Pasta alla carbonara (usually spaghetti, but also fettuccine, rigatoni or bucatini) is an Italian pasta dish based on eggs, pecorino romano, guanciale, and black pepper. The dish was created in the middle of the 20th century.
The recipes vary, though all agree that cheese (pecorino, Parmesan, or a combination), egg yolks (or whole eggs), cured fatty pork, and black pepper are basic. The pork is fried in fat (olive oil or lard); a mixture of eggs, cheese, and butter or olive oil is combined with the hot pasta, cooking the eggs; the pork is then added to the pasta. Guanciale is the most traditional meat, but pancetta is also used. In the US, it is often made with American bacon.
Cream is not common in Italian recipes, but is used in the United States, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Australia and Russia (especially in Moscow). Other Anglo/Franco variations on carbonara may include peas, broccoli or other vegetables added for colour. Yet another American version includes mushrooms. Many of these preparations have more sauce than the Italian versions.
In all versions of the recipe, the eggs are added to the sauce raw, and cook (coagulate) with the heat of the pasta itself.
Like most recipes, the origins of the dish are obscure, and there are many legends about it. As the name is derived from the Italian word for charcoal, some believe that the dish was first made as a hearty meal for Italian charcoal workers. This theory gave rise to the term "coal miner's spaghetti", which is used to refer to spaghetti alla carbonara in parts of the United States. Others say that it was originally made over charcoal grills, or that it was made with squid ink, giving it the color of carbon. Another rumour about the origin of the name suggests that the way abundant black pepper was added to the dish (before or after serving) especially during winter, made the black pepper flakes among the whiteish sauce look like charcoal, or perhaps the effect one gets when a casserole dish is accidentally "burnt". It has even been suggested that it was created by, or as a tribute to, the Carbonari ("charcoalmen"), a secret society prominent in the unification of Italy.
The dish is not present in Ada Boni's 1927 classic La Cucina Romana, and is unrecorded before the Second World War. It was first recorded after the war as a Roman dish, when many Italians were eating eggs and bacon supplied by troops from the United States, and the name may be from a Rome restaurant called 'Carbonara'. More recently, a restaurant in Rimini has claimed the original recipe was born during WWII.
The recipe was included in Elizabeth David's 1954 cookbook published in Great Britain. The dish became popular among American troops stationed in Italy; upon their return home, they popularized spaghetti alla carbonara in North America.