International Day of Italian Cuisines

Ingredients: the key to a successful, genuine carbonara

panceta

guaciale

05.-Pecorino-romano-2















04. Uovo

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.

07_Grana

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.

Curiosities

  • 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.