Fettuccine Carbonara with Asparagus

November 15, 1998

Fettuccine Carbonara with Asparagus as described by "Pasta Press - The Magazine for Pasta Lovers....with a healthy twist!" in their Autumn 1998 issue is a  Faux Pas well worth describing here.  Especially since the claim here is that this preparation  "...lowers the fat contact without sacrificing flavor". 

To quote: "Pasta alla Carbonara is a traditional Italian dish high is cholesterol-raising foods like Pancetta (Italian style bacon), eggs, cheese and cream. This lightened, but equally tasty version features lean Canadian Bacon in place of Pancetta, egg whites for most of the eggs, a reduced amount of cheese and a flavorful stock and moistened without using cream."  Even more indicative of the lack of commitment to authenticity is the fact that the author (chef) has no particular pasta in mind in spite of the name of the dish.  The first line of the Ingredient  list calls for..."3/4 of a pound of Fettuccine or a pasta of your choice" . Huh?

What's wrong with a low fat pasta dish?   Nothing as long as one realizes that the Roman (where this dish probably originated) versions contain NO garlic,shallots, wine, parsley or stock as does the Pasta Press version.  Why are we upset with this recipe?  Same reason as we have stated many times before on this site:  This is not Fettuccine or Pasta Carbonara, and should not be honored with that name.Spaghetti alla Carbonara is a dish which has its roots in Italy, and is made in a specific manner.  Lowering fat content , adding ingredients, and  completely changing the recipe does not result in a "modified' Carbonara.  It results in a new dish.  It may be good, but it's not Pasta Carbonara.  Besides what is wrong with an occasional helping of Pancetta, eggs and cream?  Comments in the last section of this Faux Pas make arguments to the effect that the answer is... nothing!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara became popular in the United States after the end of the Second World War.  Returning veterans who had been to Rome ate it there and loved the dish,  especially since it contained   ingredients American enjoyed - Bacon and Eggs.  The dish is probably quite a bit older than that however.  Carbonari were coal vendors in Italy, and   often used charcoal burners to fix a quick batch of this dish....one possible reason for the name.  The other possible origin of the name derives from the liberal amounts of black pepper sprinkled on the dish which look like coal or charcoal dust particles...carboni.  Whatever is true, this dish is easily prepared.   

We found recipes in 9 of our pasta cookbooks....actually we stopped looking after nine!  Two use cream in the dish and 7 do not.  The recipes below  are taken from Enrica and Vernon Jarratt's book , "The Complete Book of Pasta"  Dover Publications, 1969, English Translation , 1975.  ISBN # 0-48623561-0.  The Jarratts were owners and operators of a well known restaurant in Rome, Italy called George.  A recipe with cream and one without are given below.  Please note that when cream is used (Recipe No. 2) no butter is used.


Spaghetti alla Carbonara No. 1 (Serves 6)


Make the sauce while the spaghetti are cooking.

Put the oil and Pancetta (bacon), cut into cubes, in a pan big enough to eventually hold the cooked spaghetti. Fry the bacon gently until the fat is transparent. 

Drain the spaghetti when they are very much al dente, and add them to the pan with the oil and pancetta. (In another pan)  melt the butter until it becomes brown (a little short of becoming black butter) and mix it with the eggs, the grated Parmesan, salt to taste and lots of freshly ground black pepper.   This must be done immediately the spaghetti have been added to the pan.

Pour the mixture over the spaghetti, mix well for a moment or so, and send immediately to the table.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara No. 2 (Serves 6)



Make the sauce while the spaghetti are cooking.

Put the oil and strips of Pancetta (bacon),   into  a large pan and cook gently until the fat of the bacon is completely transparent. 

Remove and drain the spaghetti when they are very much al dente, and add them to the pan with the oil and pancetta.  Leave them here until they are completely cooked.

In the meantime beat up the eggs with the cream. Add a little salt and a great deal of pepper. At the last moment, pour the mixture over the spaghetti, mix rapidly, and transfer to a serving dish.  Send to table accompanied by Parmesan or Pecorino cheese.

NOTE: Purists use Pecorino for this dish.   If a sheep's cheese Pecorino is not available try to use a strong Parmesan.

Is The Artisan against watching fat and cholesterol content is the foods we eat?  No.  Like many we believe in moderation in all the food we eat and recommend.  Perusal of the recipes on The Artisan affords a mix of meat, poultry, fish and vegetable recipes.  To us, moderation does not mean that all meals must be low fat.  Nor does healthy eating mean developing a case of food anxiety over what we do eat.  If we have a good dish of Spaghetti alla Carbonara one evening, why not a vegetable pasta or a fish dish the next few?  Moderation means...in our opinion...balance.

With all of the (often strident) concerns for a "fat free" existence in the United States,  we at The Artisan often  wonder why our life expectancy ranks 17th out of  33 developed nations?  More "health foods" are sold now in the USA than ever before, and we live no longer than people in Japan, Iceland, Andorra, Hong Kong, Costa Rica, Spain, Greece, Canada or Italy to name a few.  Maybe the really healthy food is right in front of us: all of it.  Maybe exchanging margarine for small amounts of butter isn't so good for us after all.  Maybe the data and the methodology that led the conclusions  to banish eggs from many meals was not too well designed. 

We need not be afraid of food that simply tastes good because it is rich and indulgent.  We need to eat these foods in combination with less rich, less fatty foods and, we suppose,  foods that the 16 countries ahead of us eat. 

Maybe we live shorter lives because we die from worrying about what we eat. 

Last updated on: 08/20/01 12:10:32 AM