Ah the beauty of Carbonara – a dish that both my boyfriend Phillip and I felt would make for a great weeknight meal. This iconic recipe is all about timing. The spaghetti needs to be cooked just before “al dente”, so you can add it back to the pot without fear of overcooking – and the heat subtle enough so as not to curdle the eggs. While an incredibly patient Phil was fishing the spaghetti out of the pot, I was whisking the eggs and grabbing a small cup of the leftover pasta water. It can be a tough egg to crack, they might say (couldn’t resist). The result should be a silky sauce, laden with cheese and pepper, that covers the pasta and pulls from the pan and my mouth is watering while typing this out.
Carbonara is a Roman dish, with 6 very simple ingredients: pasta, Parmesan, egg, guanciale, salt and pepper. But we decided to add truffle, mostly because I had never bought fresh truffle and it was there and Phil was all for it. It was also a great learning opportunity…in that I should only buy fresh truffle if I want to eat it in multiple consecutive dishes. For this at least, it was the actual icing on the cake. Fun truffle fact! Harvesters once relied on pigs to discover these pricey fungi but (given the pigs’ voracious appetite for truffles) the responsibility shifted to man’s best friend, as all a dog desires is a loving pat and a delicious (non-truffle) treat.
The name Carbonara is an interesting one – it’s derived from carbonaro, which means “charcoal burner”. NOT what I expected, but there you have it. Why it was awarded such a name has several theories: it was once a hearty meal for miners, it found its fame in a Roman restaurant of the same name, or even that it served as tribute to the secret society “Carbonari” (personally my favorite theory, albeit the least likely). All this being said, what the dish had been called prior to the mid-1900s remains a mystery. Fortunately for us, the recipe itself is known far and wide – and is much tastier than a name. Click HERE for the recipe to this classic Italian dish.
For the musical pairing, an Italian piece was an obvious fit – and (to help narrow it down) my favorite element of the “carbonara” narrative is the mystery behind its name…which inspired my choice for the pairing: Puccini’s Nessun Dorma. This is one of the most famous arias ever – many know it, yet few know its meaning (sort of like Carbonara, eh?) So for those who have neither seen nor heard of the opera Turandot, a VERY quick summary – Princess Turandot has many suitors, yet will only marry the man who can accurately answer 3 riddles. None succeed until Prince Calaf wins her game…she begs her father to release her from this oath, yet he insists she marries the prince. So Calaf (being a good dude) gives her an “out”: if she can guess his true name, she can execute him; yet if she cannot, she must marry him (yes, this is a bizarre contract). She recruits the entire kingdom screaming “Let no one sleep!” (i.e Nessun Dorma) until his name is uncovered – the aria we know and love is when Calaf takes on the refrain and claims Victory (Vincero!) believing that none truly know his name. It ends on a somewhat happy note, they marry and she doesn’t murder her entire kingdom for lack of finding his name (yay). Random aside: I was today years old when I discovered the famous “B” held at the end (second to last note) is a sixteenth note – yet Pavarotti (along with most tenors) holds for nearly 5 whole seconds, but oh the panache! You can hear his performance in the clip below – a true legend.