mercoledì 2 gennaio 2013

Formerly, my name was Carbonara.

(Per la versione italiana di questa ricetta, cliccate qua.)

Many people don't know that the famous recipe, Spaghetti alla Carbonara, came not from Rome but from Irpinia (an ancient region, whose borders corresponded approximately to those of the modern province of Avellino). 

Aquilonia, the easternmost town in Avellino, was not always called Aquilonia.  From the Lombard invasion in 591 AD until the Unification of Italy in 1861, it was called Carbonara.  Its name probably does not refer to the principal occupation of the town's inhabitants, the production of charcoal, but instead to the presence in that area of special rocks that contained petrolium and, like charcoal, burned with a bright flame.  Even today, such stones can be found in a neighborhood called Sassano. 

The town's name was changed to Aquilonia after the Unification of Italy in 1861, at the behest of the liberal administration of the time.  In 1860, in fact, the town of Carbonara saw a bloody uprising by the Pro-Bourbons against the Unification, culminating in the murder of nine people and the conquest of Carbonara by the legendary brigand (and, some say, brilliant military strategist), Carmine Crocco.  To erase the stain of this rebellious episode, the town requested and obtained permission to change its name.  Aquilonia had been the ancient name of the town when it was part of Samnium.  In 293 BC the Romans defeated the Samnites in the Battle of Aquilonia. The town was called Aquilonia until the Lombards conquered in 591 AD and changed its name to Carbonara.

Aquilonia was destroyed in an earthquake in 1930.  The new town was built close by, at a higher altitude.  The historic old town was abandoned after World War II.

Today, the coat-of-arms of Aquilonia contains the Latin phrase, Olim mihi fuit nomen Carbonara ("Formerly, my name was Carbonara").

The following recipe (slightly simplified and freely translated) comes from the marvelous webpage of Tenuta Montelaura (

Ingredients for 4 people:
1 lb. spaghettoni
1/2 lb. guanciale (or, if you can't find guanciale, pancetta)
1/2 lb. pecorino (NOT parmesan)
4 fresh* eggs, beaten (* = The recipe calls for eggs laid that same day!)
a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
salt to taste
coarsely-ground pepper to taste

Cook the spaghettoni in a pot of abundant salted water, with a little fine flour (farina 00) in the water.  While the pasta is cooking, in a nonstick frying pan, drizzle the oil and saute pieces of guanciale until crispy.  (Use guanciale instead of pancetta because it is more aromatic, and it becomes crispier, thanks to the higher content of fat and glands that one finds in this particular cut.) Add a few ladles' full of cooking liquid (which will add some thickness, due to the flour which you've previously added to the water).  Drain the pasta "roughly" (that is, don't try too hard to strain out every drop of water), and put the "roughly strained" pasta in the frying pan. Mix the guanciale, pasta, and liquid, and immediately shut off the heat.  After the heat has been shut off, add the eggs, which you do NOT cook; the eggs must remain RAW.  Stir in the pecorino and pepper, stirring energetically but not for more than 15 or 20 seconds.

Aquilonia, before the 1930 earthquake. Photo:

Aquilonia, Museo Etnografico. Photo:

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