Did you know…? Italy’s pasta carbonara is partly American

Giampietro Vianello
Giampietro Vianello - [email protected]
Did you know…? Italy’s pasta carbonara is partly American
Chefs prepare 'spaghetti alla carbonara' during World Carbonara Day in April 2019. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Pasta carbonara is known all over the world as Rome's signature dish. But, ahead of World Carbonara Day on Saturday, April 6th, we look at why the origins of the recipe aren't an exclusively Roman affair.


Pasta alla carbonara is one of the most well-known and loved Italian delicacies: the creaminess of the eggs and Pecorino cheese contrasting with the crispiness of the guanciale (pork cheek) and the sharpness of black pepper makes it an absolute pleasure for the palate.

But, while it is widely recognised as the signature dish of Rome’s traditional cuisine, the origins of pasta carbonara aren’t exclusively Roman.

There are multiple theories as to how the recipe came to be, but the most widely accepted explanation is that it is an American adaptation of pasta cacio e ova – a pasta dish typical of central Italy combining melted lard with a mixture of eggs and Cacio cheese.

According to this theory, US troops stationed in Rome towards the end of World War Two were particularly fond of pasta cacio e ova, but they asked for smoked bacon (a staple of American field rations) to be added to the recipe.

Roman cooks gradually adopted the new dish and added it to their repertoire, albeit with some key variations: they swapped the bacon for guanciale (cured meat prepared from pork jowl) and Cacio cheese with Pecorino.

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But the ties between carbonara and American history don’t end there, as the first official carbonara recipe is believed to have been published in the US, rather than Italy, in 1952. 

Author Patricia Bronté listed the Italian restaurant Armando's, owned by Italian immigrants Pietro Lencioni e Armando Lorenzini, among her favourite local eateries, mentioning pasta carbonara as their signature dish.


It was only in August 1954 that carbonara first figured in Italian records, as magazine La Cucina Italiana provided cooking instructions for a very early version of the dish – one that still included bacon instead of guanciale and used Gruyère cheese as opposed to Pecorino.

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The current, 'classic' version of the dish (including eggs, guanciale, black pepper and Pecorino) was first recorded in 1960 in Italian chef Luigi Carnacina’s La Grande Cucina cookbook.

Of course, the origin story of pasta carbonara is still debated by many - and modern adaptations of the 1960 recipe are often seen as highly controversial.



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