The International Day of italian cuisines: why 17th January?
January 17 is a date of great symbolic importance. It’s the day of the catholic feast of Sant’Antonio Abate, one of the most popular saints of Italy, the patron of domestic animals, but also of butchers and salami makers. On this day, according to tradition, the Italian Carnival begins, that period of the year during which, since unmemorable time, it’s “licet insanire,” transgressions are tolerated and good, rich food is celebrated and, along with this: cooking.
The cult of Saint Anthony “of January”, who was a hermit who lived in Egypt in the 13th century, is rooted in earlier pagan feasts, le sementine (that celebrates the end of the sowing season) of ancient Rome in honour of Ceres, the Goddess of the Earth.
The sacred and the profane as well as Celtic and Latin rites are mixed together here. Therefore this occasion is celebrated in Italy, from north to south, on January 17th in many different ways. The devotion to the saint is very strong in Pinerolo, in the Province of Turin, in the Province of Como, in Lombardy and in Emilia Romagna.
On the other hand, in the south on that evening “fires” are lit, “focaroni,” “focarazzi” or “focaracci” – bonfires, people congregate in crowds around these pyres to give hommage to the saint who, according to legend, banished the devil and took dominion of the fires of hell. This is what is done in Puglia, Sardinia, Campania e Abruzzo.
In the latter, in the town of Scanno this feast has been celebrated since the fourteenth century until recently with great, steaming pans of sagna (home made pasta) and ricotta in the town square, while in Lanciano a holy representation was held. Also in Lazio, especially in the towns of Nepi and Velletri, in the area of Tuscia, the feast still has strong gastronomic characteristics. In general, almost all the celebrations of 17th January ended with a collection of food products that the entire community then consumed collectively.
Elsewhere, in Guastalla in Emilia Romagna, the fried gnocco (gnocco fritto) is the king of the feast. Saint Antonio has always been represented by a suckling pig (by a wild boar in Celtic countries) whose meat was the most highly esteamed ingredient of a meal at the Italian peasant’s table. Once, many rural communities collectively raised a piglet that they then butchered and ate on that day. Ancient fairs, such as that of Lonato, in Lombardy, that used to be held on 17th January but today have fallen out of use, were completely a celebration of cooking and eating of pork, of which in peasant tradition, as it is of common knowledge, nothing went to waste.
The mysterious origin of a popular dish
In terms of culinary literature, Carbonara has a very recent history. No cookbooks older than 50 years give reference to its recipe, at least not with this name. There are indeed various legends circulating about the origins of the dish but, as emerged from a recent debate among ithefs-gvci members, none of them is very credible.
The book "Cucina Teorico Pratica",
edited by Ippolito Cavalcanti (1836)
A Neapolitan connection: there is a school of thought claiming that a Carbonara, although not with this name, is among the recipes of La Cucina Teorico Pratica, a book edited in 1837 by the Neapolitan Ippolito Cavalcanti, Duke of Buonvicino. That recipe though doesn’t have pancetta nor guanciale and the eggs are overcooked, so it’s basically another dish. Nevertheless, at least in terms of ingredients, it can be considered the forerunner of modern Carbonara. Cavalcanti’s recipe in reality appears very similar to the traditional pasta cooked with “unto e uovo”, “grease and egg”. “Unto e uovo was the predecessor of Carbonara”, said Luigi Cremona, a highly respected Italian gastronomic journalist, intervening in the Italian GVCI Forum. “Before pancetta or guanciale, two hundred years ago, lard was used instead”, adds Mr Cremona.
Drying pasta in old times
The charcoal origin: the basis of the word Carbonara is carbone – charcoal. Legend has it that this way of cooking pasta was very popular among Roman Carbinai, men who worked in the bush, carbonising wood to produce charcoal. But the connection is not very convincing. Firstly there were no many bushes around Rome. Second, carbinai, charcoal makers, were seasonal workers, who lived away from their homes for months on end with limited access to fresh eggs, not to mention to the other ingredients.
Carlo Raspollini, gastronomy
expert and TV writer
Others say that Carbonara comes from Carbonari, which has the same meaning as carbinai, but was used for the underground Italian insurgents fighting for independence from the Austrians two hundred years ago. However, no proof has been found of any association of Carbonara with them. In 2005 an Italian Magazine stated that Carbonara was born in the Osteria delle Tre Corone, in Fratta Polesine, Province of Rovigo. The evidence presented? One: Carbonari used to have their secret meetings there. Two: the Osteria is still open today and occasionally offers pasta alla Carbonara (with sacrilegious… panna – cream). Both don’t establish any sound connection. Finally some say that Carbonara comes from the color of pepper that must be sprinkled abundantly over the dish. But TV culinary writer Carlo Raspollini doesn’t agree: “In the past pepper was a very expensive spice, and therefore exclusively for the rich”, he says. “Carbonara instead was a poor peasant dish. Pepper was added later”. Mr Raspollini doesn’t believe either that the dish is of Roman origin; “It was born in Latium possibly, or perhaps in Umbria, but hardly in the Capital”.
The American origin: culturally, this legend is the hardest to believe. Apparently, in 1944 when the US Army arrived in Rome, American soldiers mingled their scrambled eggs and bacon with pasta and suddenly the Italians copied them. Of course no one explains why then a dish of this origin got called Carbonara.
Spaghetti alla carbonara: an authentic recipe
Ingredients to serve one portion
60 to 80gm spaghetti freshly cooked al dente
1 tablespoon Extra virgin olive oil
30gm flat pancetta or guanciale
1 or 2 beaten eggs
25 gm freshly grated Pecorino Romano and/or aged Italian Grana Cheese (Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano)
freshly grounded black pepper
- Combine the beaten egg with grated cheese and grounded black pepper
- Slice the pancetta 7 to 10 mm thick and cut in 2 cm rectangular bites
- Slowly fry the pancetta in the extra virgin olive oil in a non stick pan until crispy. If the pancetta has enough fat you will not need to add oil
- Add the spaghetti with some of the cooking water, do not fry the spaghetti but rather just let it absorb the flavour of the pancetta
- Simmer lightly until the water is almost gone
- Remove the pan from the stove
- Add the egg, cheese and pepper mixture to the pasta and stir quickly making sure the egg does not overcook but remains creamy. It shouldn’t pass the 70-72 C˚ (158-162 F˚) temperature, the point at which coagulation starts
- Place in a hot pasta bowl
- Season with grounded black pepper
- Serve immediately
- Offer more black pepper and more grated cheese at the table
1. You cannot make a Carbonara with pre-cooked pasta
2. Do not add cream
3. If you like, you can mix the two cheeses
4. Timing is important when you serve this dish
5. Make sure the plate or bowl is hot
6. Do not overcook the egg
To know more about Carbonara ingredients.
To know about the history of the dish.
Ingredients: the key to a successful, genuine carbonara
PANCETTA is pork belly, bacon, air cured with salt, salted and spiced with fennel, nutmeg and pepper. Dried ground hot peppers and garlic some times are added. It’s dried for three months and can be sold rolled in the shape of a large sausage, or flat (stesa), as streaky bacon, with all the fat on one side. When pancetta is affumicata it means that it has undergone a smoking process. There are many regional types of pancetta in Italy.
GUANCIALE is prepared with pig’s jowl or cheeks (guancia in Italian). The meat is generally rubbed with black or red pepper and salt and air cured for three weeks, but the curing ingredients and techniques vary according to the region: in Latium garlic sage and rosemay are added while in Emilia Romagna only salt. Used extensively in dishes of the central Italian regions such Lazio and Umbria, it is leaner than other pork parts but has a strong, rich flavour. It is sold affumicato (smoked) as well, which is used for the classic Pasta alla Amatriciana.
PECORINO ROMANO CHEESE is a ewe’s milk cheese produced exclusively in Latium, Sardinia and in the Tuscan province of Grosseto. It’s lightly spicy, sharp, tangy and gets increasingly strong with age. The ancient Romans loved it and the agronomist Columella described it in his De Re Rustica in the 1st Century AD. In fact, traditionally it was made only in Latium, the Region surrounding Rome, but by 19th Century the demand for Pecorino Romano had become so big that some cheese-makers went to Sardinia to produce it. Made only from November to June, this cheese over a period of two months is dry salted, a very delicate traditionally hand-made operation. Pecorino Romano can be sold as a table cheese after five months, while it can be sold as a grating cheese after eight months. The Consortium for the Safeguarding of Pecorino Romano cheese, appointed by the Italian Government ensures that all D.O.P. norms are fully observed. Given the Latium origin of Carbonara, purists say that Pecorino Romano was the original and only cheese of the dish. But, as Massimo Montanari and Aberto Capatti write in their “La Cucina Italiana”, the culinary history of Italy is based on exchanges of ingredients. So, it is no surprise then, that at least in the last 50 years, Grana type of cheeses from the North, either Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano, went to the Centre and became widely used in the Carbonara, in combination with Pecorino.
EGGS play a very important role in the success of a Carbonara. It’s recommended that you use farm-fresh eggs from free-range chickens that usually eat grass instead of corn. These eggs yield fatty, orange yolks with a depth of flavour that give an incredible taste to your dish. There has been some concern expressed in relation to the safe use of eggs in Carbonara. The authentic recipe requires that they must be added when the pan is taken from the burner. For the pasta to keep is creaminess the egg shouldn’t pass the 70-72 C˚ (158-162 F˚) temperature, which is the point at which its coagulation starts. But this is also the minimum temperature needed to eliminate the bacterium Salmonella enteritidis that in very rare occasions may be found in eggs. Looking back at both history and tradition, this kind of concern never affected Italians in their preparation of Carbonara. It never disquieted either other nations using eggs in a similar way, as the Japanese with their tsukimi soba, onsen tamago, sukiyaki and tamago kake goha. On the other hand, according US scientists, the likelihood that an egg contain Salmonella is extremely small – 0.005% (five one-thousandths of one percent). Nevertheless it’s important to stress that in preparing Carbonara the egg must be added immediately after pasta has been taken out of the boiling water. Actually, traditionally, some boiling water is added while stirring pasta and egg, which contributes to keeping the temperature at the necessary 70-72 C˚. In general terms, it is however recommendable that you handle eggs according to sound safety criteria such those found at http://www.britegg.co.uk/safety05/startsafety.html
PASTA SHAPES. According to the tradition “rigatoni” where the pasta used for Carbonara. Only in recent times have spaghetti become the most popular option, possibly to please the many Americans soldiers in Rome at the end of WW2. Linguine or bavette are the third most used option. In any case Carbonara is made with dry durum wheat pasta.
GRANA PADANO OR PARMIGIANO REGGIANO?
They are both hard, mature Italian cheeses with a granular texture and both are suitable for a good Carbonara. Made in the form of large drums, they are produced in two different areas. Parmigiano Reggiano PDO comes from the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna left of the Reno River and Mantua right of the Po river while Grana Padano PDO comes from the provinces of Milan, Lodi, Pavia, Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona, Piacenza, Mantua, Verona, Vicenza, Treviso, Padua and Trento.
The main difference between the two cheeses lies in the animal feed. Parmigiano Reggiano is produced with the milk of cows fed only hay and grass. In the case of Grana Padano PDO the cows can also receive silage (colza, maize, mixtures of products of vegetable origin) as well as hay and grass.
The two cheeses differ in the amount of ageing. Grana Padano needs 15-16 months to get to its prime, Parmigiano Reggiano 22-24 months.
- It has been estimated that Italians eat on average 2,8 kg of Carbonara a head a year
- 80 grams of pasta alla carbonara contains approximately 300 kcal
- Dieting: Carbonara may be a single dish meal, since it contains the correct quantity of fat, proteins and carbohydrates and should be followed by a fresh fruit salad, without sugar, with some citrus juice.
Avanti itchefs-gcvi, something is changing!
The international Day of Italian Cuisines was welcomed at every point of the compass. The following are commentaries, reports and testimonials of some of the itchefs-gvci celebration in different cities of the world. For the complete list of participants click here.
Ivan Beacco, NYC Borgo Antico’s Chef, and Giovanni Iovine, the owner, enthusiastically joined the celebration of the International Day of Italian Cuisines. Among many others, one of their very special guests was Dr Anthony Milea of Village Sports Medicine. “He is an activist of authentic Carbonara”, says Beacco. Apparently Dr Milea regularly takes his friends to the Borgo Antico to introduce them to the genuine dish.
Francesco Farris, Chef patron of Arcodoro & Pomodoro in Dallas, Texas, organised the celebration under the slogan “Chi ama brucia”, those who love burn (calories). In other words, passion for good authentic Italian cooking may well justify every now and then a rich meal. “For a day we put aside cholesterol and dietary concerns”, says Francesco stressing that Carbonara is Italian cuisine of the poor but rich in nutrients. Let it not be forgotten that in the past a dish of Carbonara was for the Italians often the only meal of the day. Arcodoro guests of the day, among them the mayor of Dallas, enthusiastically took the authentic itchefs-gvci recipe home These are exerts from an article that appeared on January 17, in Grub Street the New York Magazine blog edited by Josh Ozersky and Daniel Manor. We reproduce it because besides some inexactness, it informs of how the International Day of Italian Cuisines was celebrated in the Big Apple. We have also included the comment of an anonymous reader that rightly explains why the article misses the most important point.
“So you think you know spaghetti carbonara? You don’t know spaghetti carbonara. That is the theme of the Italian chef coalition ITChefs – GVCI’s current campaign to educate New Yorkers about the classic dish. ITChefs – GVCI’, which stands for Virtual Group of Italian Chefs, is charging four of the city’s top Italian chefs to make it exactly according to the “authentic” recipe for one night. On Thursday, Cesare Casella of Maremma, Mark Ladner of DEl Posto, Kevin Garcia of Accademia del Vino and Ivan Beacco of Borgo Antico, will make the dish according to the master recipe approved by ITChefs – GVCI. Or will they? Like every traditional recipe in every cuisine, "authentic" Carbonara changes with every chef that makes it.
Ladner, a purist, tells us that he’s going to do the recipe by the book; but then, on closer examination, it turns out to have his own touch on it. “I use Martelli spaghetti number ten, which is a little thicker…and then instead of guanciale we use pancetta, but only half rendered out. Some people might use scallions, but that’s not really part of it. Then there’s the question of the texture of the egg. It can range from almost scrambled to an almost zabaglione-like smoothness, which is the way I do it….” Ladner went on for a while about how to execute this by the book recipe, and had us totally convinced that it was in fact the only way. But then we spoke to his friend and peer Garcia, who gave us a totally different approach to this “authentically prepared” dish: “I like regular Setaro spaghetti, with some nice guanciale. I get it crispy, and then stop the process with a little pasta water,” Garcia said. “And when I use the egg, I make sure it’s just the yolk…I like to have some scallions in there too.” We give up. There is no final definitive carbonara recipe. We just have to go around eating all the different variations, and hope that the world never runs out of them, the ITChefs – GVCI notwithstanding”.
A reader replied:
This article is missing the key-point. It is missing what actually itchefs-GVCI is trying to do. It is simply trying to explain people what they should expect or not expect when they order an Italian dish. Is someone presenting you a Carbonara prepared with cream or crème fraîche? Well, that is not what you ordered, call that thing whatever you want but if that name is in the menu please complain, ask your money back and most important do the right thing: prevent any loved friend to seat in that place until the owner understood the lesson. Then, if your eggs are almost scrambled or just zabaione-like that is a question of interpretation. Would you prefer the Verdi´s AIDA directed by Sciolti with Leontyne Price or by Karajan with Renata Tebaldi? Does not matter, feelings are simply wonderful! This is, of course, the interpretation of an Italian living abroad since ten years, loving eating and missing is mamma!!! Avanti Itchefs-GCVI something is changing!
In Mexico, itchefs-gvci associate Silvia Bernardini, owner of the L’invito Restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, coordinated a program of activities with the Italian Institute of Culture of Mexico City, as well as a celebration in both her restaurant and cooking school. National TV broadcast Canal 11 aired the authentic Carbonara recipe as it was cooked for the media invited by Bernardini and the Italian Institute of Culture.
Gabriele Paganelli of the Romagna Mia, Toronto- Canada had two special guests on the ICDay. The first one was Gianluigi Peduzzi, director of Rustichella Pasta d’Abruzzo, one of the most enthusiastic supporters (and sponsor) of the event, who came from Italy to visit for this special occasion. He was joined by Mr Martin Stilio, the Toronto Italian Culture Institute Director. Various Italian Institute of Culture Directors supported the celebration of the International Day of Italian Cuisines (as in New Delhi, India, and Mexico City, for example) finding it an important promotional moment for Italian culture.
“Here it went very well”, says Ruben Rapetti, Chef of the Pacific Restaurant at the Jinling Hotel, Nanjing, China. He had some American guests who were very happy to explore the taste of real old Carbonara that was new to them. "Carbonara without cream, bacon and mushrooms? Oh my God. I'll try it!" they said. Rapetti says: “Chinese clients were a bit more diffident but looked on to enjoy the novelty. Italian clients, moved almost to tears, felt obliged to order Carbonara”. “It was great; a simple, successful initiative enjoyed by all: chefs, guests and staff”, he concludes.
Gaetano Palumbo, Chef of the Rossini Restaurant at the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit, Bangkok, Thailand, printed the itchefs-gvci official leaflet of the IDIC 2008 with Carborara’s original recipe. “We offered both as a souvenir to the almost 600 clients we had at the Rossini that day”, says Gaetano with pride.
“By coincidence I had many German clients that night”, says Andrea Sacchi, Chef of the Lan Tania at the Four Seasons Hotel Koh Samui, Thailand. “We had a fun time, with me explaining to them that in authentic Carbonara there is no cream and no parsley as they were accustomed to in Germany”.
“Here in Hua Hin the celebration went very well”, says Saulo Bacchilega, Executive Chef of the Figs Restaurant at the Hyatt Hotel, Hua Hin, Thailand. “60% of our clients wanted to try our Carbonara, which they enjoyed very much. Actually, by popular demand we now have authentic Carbonara on our daily menu”. Each customer was given the recipe and the itchefs-gvci manifesto of the International Day of Italian Cuisines.
From Mumbai, Max Orlati, Chef of the trendy Olive Bar & Kitchen reports that the celebration in his restaurant was a great success. “Many Bollywood actors and actresses ordered Carbonara and went literally crazy about it”, he says. “I am happy because it was a great opportunity to educate our guests about authentic Italian cuisine”. The Olive has branches in New Delhi and Bangalore as well, both under Chef Orlati’s supervision.
Singapore’s veteran Carlo Marengoni, Chef of the Bologna at the Marina Mandarin Hotel is convinced that on 17.01. 08 a great tradition was started. “Not only did we have Carbonara on our menu that day, but we left it on all February, and with great success”, he stated.
“When it comes to Italian Cuisines, South Koreans may be very difficult in terms of taste”, says Sebastiano Giangregorio, Chef of the Grissini Italian Trattoria, Seoul. “So, I was a bit concerned about introducing Carbonara to the menu”, he admits. But it turned out to be a great success. “Masctà”, very tasty in Korean, was the word that the keen guests most used to describe their Carbonara.
“Carbonara is always on my menu” says Giulio Vierci who owns Giulio’s Wine Bar in Sapporo (Japan). “There are 146 Italian restaurant in town and I am the only Italian born chef, so everyday I must fight against the disinformation about Italian Cuisine”, he explains. For this reason Giulio decided to act at a more educational level: “I’ve seen Carbonara made in all imaginable manners over here; with cream, onions, parsley. So to get attention I decided to serve, on January 17, authentic Carbonara at a very competitive price; a bit over 500 yen”.
Silvia Caramella was the animator of the successful celebration in Seville, Spain. She organised an authentic Carbonara dinner at the Miranapoli Restaurant. “It was a wonderful experience”, says Silvia. The guests enjoyed it as well as Costantino Prisco and Arcangelo Ambrosio, the restaurant’s two young chefs. But Silvia stresses that: “The restaurant’s owners were happy too. Not only did they have a full house on a weekday but they obtained precious publicity from the event”. This was one of the objectives of the celebration: to provide those who embrace authenticity and quality with corresponding exposure.
It was a great success”, says Angelo Saracini, architect and owner of the La Dolce Vita at Santa Barbara, Athens – Greece. “Greeks eat very late so we started serving Carbonara after midnight”, he continues. For many of his customers the encounter with authentic Carbonara came as a shock”. In Greece the dish is adulterated with all sorts of ingredients: “cream, cinnamon, sugar and other ingredients more suitable for a pastry shop”, he adds. Among the Dolce Vita guests was also Mr Lambros Mikos, Santa Barbara’s Mayor, with his family.
“I had excellent feedback both from my clients and local institutions”, says Fabio Cappellano, owner of the Il Tartufo Restaurant, Delft (the Netherlands) commenting on the celebration of 2008 IDIC. “I printed the Carbonara recipe in colour and offered it to all my guests”, he adds. The dish was made with guanciale directly imported from Italy and fresh eggs from local farms. Radio stations and local media enthusiastically supported Cappellano’s commitment.
Chefs Giovanni Grasso and Igor Macchia, of the Michelin one-starred La Credenza San Maurizio, Canavese hosted some very special guests, among them, the highly respected Italian gourmet Giorgio Grigliatti, his son Giorgio, and Claudio Sacco, the animator of Viaggiatore Gourmet alias Altissimo Ceto, possibly one the most popular blog reviewing top Italian restaurants. Grasso and Macchia proposed the traditional authentic Carbonara and presented a contemporary variation.
Giacomo Gallina, Executive Chef of the Gold Restaurant in Milan and GVCI’s Vice-President, did the same, stressing above and beyond all else the importance of defending the authentic traditional version of the dish. Chef Massimiliano Sepe, of the Casa Catullo, Fondi Latina was among the most active promoters of the International Day of Italian Cuisines in Italy. With the support of territorial authorities (Comune di Fondi, Comune di Itri) and producers (Scherzerino La Rocca) he hosted a dinner based on a superb Carbonara and typical products of the Region of Latium.
From South to North. Andrea Cristofoletto, Chef of the Hotel Claudia in S.Vigilio di Marebbe (Bolzano) proudly celebrated the International Day of Italian Cuisine under the snow of the magic Dolomites Mountains. And finally, a fine Carbonara was also a point of rally for some farmers in the Province of Brescia, heavily affected by a EU 28-day blockage of pig slaughtering. As chef Mario Fraschini recalls: “sixteen of them arrived at my restaurant very late and rejoiced at the offer of a Carbonara, accompanied by a good wine, Terre di Franciacorta DOCG, red”.
Carbonara, people and chefs