“But what is and what should never be…”

by Katie Pizzuto on May 3, 2010

in Cooking,Italian Food,Restaurants,Uncategorized

To say that I have a penchant for being opinionated is no doubt to understate the obvious. Whether it’s the only proper way to make a martini, the correct way to define “barbecue,” or the ingredients that do and don’t belong in a caprese salad, some things are just black and white in my culinary world. That’s not to say that you can’t play with a recipe and tweak it until it soaks your shorts instead of mine, but at that point it needs to be defined as something other than what it originally was. At no time, for instance, should ribs be parboiled or pre-roasted in an oven before being thrown on a grill. If you don’t have the time and patience to cook them low and slow, then put a hamburger on instead and call it a day. Nor does anything poured into a martini glass earn the right to be called a martini. If it doesn’t contain gin, dry vermouth, and an olive it is in no way, shape or form a martini. I don’t consider these general rules—I consider them law.

This country has, unfortunately, grown up with a severely bastardized version of what is an extremely simple, hearty, soul-satisfying peasant dish—a dish that each ethnicity has some version of—bacon and eggs. I’ve eaten in countless restaurants from coast to coast, that list on their menu what they claim to be “spaghetti carbonara,” but what they serve bears no resemblance whatsoever to its namesake. In fact, what diners usually get is pasta covered in a thick cream sauce that chokes out the life of what carbonara is with its sloppy stranglehold. Few restaurants get it right (Batali’s Otto is one of them), and by default few home cooks get it right because they mimic what the restaurants do. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of recipes available online, but many of them include cream, including Giada De Laurentiis’, the supposed resident Italian food expert on Food Network.

What carbonara is, is pasta tossed with eggs, fried bits of guanciale (or pancetta in its absence), cheese, white wine, a little pasta water and proper seasoning. And regardless of what anyone tells you, what carbonara isn’t, is a cream-based sauce. Carbonara never…ever…ever contains a single drop of cream. If done right, there is no need for any heretic cream in order to create that magical, luxurious, silky sauce. That’s left to the alchemy of the ingredients I mentioned before. For those of you that have an issue with eating a dish that contains raw egg, I suggest you order an Alfredo instead, and get that cream monkey off your back with that fix—just don’t fuck with the carbonara, OK? No eggs, no carbonara. All of this is not to say that adding a little cream into your dish is illegal—no kitchen police are gonna come and slap cuffs on you (unless you like that sort of thing). It’s just no longer a carbonara.

The true queen of Italian cooking, despite Giada’s impressive boobage, is Marcella Hazan, and it’s her recipe that I posted for you. Her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking has a permanent home on my kitchen shelf, and its pages are littered with sauce stains if that’s any indication of how essential it truly is. The only way in which I sometimes veer from this recipe is to separate the eggs, reserve the yolks, and then put one atop each serving of pasta for the diner to break open, so it can ooze down the mound of pasta like a glorious overflowing volcano of culinary perfection. I thank Batali for that idea and take no credit for it whatsoever, no matter how many oohs and aahs I get at the dinner table—though I’ll admit it’s tempting.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jim May 3, 2010

Amen, Katie! Carbonara done right is wonderful, and carbonara done with cream isn’t carbonara.

And bacon is good however you can get it.


2 Katie Pizzuto May 4, 2010

And so intrinsically satisfying, right Jim? Talk about comfort food. Yet I never order it out because I know I’ll be disappointed by what’s brought out to me.


3 Laura May 4, 2010

Brava! What a beautiful post and I love your dedication to the authenticity of the classic Italian recipe!


4 Heather May 4, 2010

No cream no care.


I am all for adding personal touches to the basic peasant dishes, but somethings just don’t belong. However, for some reason that escapes me – every “resident expert” on tv seems to think that in order to sell the foods of comfort, we must add fat and cream. The point of these dishes was simple, basic and based on the poor mans thinking of what we have on hand that if we don’t use is going to spoil.

I blame today’s excesses.

And I sound like my friggin grandpa…


5 Tuscan Foodie in America May 4, 2010

Giada’s cooking is authentic Italian as mine is authentic Mexican. I.e. not so much.



6 Coupe 60 May 4, 2010

Have to admit that I did not know who Marcella Hazan was…So I had to google her. (She is apparently the Franz Klammer of Italian cooking. I ran into a great article on her:



7 Katie Pizzuto May 5, 2010

What kind of Italian are you, Lou?! LOL. Seriously, though, her book is a must-have. You should definitely get it next time you’re in a bookstore. Her bolognese is WITHOUT QUESTION completely kick-ass.


8 JN May 5, 2010

Amen on every front.

1. Martini = Gin+Vermouth
2. Shoot everyone that boils ribs before smoking
3. Impressive boobage
4. Leave peasant food peasant.



9 Coupe 60 May 5, 2010

Katie, I am what is known as a Male Italian…as far as cooking goes, I sit on the couch watching sports until dinner is served, then I open another bottle of Red wine and stuff my face…


10 Katie Pizzuto May 5, 2010

Yes, but do you do it in shorts, with black dress socks on? THAT’s a real Male Italian. LMAO.


11 Don May 6, 2010

I Hate Cream Sauces! I think that so much of how recipes are changed over time (Particularly in this country) has to do with the American Palate. People like cream sauces and bacon, so call it something fancy like Carbonara and they’ll eat it up…literally. I get so pissed off now when I go to a restaurant and they have maranara on the menu and bring out a cream infused maranara that tastes like shit. I agree whole heartedly Katie, there just should be some standards out there!


12 KAHUNA May 28, 2010

Agree no cream in the Carbonara but there is NO CREAM IN ALFREDO SAUCE EITHER! Sorry to yell that out but that gets my panties up in arms also-I get lots of flack on that subject original recipe just butter and cheese

When I did some research into Carbonara sauce I like your picture had this fantasy of a pure egg yolk beinf served upon the pasta and I have served it many times that way also- yet I could find no mention of this from any Italian sources- I checked with my Mom and a few relatives still living in Italy – none served it that way- I still will as I feel it is a beautiful presentation-


13 Katie Pizzuto May 28, 2010

Even though Alfredo is known as the “butter and cheese” sauce, I tend to believe whatever Marcella Hazan sets forth, and her recipe has always included cream, so my gut is that even though it began as such, the northern Italians probably started adding a spit of cream at some point. But don’t feel bad, I’ve actually heard from an Italian-American that she uses EVAPORATED MILK in her Carbonara because that’s how her Neopolitan grandmother did it! So sometimes, even the Italians don’t do it the “classical” way 🙂

And you’re right, not many present a Carbonara with the yolk set on top because tradition is that it be combined to emulsify the sauce. As I mentioned, I got the idea from Batali. FYI, I once saw an Iron Chef America competition where Michael Symon put quail egg yolks in the center of a ravioli with a little rendered pancetta and cheese, thus creating a reverse carbonara, with the goop INSIDE the pasta….GENIUS!


14 marcella-not-hazan May 29, 2010

hi Katie!
thanks for your efforts on respecting standards, especially on Italian classics in America. However, I must say that Hazan’s recipe is quite different from the carbonara that gets prepared so many times every day in Italy’s home kitchens – garlic and parsley are generally a no-no and pancetta is actually smoked pancetta, that is bacon (guanciale is absolutely mandatory for Amatriciana sauce). Also the white wine is a fanciful addition, which I can understand if using regular pancetta, but quite out of place, taste-wise, with bacon.

Anyway, carbonara is NOT an easy recipe to do, as too many times I have seen (and made) carbonaras that were either too liquid or resembling more of a bunch of scrambled eggs clunching to pasta – ewww. I’ve finally did it right, and found a way to do it every single time, by emulsifying and partially cooking the eggs with some spoonfuls of water, in a double-boiler, sabayon-style. You get a perfectly stable creamy sauce that will cling to your pasta just so. If you read some Italian, it’s all written down in my blog here:


btw, in Italy we frequently swap bacon for some veggies, mostly zucchini and asparagus, for a more Spring-like carbonara (and no one dreamt about changing its name 😉


15 Katie Pizzuto June 1, 2010

First of all, I LOVE your “name”! And while I’m certainly aware that Hazan’s recipe may not be the way many Italians make it at home every day, as I mentioned to Kahuna above (with the woman who adds evaporated milk to her carbonara) we will never be able to get an “exact” recipe from Italians because even Italians themselves disagree, and use whatever they were taught to use. My point more than anything else, was to get people to stay the hell away from cream, as it has no business being in a carbonara.

I will, however, disagree with the guanciale, as every book or piece I’ve ever read on the origins of carbonara insists that guanciale was the intended “pork product.” That has definitely evolved to pancetta (especially in the US) simply because it’s more widely available.


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