Last Sunday, Casey and I turned Good. Food. Stories. into a live show! We demo-ed our signature dish, spaghetti carbonara, at New York Botanical Garden’s Edible Garden series.
While Casey did the majority of chopping, grating and tossing (someone please give this girl her own tv show already!), I—being the history geek—shared some of the stories about the origin of carbonara.
Much of Italy’s cuisine has been shaped by the different groups that have conquered parts of Italy throughout history. Sicilian food often includes dishes with saffron and raisins which reflects the Arab culture that dominated the island in the ninth and tenth centuries.
Tomatoes didn’t even exist in Italy until the 16th century when Spaniards, who controlled the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily, brought them back from their New World explorations. You may be surprised to know that a distinctly American influence can be found on spaghetti carbonara.
If you are Italian-American, spaghetti carbonara is not likely something your grandmother cooked for you, and that’s because it wasn’t invented until the 1940s.
It first seems to appear in Rome after the Allies ousted German forces and distributed rations to the starving Italians which included large amounts of bacon and powdered eggs. Quickly, it started showing up on American menus as GIs returned home from Italy and popularized it.
Carbonara means roughly “in the manner of coal miners,” and the likely origin of the name is a Roman restaurant named Carbonara. However, it may also have earned its name because the flecks of black pepper appear like coal dust against the creamy eggs, cheese, and pasta.
And it has been speculated that it was a dish made for a secret society called the Carbonari, the charcoalmen who formed in the early 1800s and who played a part in the unification of Italy.