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‘Disgusting knockoffs’: Italians warn foreign cooks over carbonara recipes

After recent "disturbing" adaptations of the classic spaghetti carbonara recipe left Italians outraged, the country's gourmands have reminded foreigners attempting the dish to "keep things simple".

'Disgusting knockoffs': Italians warn foreign cooks over carbonara recipes
Spaghetti alla carbonara at Carbonara Day 2019 in Rome. Photo by Andreas Solaro/AFP

“The secret to a good carbonara… is more about what you don’t put in it, rather than what you put in it,” food journalist and carbonara expert Eleonora Cozzella told AFP on Tuesday.

She was speaking in Rome at the launch of “CarbonaraDay,” a once-a-year online marathon of carbonara-themed events organised by Italy’s pasta-makers’ association.

READ ALSO: The recipe for a classic Italian spaghetti carbonara

Classic pasta alla carbonara, typical of Rome and its surrounding Lazio region, is made with eggs, pork cheek (guanciale), pecorino cheese and pepper – and, as any Italian will tell you, absolutely no cream.

As you might expect, many Italian cooks get touchy when ingredients are changed or added to the mix – often saying anything that deviates from the classic recipe should not be called carbonara.

There was outrage earlier this year when the New York Times’ cooking supplement featured a “Tomato Carbonara” recipe, which included tomatoes along with the eggs, and replaced pork cheek and pecorino with bacon and parmesan.

Coldiretti, a farming association, called the US newspaper’s recipe “a disturbing knockoff of the prestigious dish from Italian popular tradition,” and complained that carbonara was “one of the most disfigured Italian recipes”.

But some gourmands are more tolerant of carbonara adaptations, pointing out that the recipe has evolved over time.

The dish was developed in Rome towards the end of World War II, when US soldiers brought bacon to Italy.

A spokesman for the pasta-makers association, Matteo de Angelis, said some old Italian recipes for carbonara – from the 1950s – included incongruous ingredients such as garlic and gruyere cheese.

READ ALSO:

Cozzella said she is “never scandalised” by unorthodox variations on carbonara. But she added: “Some versions may be seen as a homage, and other ones more as an insult.”

“The important thing is never to cross the line that betrays the spirit of the dish.”

“The problem is never tradition versus innovation, but tradition versus betrayal,” she concluded.

You can find the classic carbonara recipe here.

A chef prepares traditional spaghetti alla carbonara during Carbonara Day 2019 (#CarbonaraDay) in Rome. Photo by Andreas Solaro/AFP.

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LA BELLA VITA

La Bella Vita: Free Italian museum tickets, Sanremo, and real spaghetti carbonara

From seeing Italy's best sights for free to avoiding crimes against Italian food, new weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: Free Italian museum tickets, Sanremo, and real spaghetti carbonara

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

The cold weather and grey skies mean February is the month when I’m most tempted to stay at home and keep warm, preferably with an Italian hot chocolate. But it’s a shame to stay in when there’s so much to do and see in Italy, even at this time of year.

Carnival season officially kicks off this weekend, bringing much-needed colour and joy to towns and cities across Italy at what would otherwise be a pretty dull time of year. The most famous Carnival of all is of course in Venice, and this year’s edition promises a return to its former grand scale after three years of limited celebrations.

If you’re thinking of attending this year, here’s our quick guide to the events and what to expect:

Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2023

A masked reveller wearing a traditional carnival costume In St Mark's Square, Venice

The 2023 Venice Carnival will start with a floating parade down the Grand Canal on February 4th. Photo by Andrea PATTARO / AFP

Another reason to get out and about this weekend is Domenica al Museo or ‘free museum Sundays’, when museums and other sites open their doors ticket-free on the first Sunday of every month.

As admission to major historical monuments and museums in Italy often costs upwards of €15 per person, there are big savings to be made and the free Sundays scheme is understandably popular among both tourists and residents.

Free entry applies to hundreds of state-run museums, archaeological parks and monuments, including world-famous sites like the Colosseum, Pompeii, Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, the Reggia di Caserta and Trieste’s Miramare Castle. See further details in our article:

What you need to know about Italy’s free museum Sundays

There is however at least one good reason to stay in and watch some Italian TV: The Sanremo Music Festival returns on Tuesday, February 7th, and it will likely be the main topic of conversation all week.

If you’re a fan of Eurovision, you’re pretty much guaranteed to love it. But some people don’t find the appeal of the show immediately obvious, to put it mildly.

So what is it about the festival that pulls together an entire nation, regardless of whether they fall into the ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ camp? We looked at just why this 73-year-old song contest is such an Italian institution.

Why is the Sanremo music festival so important to Italians?

In the latest international Italian food controversy, Italian media reacted with anger and dismay this week to a recipe published in the New York Times for ‘tomato carbonara’, which recommended adding tomato sugo along with the eggs, and replacing pork cheek and pecorino with bacon and parmesan – an adaptation which was described as “provocative”, “disgusting”, and a “declaration of war”.

For anyone who doesn’t want to traumatise their Italian dinner guests or risk sparking a diplomatic incident, here’s the classic recipe plus a look at the rules to follow when making a real Roman-style carbonara:

The ten unbreakable rules for making real pasta carbonara

However, you might be surprised to hear that adding cream – or tomato – to your carbonara recipe isn’t actually the worst food crime you could commit according to Italians.

From fruity pizza toppings to spaghetti bolognese, an international study revealed which of the most common international ‘adaptations’ are seen as most and least offensive.

RANKED: The 11 worst food crimes you can commit according to Italians

Remember if you’d like to have this weekly newsletter sent straight to your inbox you can sign up for it via Newsletter preferences in “My Account”.

Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]

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