflecting the sort of ingredients they had access to. The black pepper that is now in carbonara sauce – so some claim – represents the bits of coal dust that would have fallen in when the merchants made it back in their day. If it’s not true it should be!
For those who don’t know what pasta carbonara is, behold:
Basically, it is the pasta of your choice, cooked al dente, served with a sauce of beaten egg, black pepper, pecorino romano cheese, bacon/pancetta/guanciale (more on this in a minute), and sometimes some other stuff is added (like a bit of white wine, not to mention the bacon grease, sometimes a ladle of the pasta’s cooking water, etc.).
The heat of the freshly-boiled pasta cooks the eggs, and if it’s done right they don’t scramble.
The meat that is in the sauce is traditionally guanciale, which is cured and smoked pork jowl and tastes not unlike bacon. In the States it’s harder to come across this particular cut – though it is sold on Amazon.com, of all places – so a lot of people use pancetta instead. Pancetta is good but it doesn’t taste quite the same. Some people I know will mix pancetta with some good smoked slab bacon. And some just use bacon.
Pasta carbonara is not a low-calorie food. But it is delicious, and I’ll look forward to a plate of it when I get back to Rome at the end of the summer!