A beloved pasta dish, Carbonara appears to have hit another level. Datassential recently reported that the dish had grown 25.6 percent between 2017 and 2021, and continued to grow in 2022.
The dish is so popular, in fact, that The Italian Association of Confectionary and Pasta Industries and the International Pasta Organization teamed up in 2017 to create Carbonara Day, observed annually on April 6.
There’s plenty of reasons to celebrate the delightfully simple and trendy dish, which typically contains a combination of eggs, hard cheese, cured pork, and black pepper. It’s that simplicity that allows for chefs to put their own signature fingerprint on the dish. Simple twists on the dish can be the very definition of the “familiar, with a twist” formula that can inspire LTOs—or even menu mainstays.
Carbonara can incorporate trendy ingredients and still be relatively easy for a kitchen to execute, even when staffed with inexperienced cooks. Unique twists can help chefs create a food-cost champion, too.
“You can offer some slight spin on carbonara and elevate it some way, and it will be delicious and fairly easy to execute.”
“I think chefs have realized you can offer some slight spin on carbonara and elevate it some way, and it will be delicious and fairly easy to execute,” says Kevin Felice, director of operations for food and beverage at Villa Restaurant Group. “Carbonara is one of those items that you can use to balance a higher-cost steak, for example, that’s costing you 50 percent on food costs but you know you can’t raise the price any more or take it off the menu. You can charge $30 for a big bowl of carbonara with a slight twist—and there’s your low-labor, high-margin item that helps balance everything out.”
Even simple swaps can appeal to a wide range of guests. Lorenzo Boni, corporate chef with Barilla, says chefs in both Italy and the U.S. often sub in pancetta for the traditional guanciale, and the innovation opportunities abound. Chefs also sub seafood in for pork, or customize the dish into a vegetarian or even vegan offering—but there are a few guidelines to consider to keep the essence of carbonara, Boni says.
“Carbonara should have an egg element, whether that’s whole eggs, yolks, fish roe; you need that creaminess from something like an egg,” Boni says. “Secondly, you need a bacon-like element for saltiness and that meaty texture. How you get there is up to you.”
Felice recently created a Roasted Cauliflower Carbonara with roasted, thin-shaved, tricolor cauliflower that offered diners a plant-based comfort dish. “The nuttiness of the roasted cauliflower plays really well with the rest of the dish and adds a unique element,” he says.
No matter what direction a chef wants to take a carbonara dish, something both Boni and Felice agree on is the dish will require the right type of pasta.
“The pasta’s ability to catch sauce the right way is a super important component of a carbonara dish,” Felice says. “Barilla’s new Al Bronzo line has the perfect texture—it can grab a sauce the exact way you’re looking for.”
For more, visit barillafs.com/recipes.