Where to eat Tagliatelle carbonara in Rome (and how to make it)
There are two dishes we always order when we’re in Rome. The first is bucatini al’amatriciana, a robust combination of tomatoes, onions, and bacon. The second is tagliatelle carbonara or tagliatelle alla carbonara – a dish so delicious that to us, it’s perfection on a plate.
The dish is utter simplicity – butter, cheese, eggs, black pepper, and bacon. But almost everything about carbonara is disputed, including the name, its origins, the correct ingredients, and its preparation. The only thing that everyone agrees on is the addictive nature of the dish.
The name is derived from the Latin for charcoal but no one can agree on the exact etymology. Some think that coal workers created the dish with ingredients they could transport and obtain easily. Others believe the dish was so named because it was prepared over a charcoal fire.
Because a recipe for carbonara wasn’t included in Ada Boni’s seminal 1927 book, La Cucina Romana, it’s assumed that the dish must be more recent than that. And many food historians think that carbonara was invented when Americans shared their rations of bacon and powdered eggs with their Roman friends. Whatever it’s origins, when properly made it’s a masterpiece of subtlety and balance in which each ingredient shines simultaneously.
As far as the ingredients go, there’s really no consensus, even in Italy. Any pasta will do, although tagliatelle and spaghetti are the most popular. In some ways, penne is preferable because it’s easier to toss with the sauce.
Many Italian cooks use guanciale, which is made with pig’s jowls, instead of the more common pancetta. But slab bacon is also acceptable. Sometimes, the bacon is rendered in olive oil, and sometimes it’s sautéed in butter.
Onions and garlic may or may not be used. And the liquid used to thin the sauce can either be pasta water, white wine, or chicken stock, which is preferred by Lydia Bastian — no slouch when it comes to Roman food.
It’s important to use the best quality eggs you can find. If you have a local farmer’s market selling free range eggs, you’ll be able to tell the difference. Some cooks separate them, some cooks beat them, and some just break them into the dish.
Taking the sauté pan off the heat when you add the eggs is key in keeping them from scrambling.
Cheese can either be Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano Reggiano, or a mixture of both. Americans often add whipping cream, which Italians eschew.
Since there are so many ways to make carbonara, there’s not much agreement on where to sample the best carbonara in Rome. But Perilli, Roscioli, Nerone, and Danilo are all good bets.
If you‘re not going to Rome, here’s how to make tagliatelle or spaghetti carbonara at home:
· Boil 6 quarts of salted water and cook 1 pound of pasta until al dente
· In the meantime, sauté 4 ounces of diced guanciale and two cloves of crushed garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil
· Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of pasta water
· Remove the garlic from the pan and add the pasta with about ¼ cup of water
· Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1-1/4 cups of grated cheese and four eggs
· Toss well to make sure every strand of pasta is coated with the sauce
· Top with copious amount of freshly ground black pepper
· Serve with extra grated cheese