Spaghetti alla Carbonara - The pasta that WW2 invented?

Spaghetti alla Carbonara - The pasta that WW2 invented?
Preparation time: 20 min Cooking time: 15 min Easy - for beginners Serves: 4-6


Before 1944 there is no record of œalla Carbonara in a very well documented Italian culinary history.


  • It is an evolution of cacio & uovo (egg & pecorino), which carbonai, coal merchants in the regions of Abruzzo and Lazio, used to carry in their lunch boxes. It is said that the black pepper is reminiscent of coal dust.
  • With the shortage off eggs during the war, this dish became Cacio & Pepe (pecorino & black pepper), which is still eaten in Italy today.
  • With the arrival of British and American troops in Rome at the end WW2, they sought to eat familiar things and requested bacon, eggs and noodles. To satisfy the requests Italian cooks gave them gaunciale (cured pig cheek, which in those days was smoked on at the fireplace), a soft-boiled egg and a plate of plain spaghetti. In order to try to make it taste better they noticed that the soldiers would mix everything together.
  • This led to the gaunciale finding its way into the original recipe of Cacio & Uovo and this is probably how Spaghetti alla Carbonara that we know today came to be.
  • Whilst there are slight variations on the recipe, one thing that is sure is that there is NEVER any cream added to Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Nowadays more often than not Parmigiano Reggiano is added to give that œumami element to the taste.
  • Now for the recipe:
  • Spaghetti alla Carbonara
  • For 4 people
  • 350g Spaghetti
  • 120g Gaunciale or Smoked Pancetta
  • 4 eggs (or 2 eggs and 4 extra egg yolk for a richer version)
  • 30g Parmigiano Reggiano grated finely
  • 30g Pecorino Romano* grated finely
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • *(if you don™t have this you can used a hard pecorino or just 60g parmigiano)


  1. Beat the eggs with a fork until you achieve a light froth on the surface
  2. Add the grated cheese and a good pinch of salt and mix well.
  3. Place the pancetta or gaunciale a pan and fry on a medium until the fat is translucent. Removed two thirds of the meat, set aside, and fry the remaining third until nice and crispy. Remove and set aside on its own.
  4. Cook the spaghetti for the number of minutes indicated on the packet.
  5. When the spaghetti is cooked add it to the pan where you prepared the pancetta, along with about 30ml of the water from the pasta pot.
  6. TURN OFF the heat. (The important thing here is you don™t want the egg to cook)
  7. Add the egg and cheese mixture and the soft-cooked pancetta/gaunciale to the spaghetti and toss in the pan so that the spaghetti is well coated with the dressing and the egg begins to thicken slightly, and that everything is well incorporated.
  8. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and the crispy pancetta/gaunciale and serve immediately.

Useful tip: When Italian chefs toss pasta in the pan they are doing it for 2 reasons: 1 the pasta itself continues to absorb liquid and flavours of the sauce, adding backbone to the taste of the dish. 2 the tossing action of the pasta works sort of like a whisk emulsifying the fat ingredients of the sauce, and the little bit of pasta water with the starch from the pasta - this is how Italian chefs get that velvety texture to their dishes without using cream. Whilst you can achieve point 1 above by mixing the pasta in the pan, you can™t achieve point 2. It is not that difficult and just takes some messy practice to get right. The size of the pan is also important, as the pan should never be too full.

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