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Carbonara, explained

Blog Carbonara Italian traditional meal Pasta Primo Piatto Recipe Ricetta Tradizione Italiana


April 6 is the day when the whole world celebrates the Italian carbonara, or more commonly known as Carbonara day.

But we all know that Carbonara Day is, as well, an excuse that we give ourselves to eat, once again, one of the best dishes of Italian cuisine, la carbonara.

For Italians, the carbonara day could be once a week, the pleasure of eating a perfectly cooked rigatone, with that crunchy piece of guanciale, wrapped in a cream that comes from the union of egg yolk, pecorino cheese and melted fat from the guanciale is an ode to true Italian cuisine, the one that with simplicity and few ingredients satisfies the palate.

Everything has been said and done about carbonara, so why not go looking for the origin of the dish? We now take for granted that the carbonara belongs to a certain area, requires the ingredients mentioned above but what if the story that we know is not true? What if the original recipe included some other ingredient? And above all, who called this dish "carbonara"? Why did he/she do it? and especially where and when did he/she do it?

That being said, we turn ourselves in private investigator mode and with the same passion that, distinguishes us, we are looking for the gems of the Italian food and wine tradition, we decided to write this article to the history of carbonara! 

So from where do, we start from? Good question, because there is no precise date and place that tells us that carbonara was born here and therefore many mysterious legends run about the origin of the most famous Italian dish in the world.

If we don't have a place, a specific date, again, where do we start from?

Like any dish, this is handed down from generation to generation, the starting point has to be the recipe books and these are the only reliable sources that are available to us.

Among the various recipes available, which could give us a first input about this recipe, it is essential to choose the one that tells us more about the Roman culinary tradition.

la-cucina-romana-ada-boniIn the 1930s, Ada Boni wrote a recipe book "Roman cuisine", which we could define as a Bible of this region, on traditional Roman dishes and surprisingly carbonara is not present! What does this mean? It is clear that the carbonara was not perhaps born in Rome, but it is a dish that in Rome has found a home that has been able to pass from generation to generation the union of the 5 elements of the carbonara like no other place in Italy.

Always the same author, in another book "The Talisman of Happiness", mentions a dish that resembles carbonara, spaghetti with guanciale which is a good starting point because carbonara can be made either with rigatoni or either with spaghetti - check this guide about the match between sauce and pasta shapes.

So where do we go now? Strange to believe it but it is possible that the recipe for carbonara, the most traditional and beloved dish of Italy, was born in a very dark context of the Second World War, and from the union of Italian ingredients and Stars and Stripes creativity. Yes, most likely, carbonara was invented in Italy by American soldiers during the Second World War!

Obviously, we are not sure of this path, and therefore we will analyze it, but even here there are two ways: the first, analyzed by Davide Enia,  that tells in an interview that he was created by young American soldiers, who were located in the Abruzzo Apennines during the WW2. The traditional and most used pasta, spaghetti, was combined with cheese and eggs to which the guanciale, lately, is added, as a pig-made product that reminded the soldiers of bacon - but we know that the two products are very different. 

The other way is indicated by the Gambero Rosso which mentions the 1951 film "Waitress beautiful presence ..." where Elsa Merlini, who plays the waitress Maria, is asked if she can make spaghetti carbonara but the young waitress doesn't know how to prepare it, unlike the amatriciana which she does. 

A year later, in 1952, in the United States of America in a Chicago restaurant guide "An extraordinary guide to what's cooking on Chicago's Near North Side", Patricia Brontè in reviewing the restaurant of clear Italian origins "Armando's" reports the recipe that we all know about carbonara, you can't go wrong.

The first Italian publication of Carbonara takes place in 1954 from "La Cucina Italiana" but the recipe is slightly different from the one we know. In fact, the recipe included garlic and Gruyère - a Swiss cheese - but those were the beginnings and we prefer to imagine a Carbonara in an embryonic state, maybe only a draft of the one that we know.

A year later Felix Dessì publishes a new recipe, that can be called a second version, a little closer to the traditional one and very close to the one that might be called a non-carbonara recipe. The dish consisted of pasta, parmesan, bacon (yes), pepper and eggs - we are getting closer and closer.

Luigi-Carnacina-la-grande-cucinaSo here the doubt arises, is carbonara made with or without cooking cream? The debate could never see an end and in fact, there are, as in everything, two factions with experts and chefs who discuss this issue. We at The Italian Club, love the traditional carbonara, or commonly called as such, without cream and with guanciale and pecorino Romano D.O.P!Guanciale, a prominent element that manages to enrich the recipe, appeared in Italy in the 1960s in Luigi Carnacina's recipe book "La Grande Cucina", but in addition to the guanciale, we also find another element that always arouses horror within the carbonara lover: cooking cream. This element, the cooking cream, will be used until the 80s where even the great Italian Maestro Gualtiero Marchesi used it, a lot, in its version. 

Also in "La Cucina Italiana" there is another very strange story that seems like a set of elements from American movies. We are in Riccione and chef Renato Gualandi, of Bolognese origin, is hired to prepare a lunch for the meeting between the English and American armies - the scenario is always the Second World War.  

Gualandi, in a story he never denied, mentions the products that the Americans had and that had intrigued him, let's take up his words

"The Americans had fantastic bacon, delicious milk cream, cheese, and egg red powder. I put it all together and served this pasta to the generals and officers for dinner. At the last moment, I decided to put black pepper which gave off an excellent flavor. I cooked them quite "bavosetti" (creamy) and they were conquered by pasta ".

Gualandi was hired as an Allied chef in the Rome base and from there the rest is history.

Those legends, stories, and anecdotes about carbonara are making the origin and evolution of carbonara even more intriguing, almost like a puzzle that needs to be solved but from this stories what we see is the extraordinary talent and love of Italian for our cuisine, a cuisine made of love for the territory, high creativity and ability to adapt in every circumstance and mostly the skills to combine simple elements in order to create dishes that are known and appreciated far and wide.

For us, the history of carbonara is a real ode to Italian cuisine!

We, at the Italian Club, love, as we have already said, the now traditional and now called authentic recipe of the carbonara which includes pasta, egg yolks, guanciale, pecorino Romano D.O.P and pepper and for this dish we also have made two other initiatives that want to give it the deserved shine to the authentic Italian carbonara!


As we said throughout the story, the carbonara has had different embryonic, experimental versions, etc ... but the one that has made everyone crazy is the traditional one, the one that we described above. Since the carbonara preparation process is not always simple, a small mistake is enough to make the dish wrong, we have the recipe, written and video form, of the perfect carbonara!

But it does not end here, The Italian Club was founded from the desire and love to transmit and enhance the true Italian food and wine tradition in the world, every day we meet producers, who we love to call artisans of taste, who with love and passion create gems of taste. Every day we select, from north to south, the best that Italy has to offer to our customers and it is from these efforts that our authentic Italian food boxes are born.

Gragnano, Norcia, and Nurri - three areas of Italian excellence - merge to offer you the Authentic Italian Carbonara Box.

What’s inside the carbonara box? A package of Gragnano I.G.P. rigatoni, a piece of Pecorino Romano D.O.P, a piece of Norcia guanciale and a bottle of good Italian red wine.

The carbonara box is a way to enjoy the Italian food style and Italian cuisine every day, especially during the carbonara day, with your friends, with your loved one, whenever you want.

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