Chapter 47: Spaghetti alla Carbonara

I made myself Spaghetti alla Carbonara for the very first time!

In preparation for Monday’s class, I thought I would do a run through to make sure there were no unexpected complications. My first attempt will never rival the efforts of a professional chef, but I’ve learned from my mistakes. My Spaghetti alla Carbonara will blow them away.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara is not a dish we ever ate at my nonno‘s house. It’s not a Calabrese dish. My nonno or nonna may never have eaten it. But, I fell in love with its taste and simplicity during my travels throughout Italy. Some Italians have told me that Spaghetti alla Carbonara is romano by identity, other claiming it was from Lazio, Rome’s home region.

The dish is only around a half century old, though I’m sure Italians have eaten it in some form for centuries without its official name. Spaghetti alla Carbonara is made with pancetta (bacon), percorino, egg yokes topped off with parmigiano. All were ingredients available to any Italian from the Medioevo to modern times. For the contadini it may have been a special dish they splurged on to commemorate a religious holiday. Soup, bread, and a strong red wine made up most meals for them.

It’s what I’m making for my family for Thanksgiving instead of turkey, mash potatoes, and stuffing.

The etymology of Spaghetti alla Carbonara is two-fold. The less glamorous explanation is the dish’s dedication to coal miners, i carbonari. The sexier explanation is the dish’s tribute to, i Carbonari, a secret society prominent in the unification of Italy. For some, big C carries more weight than small c.

Neither Cesare Sacco nor Giuseppina Cittadino knew Italy or its many cuisines the way their children and grandchildren now know it. My uncles and I know most of every corner of Italy from the Piemonte to Puglia. We’ve been seduced by Venice, Florence, Rome, Arezzo, Siena Assisi. Giuseppina could only have known the patch of the peninsula from Catanzaro to Napoli.From the instep of the boot to the front portion of the ankle.

Cesare knew a little bit more of Italy than his sainted wife since he trained as a soldier in the 1911 war against the Turks. Until I can consult the appropriate documentation, I speculate he received basic training outside of Calabria and probably embarked for Libya from Brindisi in Puglia. Neither ever saw the canals of Venice or the Duomo in Florence. All that they knew of their new country came from books, stories, and maybe postcards.


About growingupcalabrese

Professor of French and Italian at San Diego State University
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