Carbonara Day pays tribute to the Italian recipe from the Second World War

The famous Italian pasta dish ‘spaghetti alla carbonara’ is served during a press preview to promote International Carbonara Day in Rome. AFP

Italian foodies celebrating one of the country’s classic pasta dishes – carbonara – on April 6 had a simple message for foreigners: keep it simple and don’t betray tradition.

“The secret of a good carbonara. . . it’s more about what you don’t put in it than what you put in it,” said food journalist and carbonara expert Eleonora Cozzella.

She was speaking on the sidelines of the launch in Rome of “Carbonara Day”, an annual online marathon of carbonara-themed events organized by the Italian pasta makers association.

The classic carbonara, typical of Rome and the surrounding Lazio region, is made with eggs, pork cheek (guanciale), pecorino cheese and pepper. Italians get sensitive when more ingredients are added to the mix.

Earlier this year, a “Smoky Tomato Carbonara” recipe in The New York Times Cooking Supplement, which included tomatoes and replaced pork cheek and pecorino with bacon and Parmesan cheese, caused an uproar in Italy.

Coldiretti, a farmers’ lobby, called the US recipe a “disturbing counterfeit of the prestigious dish of popular Italian tradition”, and complained that carbonara was “one of the most disfigured Italian recipes”.

The dish actually owes its origin to the United States, as it was developed in Rome towards the end of World War II, when American soldiers brought bacon to poor and starving Italy.

A spokesman for the pasta makers association, Matteo de Angelis, said even some old Italian carbonara recipes – from the 1950s – included incongruous ingredients such as garlic and Gruyere.

Cozzella said she was “never outraged” by unorthodox carbonara variations. But she added, “Some versions can be seen as a tribute, and others more as an insult.”

“The important thing is never to cross the line that betrays the spirit of the dish. The issue is never tradition versus innovation, but tradition versus betrayal,” she concluded.