A question not only asked by people living abroad but also by those living in Italy today, there is cream in carbonara sauce?
As an Italian, I know the answer and thought I could easily give it, but as I have been reading up on the debated topic of cream and carbonara, I now understand why the question is so tricky.
To answer in brief:
In today’s Italian cuisine the recipe for Carbonara calls for only guanciale (curated pork), egg yolks, lots of freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and lots of black pepper, no cream then. It must be said, that the doubt is legitimate since in the past cream was often added to carbonara for special needs that I will explain below.
I will now explain why there is this doubt about cream and why to this day it is still a reason for arguments and different opinions.
You have to know that in Italian cuisine, especially before the 1980s, cream was used by many to cook many dishes.
Most importantly, it was not seen as an insult to the dish, unlike how it is seen today.
Why did people start putting cream in carbonara sauce?
It was used a lot since it was believed to help the creaminess of pasta sauces, but why did people start adding cream to pasta carbonara?
It is supposed that after World War II, the eggs used for cooking were often powdered, that is, those in American rations. So a liquid and fatty counterpart were often needed to give a proper creaminess, and that’s where half and half cream comes in.
It is a fact that the use of cream in pasta carbonara is confirmed by esteemed and famous gastronomes, such as Veronelli in his 1971 book In Cucina con allegria.
Moreover, the success of cream in Italy, grew even during the post-war welfare years, perhaps precisely because the rule was to prefer fatty and protein condiments since one could afford to consume them.
Gualtiero Marchesi’s carbonara with cream.
The cream is also found in the carbonara of top chefs like Gualtiero Marchesi. In fact, in the 1989 series La Cucina Regionale Italiana, Gualtiero Marchesi offers his spaghetti carbonara using a considerable amount of cream. As much as 2.5 deciliters of fresh cream for 320 grams of pasta.
Why cream is no longer used today in carbonara?
Cream began to disappear from Italian dishes in the second half of the 1990s. A black period began for cream, in which it was criticized and discouraged in cooking, especially in pasta sauces.
In fact, as early as the 1950s, two methods of cooking spaghetti carbonara developed.
- The popular one, used local ingredients and eschewed unfamiliar products; in fact, it did not include cream.
- The bourgeois one that looked to France and still included the use of cream in carbonara to help the sauce.
This makes us understand that Carbonara was and is still today a fluid recipe, perfected over time according to the ingredients of our region, the Roman region.
So, the real Italian carbonara recipe as we know it today has moved away permanently from cream, as this ingredient is not typical of the Roman territory.
In the current recipe for carbonara, the cream is not allowed. Although until a few years ago in Italy it was not uncommon to find some restaurants that used cream to prepare spaghetti carbonara, so it is easy to find recipes online that include it in the sauce to increase the creaminess.
It is believed that cream in carbonara was added to the original recipe during World War II in Italy, when eggs were scarce and cream was used to help make the pasta sauce more creamy.
Although in the original recipe you should not use cream in pasta carbonara, some variations do. In these cases, the type of cream to put is half and half cream.
Yes, in the original carbonara recipe there are thin, crispy cubes of guanciale or cured pork. In the lack of guanciale you can make up for it with bacon, although this variation is not seen well in Italy.
True pasta carbonara is a very simple dish consisting of very few ingredients, garlic not being one of them. In Italian restaurants, it is often served without garlic, partly because many people do not digest it well.
The Italian recipe for pasta carbonara does not include any addition of parsley, basil, or other aromatic herbs. Other than roasted and ground black pepper, no other flavorings are added.
Yes, cheese is one of the few basic ingredients for a pasta carbonara sauce. In particular, grated Pecorino Romano cheese is used, an aged cheese that is excellent for this recipe. Not to be confused with Parmesan, which is not suitable for authentic pasta carbonara.