If you, like me, have been hoarding boxes of pasta over the course of the pandemic, you may be getting tired of your same old noodle routines. We all have the recipe rotations we keep in our back pocket for those nights following long days during which we haven’t had much bandwidth to think about dinner. Part of the beauty of a recipe like pasta carbonara is that the scratch-made sauce that takes moments to come together; even better, it maximizes flavor with only a few simple ingredients. This is a great one for everything from fancy date nights to “Oh my gosh I am so tired but can’t do canned red sauce even one more time this week” dinners!
A Brief History of Pasta
The origins of pasta as we know it are somewhat in dispute: there are those who claim it dates as far back as 3000 B.C. in China, and those who attest it had a parallel birthplace in 1100s Sicily. Regardless of origin, pasta has always held global appeal and been a cheap, reliable, appealing way to fill a belly.
According to “Italics Magazine,” an Italian magazine written in English, pasta as we know it was originally closer to lasagne than spaghetti. In the 1st century A.D, Horace, the Roman poet, wrote of “lagana,” a dish made of sheets of fried dough which may or may not have been stuffed with layers of meat.
Writings from 3rd century Palestine describe “itriyya,” a semolina-based dough cut into strips, dried, and then boiled. An Arab lexicographer and physician named Isho bar Ali described this ancient cousin of pasta in detail, and wrote of the industry surrounding it–ships sent the itriyya to “Calabria, to Muslim and Christian countries,” noting “very many shiploads are sent.”
As a result of extensive trading in the Middle Ages, food historians estimate pasta began to take on different shapes. Sicily may be credited with couscous; by the 13th century, pasta shapes like gnocchi, ravioli, vermicelli, and macaroni spread across the Italian peninsula.
Naples emerged as the leading producer and consumer of pasta in the 17th century. Pasta’s increasing popularity may have been due to the fact that it was a dish accessible to those who did not have the means to purchase meat for their meals. The Industrial Revolution saw the advent of machines like the torchio, which was a mechanical press designed to cut dough into thin pieces. The first license for a pasta factory was written in Venice in 1740.
In 1877, in the town of Parma, Italy, Pietro Barilla began one of the most successful pasta businesses still in production today.
Pasta’s Story Isn’t Over
Some pasta shape traditionalists attest that the record for existing pasta shapes is set in stone. Pasta-curious podcast host Dan Pashman challenged the status quo this year by setting out to create the “perfect” pasta shape: able to be speared by a fork and retain sauce, and toothsome enough to have a decent chew.
According to the New York Times, he worked with Sfoglini, a pasta company based in New York, to put the wheels in motion and create a riff on tradition. After nearly three years of research, they made the bronze casting capable of bringing Pashman’s dream to fruition and a new shape was born!
Enter cascatelli, a word derived from the Italian “cascata,” meaning waterfall. This new noodle is available for purchase online and was even recommended by the NYT article to be paired with–you guessed it–carbonara sauce!
So What About Carbonara?
If you, like me, impulsively purchased every available box of bucatini after the great bucatini shortage of 2020, a more traditional pasta shape would lend itself just as well to carbonara, a dish which may have origins reaching back to Italian coal miners, as it was colloquially called “coal miner’s spaghetti.” (“Carbonaro” is the Italian word for charcoal burner.)
While it is possible, of course, to eat whatever shape of pasta you like, it is recommended that you choose a shape with a large ratio of surface area to volume, like spaghetti, bucatini, or fettuccine in order to cook the eggs in the sauce properly. Let your heart be your guide!
Gather the ingredients. Grate the cheese, whisk the eggs with salt and heavy pepper, cook the bacon…
Whisk cheese into the eggs and place in a large bowl while the pasta is cooking. Enjoy a little mental “vacation” while all you have to do is stare into a pot of boiling water, stirring occasionally…
When the pasta is al dente, drain and add to the egg and cheese mixture, tossing vigorously. Serve immediately topped with more cheese if desired, or grated salt cured egg yolk.
Note: the pasta will loose a lot of heat when transferred from colander to cold bowl with cold sauce. Have whoever you are feeding on call and ready to eat! 🙂
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 egg yolks, room temperature
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano
- salt, to taste
- pepper, to taste
- 8 oz pasta (bucatini, spaghetti, or fettuccine are traditional)
- 5 pieces thick cut bacon (guanciale or pancetta are more traditional, so feel free to sub)
- 1 Tbs olive oil if using guanciale or pancetta (otherwise, omit)
- Heat the oven to 425°F. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Lay bacon on a metal rack over a sheet track with a lip, and cook bacon in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, until thoroughly cooked but not crispy. Chop or snip bacon into 1/2" pieces and set aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, yolks, and both cheeses. Season with a small pinch of salt (bearing in mind the pasta water is salted and the bacon contributes a significant amount of salt) and a generous crack of fresh pepper. Set aside.
- Cook pasta until al dente, 8-12 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a serving bowl with hot water to preheat.
- Drain pasta when al dente, reserving 1 cup of pasta water. Dump hot water from serving bowl, patting dry with a towel. Add pasta to the warmed bowl, followed by the egg and cheese mixture, tossing continuously. If desired, add some pasta water for additional creaminess.
- Serve immediately with more cheese, fresh pepper, or salt-cured egg yolks if desired.