Do you know who made the first
Pasta alla Carbonara?


Food historians tend to famously disagree on the origin stories of many well-known dishes – but few recipes offer as many or as diversely colorful theories about the how, where and when a particular dish was first introduced as the now classic Pasta alla Carbonara. In this article, we share a few of the better known attempts to explain the origin story behind one of Italy’s most popular pasta dishes. Among all of this confusion, one thing is for sure – once you add Parmigiano Reggiano cheese to the recipe, your carbonara is certain to become one of your favorite feel-good meals.

The Italian word ‘carbonara’ loosely translates to “coal miner’s style”

The poor coal miners story.

One of the theories about the origin of this dish starts with the fact that the Italian word “carbonara” translates roughly to “coal miner’s style”. Some believe that the famous dish was first made by poor coal miners, or “carbonari” who made the dish with inexpensive ingredients that were easy to find and preserve, like eggs and cheese. The ingredients were gathered from local farms, kept without refrigeration, and the dish itself was prepared over a wood fire with one pot. The humble meal eventually made its way to Rome where local restaurants started to include it in their menu. According to this version of the story – this is why many people mistakenly believe it was a Roman dish.

The Carbonari was a secret society created to oppose tyranny

The secret dish of a secret society.

Another, lesser known version speculates that what became known as “Carbonara” was a dish made for a secret revolutionary society called the Carbonari (similar to the Free Masons), that started in Naples and was active in Italy from about 1800 to 1831. The Carbonari had to live in hiding to avoid being killed, and pasta, eggs and guanciale were ingredients they had readily available in virtually any farm, and – according to this story – this is how the “Pasta all Carbonara” was born.

After WW2, American soldiers discovered the delights of Italian cooking

An American soldier in Rome.

The story that seems to have captured the heart of many – both in Italy and in the US – has its beginnings in much more recent times. According to this version of the origina of Pasta alla Carbonara, when the U.S. Army arrived in Rome in 1944, American soldiers, weary of their military grub, started taking their daily rations of eggs and bacon to local restaurants where the cooks combined them with pasta and bacon to create a dish that would appeal to their American liberators, giving birth to what became known as Pasta alla Carbonara. A variant of this origin story suggests that the dish was first created for American soldiers at the Ristorante alla Carbonara, in the heart of Rome.

According to Chef Michele, Pasta alla Carbonara with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is hard to beat.

Chef Michele’s Three Step Pasta alla Carbonara
with Parmigiano Reggiano

If you want to get in an argument with an Italian, ask if Pasta alla Carbonara must be made with Pecorino Romano or with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. You will find that depending on who you ask, it is likely that you will get a different answer. But the reality is that there is not an absolute right or wrong way to cook it. Mostly it is about the tradition of a particular region, or the individual taste of the person making it. Our US Brand Ambassador, Chef Michele Casadei Massari, shared his perspective: “I prefer to make Pasta alla Carbonara with plenty of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese because it’s the most soluble hard cheese ever, hence an amazing fit for this recipe”. Below is a link to Chef Michele’s recipe – which is super easy to make and is guaranteed to transport you to Italy, whether you believe it was originally crafted by coal miners, revolutionaries or American soldiers looking for a good Italian meal.