Like most recipes, the origins of the dish are obscure, and there are several stories of how it came to be. As the name is derived from carbonaro (the Italian word for charcoal burner), some believe that the dish was first made as a hearty meal for Italian charcoal workers that was fixed for them to eat when they came home from a hard day of work. This then led to the the name "coal miner's spaghetti", which is used to refer to spaghetti alla carbonara in parts of the United States. It has even been suggested that it was created by, or as a tribute to, the Carbonari ("charcoalmen"), a secret society prominent in the unification of Italy.
The dish is not present in Ada Boni's 1927 classic La Cucina Romana, and is unrecorded before the Second World War. It was first recorded after the war as a Roman dish, when many Italians were eating eggs and bacon supplied by troops from the United States. More recently, a restaurant in Rimini has claimed the original recipe was born during WWII. Powdered eggs and milk, along with bacon, were standard issue for the American troops and were widely used for bartering with the population. Italians would use those ingredients and pepper to make the sauce. The dish became popular among American troops stationed in Italy; upon their return home, they popularized it in North America.
The recipe was included in Elizabeth David’s 1954 cookbook published in Great Britain. This is a family favorite.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 slices bacon, diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup dry white wine (optional)
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano Cheese or Parmesan cheese
- 1 pinch salt and black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano Cheese or Parmesan cheese
- In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook spaghetti pasta until al dente. Drain well. Toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and set aside.
- Meanwhile in a large skillet, cook chopped bacon until slightly crisp; remove and drain onto paper towels. Reserve 2 tablespoons of bacon fat; add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, and heat in reused large skillet. Add chopped onion, and cook over medium heat until onion is translucent. Add minced garlic, and cook 1 minute more. Add wine if desired; cook one more minute.
- Return cooked bacon to pan; add cooked and drained spaghetti. Toss to coat and heat through, adding more olive oil if it seems dry or is sticking together. Add beaten eggs and cook, tossing constantly with tongs or large fork until eggs are barely set. Quickly add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and toss again. Add salt and pepper to taste (remember that bacon and Parmesan are very salty).
- Serve immediately with chopped parsley sprinkled on top, and extra Parmesan cheese at table.