There are recipes that are capable of exciting us, even beyond the dish. Carbonara is a striking example of this, so much so that it merits a day of its own. April 6 sees the return of #CarbonaraDay, the event that brings together enthusiasts and gourmets from around the world to focus on the best loved and most spoken about pasta dish.
The first edition of #CarbonaraDay in 2017 had more than 29,000 interactions and 4,000 posts in a little more than 24 hours, with the participation of 83 million people around the world. And Carbonara pasta continued to be a topic of discussion for the rest of the year, with almost one million mentions on social media sites.
Just follow the hashtag #CarbonaraDay to take part in a virtual event that will see bloggers, food influencers, journalists and chefs sharing opinions, photos and advice on Twitter and the major social networks about this dish, and more generally, on the relationship between tradition and innovation in cooking.
Paolo Barilla, Intenational Pasta Organisation (IPO) president, says “We want to celebrate this dish by going beyond the idea of the perfect traditional recipe. The many versions of Carbonara around the world are proof that with creativity and passion it is possible to make up for the lack of traditional ingredients. And, above all, to satisfy all tastes and preferences, anywhere on this planet, as only a versatile food like pasta can do.”
Of all the Italian recipes, Carbonara pasta is the most reinterpreted abroad. Here are some of the most unusual global variations: In England it is popular with zucchini, in China and Malaysia it is made with chicken, and the most popular in Spain contains fish, which is also gaining a foothold in the more traditionalist Italy and within haute cuisine. Other extreme variations: in England béchamel sauce sometimes replaces the egg. In Japan, on the other hand, cream is added and there is no pecorino cheese. In France, Germany and Norway they go even further, with freeze-dried Carbonara-flavoured mixes, ready in 5 minutes.
Perhaps the reason Carbonara is so loved and so replicated is that its origins are uncertain and no one, not even in Italy, can lay claim to it 100 percent. Some believe this traditional dish came into being more recently than expected. The first theory is that it was invented by the Americans. It was supposedly created in 1944 when Italian pasta encountered the ingredients of the American soldiers’ K-ration containing powdered egg yolk and bacon. As they travelled up through Italy, American GIs would mix their K-ration with spaghetti to supplement their portion of carbohydrates. An interesting fact: the inventor of K-rations was in actual fact a certain Ancel Keys who, years later, ‘discovered’ the Mediterranean diet! The second theory is that the dish was ‘invented’ by the Apennine carbonai (charcoal burners, carbonari in Roman dialect), who would prepare it using ingredients that were easy to obtain and preserve. In this case the Carbonara they prepared would appear to be a development of the dish known as cacio e ova (pasta with cacio cheese and egg), which originated from Latium and Abruzzo. One final theory appears to attribute the recipe’s origins to Neapolitan cuisine.
This dish, of uncertain origins, today has many variations. Tradition dictates only 5 ingredients: guanciale, pecorino cheese, egg, salt and pepper. Newer versions (guanciale or pancetta, garlic – yes or no, egg yolk or the whole egg, Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese, etc.) originate from personal tastes and family customs. And the shape of the pasta to be used is also something to be discussed. Which is best – short or long? For many, Carbonara is inextricably linked to the word ‘spaghetti’, but more recently, food lovers have also suggested the use of round, tube-shaped pasta, such as rigatoni or mezze maniche, especially if they ‘trap’ the bacon inside of them.
In Italy, Carbonara once had humble roots, a household tradition and found in Roman trattorias. Now it is commonly found in Michelin star and other restaurants. And its success in years to come is also assured, given that, according to the Doxa-AIDEPI data, Carbonara (together with baked pasta and spaghetti with tomato sauce) is among the top three favourite recipes of 15 to 35-year-olds, as well as an absolute favourite with 18% of Italians (above all men) and in the North West of the country.
But it is also a global phenomenon and even The New York Times ranks it top of its list of the 20 most popular pasta recipes.
In the United States, Chef Bruno Serato dishes up a plate of pasta with tomato sauce every day to nearly 4,000 needy Californian children through his Caterina’s Club Foundation. He has accepted an invitation from IPO to celebrate #CarbonaraDay and for the occasion he will have a delicious Carbonara prepared for all his little ones.
The philanthropist chef and author of the book “The Power of Pasta,” said, “With #CarbonaraDay we are celebrating not only a delicious recipe but above all Pasta, a product of Italian origin that has succeeded in going beyond national borders and adapting itself to local cultures and customs. It has the power to feed the world in a balanced way, to satisfy our taste buds and protect the planet, but first and foremost, to fight hunger, putting a smile on everybody’s face.”
Chef Serato will receive an Ellis Island Medal of Honor, awarded for his work feeding children, joining the ranks of seven U.S. Presidents, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Muhammad Ali and others.