It's Italy Week! All week long, we're celebrating everything Italian and Italy-inspired: recipes, stories, and travel tips. Today we dive deep into a simple but controversial Roman dish.
The internet hates when we muck it up, adding garlic or onion, chicken or cream, or even the sweet little pea (which never meant to harm anyone, really).
This YouTube video shines light on how we in the States have repurposed the very classic, very simple Roman dish to fit our palates. But while they might not be authentic, these other takes are just as delicious: In fact, I relish in them because they represent how food evolves and takes on cultures, especially as it travels across oceans and continents. How could something as universal as porky, eggy pasta not?
But I wanted to get to the bottom of things, once and for all. I sat down with Italian chef Simone Falco (who hails from Naples, Italy), owner and executive chef of both Rossopomodoro and SIMÒ Pizza here in New York City. Here's what he had to say:
ERIC KIM: So, let's do this. Chef Falco, where did you learn to cook?
SIMONE FALCO: When I was growing up in Naples, Italy (not to be confused with the city in Florida), I learned to cook at a very young age. My mother and grandmother taught me how to make classic Neapolitan dishes at home. As I got older, especially in my teenage years, I spent a lot of time at my uncle’s pizzeria. I learned the ins and outs of how to operate a restaurant, but I also had the opportunity to expand my culinary curiosity and experiment.
EK: Have you seen this video? Do you agree with these Italian chefs?
SF: Yes, I have seen the video and I agree 100%. All of the other chefs try to overdo it—but carbonara, in my opinion, is a simple recipe that should only be done with five to six components, max. There’s really no need to add onions or garlic or additional ingredients.
EK: Are there many ways to cook carbonara, or just one, truly authentic way?
SF: Although carbonara is a universal dish, I personally always like to cook the authentic and classic version (as I think this is the best).
EK: Delicious. In your opinion, what is the most authentic, most classic way to make carbonara?
SF: Dry pasta, Pecorino Romano, guanciale (cured pork jowl or cheek), eggs (for four people you will use 4 egg yolks and 1 whole egg), salt, and pepper.
EK: (counts on fingers) That's six ingredients! Or four, if we're excluding the salt and pepper. I've always wondered, though: Should the pasta be spaghetti or bucatini, or another shape? Also, is there any pasta carbonara should never be?
SF: Rigatoni is my preferred shape, but spaghetti is definitely a great backup. Never use gnocchi.
EK: Ack! Yes, chef. Speaking of controversy, why do you think carbonara is so controversial to Italians? Why do the food netizens yell at people who fudge it up?
SF: It's controversial because it is a famous dish that can clearly be done a lot of different ways. Everybody across the country has their opinions on how it should be made. It makes you think—you really never hear anybody talking about how they make sea urchin spaghetti...
EK: Fair. Last question: Why don't you serve carbonara at your restaurant?
SF: I do not serve carbonara at my restaurant because it is a Roman dish and my restaurant is Neapolitan. However, Roman Italians and Neapolitan Italians have very similar cooking styles: We make our dishes simply with very few ingredients.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How do YOU like to make carbonara? Let us know in the comments below.