Translating literally as "spaghetti charcoal burners'-style", the connection between this Roman pasta dish and the region’s coal miners has inspired many an Italian tale. A classic combination of pork, egg, cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano or pecorino) and black pepper, spaghetti alla carbonara is thought to have been created by the miners (carbonai) in the Apennine mountains who introduced it to Rome on their visits selling coal. Another theory suggests it actually originated in World War II when American servicemen based in Rome had their rations of eggs and bacon prepared by local cooks.
- 60 ml (¼ cup) extra virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, lightly crushed with the back of a knife
- 200 g guanciale (pig’s cheek) (see Note) or pancetta, cut into lardons
- 125 ml (½ cup) dry white wine
- 400 g spaghetti
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 80 g pecorino, grated, plus extra, to serve
- crusty bread, to serve
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Heat oil in a large deep frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 4 minutes or until starting to change colour. Using a slotted spoon, remove garlic. Set aside.
Add guanciale to pan and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until starting to brown. Add wine and cook for a further 30 seconds, scraping base of pan to remove any browned bits. Remove from heat and set aside in pan.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large saucepan of boiling, salted water for 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain. Reserve 125 ml cooking liquid.
Return pan with guanciale to high heat with 2 tbsp reserved cooking liquid, and cook for 30 seconds or until heated through. Add pasta to pan with remaining 85 ml cooking liquid. Pour over eggs and toss until just combined and eggs have started to set. Season with salt and pepper.
Divide pecorino among bowls. Top with pasta and scatter with extra pecorino. Serve with reserved fried garlic and crusty bread.
• Guanciale, available from selected butchers and delis, is an Italian cured pork.
As seen in Feast Magazine, Issue 13, pg58.
Photography by John Laurie