Carbonara is an Italian pasta dish from Rome, based on eggs, cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), bacon (guanciale or pancetta), and black pepper. Spaghetti is usually used; fettuccine, rigatoni, linguine or bucatini can also be used. The pork is cooked in fat, which may be olive oil, lard, or less frequently butter. The hot pasta is combined with a mix of raw egg, cheese, and a fat (butter, olive oil, or rarely cream), away from additional direct heat to avoid coagulating the egg. The egg should create a creamy sauce, and not curdle. Guanciale is the most commonly used meat in Italy, but pancetta and local bacon are also used. Recipes differ in the use of egg: some use the whole egg, others only the yolk, some a mixture. Cream is not common in Italian recipes but is often used elsewhere. Garlic in this dish is similarly found mostly outside of Italy. Other variations on carbonara outside Italy may include peas, broccoli, mushrooms, or other vegetables. Many of these preparations have more sauce than the Italian versions.
As with many recipes, the origins of the dish are obscure. The dish forms part of a family of dishes involving pasta with bacon, cheese, and pepper, such as spaghetti alla gricia. It’s also very similar to the south Italian pasta cacio e uova, dressed with melted lard, mixed eggs, and cheese. The name may be more recent than the dish itself. Since it’s derived from carbonaro (Italian for “charcoal burner”), some believe the dish was first made as a hearty meal for Italian charcoal workers. It has even been suggested that it was created as a tribute to the Carbonari (“charcoalmen”), a secret society prominent in the early, repressed stages of Italian unification. It seems more likely that it’s an urban dish from Rome, although it has nothing to do with the Roman restaurant of the same name. The dish is not present in Ada Boni’s 1930 classic La Cucina Romana and is unrecorded before the Second World War.