A classic Roman dish celebrated in “the world’s greatest social spaghetti”.
Carbonara, a signature dish of Roman cuisine, is celebrated in Italy and around the world with the annual #CarbonaraDay on Tuesday 6 April.
Like last year, the 2021 edition will take place mainly on social networks, due to covid-19, in a virtual marathon dedicated to the much-loved Roman dish with five essential ingredients: pasta, guanciale, pecorino, eggs, pepper.
CarbonaraDay, organized by the Italian Food Union and the International Pasta Organization, features a series of online culinary events throughout the day, with the opportunity to follow carbonara recipes from top chefs right from your own kitchen.
Over the past five years, this annual celebration has become the world’s largest online “social spaghetti”, with more than 1.4 million Instagram posts containing the hashtag #Carbonara.
The 2021 event can be followed via #CarbonaraDay with live video recipes and master classes brought to you by “master carbonara”.
Fans can participate actively from their home, share their opinions, photos and tips on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
This year, the pasta giant, Barilla, has been released Carebonara, a short film that examines the origins of classic dishes, reports the expert restaurant guide Red chicory.
But where did the classic dishes that can be found in Italian restaurants all over the world come from? The answer is somewhat vague.
For some, the name denotes a connection to coal workers, or carbonari, from the Lazio and Abruzzo regions, with black pepper used to flavor dishes thought to resemble coal dust.
This suggests that carbonara was first made in the mid-19th century.
Yet another theory suggests that the dish arrived in Rome during the second world war when American troops brought rations of bacon and eggs to the Italian capital.
Some of Rome’s best “carbonara restaurants” include Flavio al Velavevodetto in Testaccio, Armando al Pantheon in the historic center, Da Enzo al 29 in Trastevere, and Da Danilo in the Esquilino area.
Francine Segan is a renowned food historian and writer who loved Italian food, people and traditions.
Forbes.com spoke with Francine to find out more about her job and how she started an exciting career that seamlessly blends food, travel and history.
How did you end up doing what you did? In fact, what is a food historian?
Francine Segan: It all started with the simple question, “What will Shakespeare eat for dinner?” asked by my good friend, Mark Linn Baker, an actor who has done a lot of Shakespeare, including As you like it with Gwyneth Paltrow. I’m intrigued by the question, researching cookbooks from Bard’s Day, and throwing a dinner party for friends.
Everyone really late at night. We ate by candlelight, using only spoons and knives (they don’t have forks in Elizabethan English), and word spread. I was approached by an editor at Random House who thought a dinner party would translate nicely into a cookbook.
There may be a technical definition from a food historian, but for me, someone who’s willing to spend days in a dusty library tracking down recipes written hundreds of years ago. College and graduate programs offer training. But I was awarded the title by my publisher after publishing my third book on food in the past.
How is food history related to travel and culture?
FS: The story behind regional dishes or unique ingredients adds to the richness of the trip. This will not only make you appreciate what you eat but also the culture you want to explore. Ask the locals to tell you about the history behind their childhood favorite dish and you will get not only amazing stories but new friends as well.
How were you first introduced to Italian food?
FS: During the years I wrote my first four cookbooks, my family and I spent much of the time in Italy, often months. Our Italian friends know that I am a food writer, so they happily introduce me to lesser-known dishes, rare ingredients, and strange characters that make for a unique product.
I started gathering so much information that I began teaching and writing almost exclusively about Italian food and culture. Now Italian food culture accounts for nearly 100% of my food writing and about 75% of my lecture topics.
What is it about Italian food that captivates you?
FS: Italy is made up of 20 different regions, each like a different country; each region consists of several provinces. Often, food from one province is not found elsewhere in the region.
This extraordinary area, the lack of mass-produced food, and chain restaurants are the reasons why I visit Italy time and time again. I always come across the unexpected.
Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy is a prime example of this phenomenon. This region has more DOP and IGP diets than any other region in the entire European Union – a very local food, highly dependent on the right microclimate in a small area – so it is geographically protected.
The region has 44 unique foods, each with a fun and enchanting history: famous foods such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, but also special cherries, mushrooms and more.
What was the most exciting experience in your career?
FS: Thinking of your question makes me want to pinch myself. I remember many wonderful experiences since my first book was published. Initially, well-known foodies like Rachael Ray, Mario Batali, and Martha Stewart kindly reached out to me as a newcomer to the industry and offered all kinds of courtesies (invited me to lunch, introduced me to food writers, invited me to programs…) . The people in the restaurant and the food world are some of the nicest people I have ever met. They take hospitality seriously.
I also had a great experience in Italy, including the opportunity to speak to an international audience during the Milan Expo, where I talked about the importance of pasta as an international and sustainable food. I have been fortunate enough to be asked to be a judge in various Italian food competitions such as the Barilla World Pasta Competition in Parma and the International Pesto Competition in Liguria.
What resources are there to help travelers and home cooks appreciate the history of food?
FS: Food walks and cooking classes are available at most travel destinations. As a result of the pandemic, many of these experiences are now available virtually as well. When you book a culinary experience, explain that you are a foodie, and ask a guide who is knowledgeable about the history of regional dishes. As the journey continues, that kind of local expert will be able to direct you to remote restaurants, authentic local markets and more.
What role do you think the pandemic will play in food culture / traditions when we look back 10 or 20 years from now?
FS: There has been a huge improvement in home cooking during the lock-up. I really hope that trend continues after the pandemic. I hope people will remember the pleasure they got from creating something delicious, with their own hands, in their own home. I hope they’ll remember the fun of planning meals, the calming effects of chopping and stirring, the convenience of sharing a meal with pod mates.
Note: This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
About Francine Segan:
Francine Segan is the author of six books with a James Beard nomination, incl The Philosopher’s Kitchen: Food of Ancient Greece and Rome; Shakespeare’s Kitchen and Dolci: Sweet Italians. He has written hundreds of articles for magazines and newspapers, most of them focused on Italian cuisine and culture. He also teaches across the US and is a frequent guest speaker at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, the Smithsonian Museum in DC, AARP, the Virginia Fine Arts Museum, and NYC’s major cultural center, 92nd St Y.
Meet Francine, virtually:
Francine Segan will provide a series of food history talks for AARP. All talks are free but advance registration is required (AARP membership is not required).
In the last episode Stanley Tucci: Traveling through Italy, Tucci looking for food that defines culinary delights in Sicily, Italy. Being the largest island in the Mediterranean at the southernmost point of Italy, Sicily does not disappoint when it comes to offering unique food and different wines.
Sicilian cuisine hinges on three things: the fertile volcanic soil of the landmark Mount Etna, the surrounding bodies sea water and the influence of the many cultures that have conquered the region over time.
Although pasta is popular all over Italy, Sicily is what makes it eggplant at Pasta alla Norma classic; one of the most famous areas vegetarian pasta plate. Originating from the city of Catania, it is rumored that the dish’s name comes from the opera ‘Norma’ which Vincenzo Bellini was very fond of. Alla Norma pasta is usually served with a short, hollow paste, which allows the silk sauce, filled with eggplant, to adhere beautifully.
How to Make Pasta alla Norma
Although every family across Italy has their version of this classic Sicilian dish, the basic ingredients are the same: Sicily always popular eggplant, fresh basil and salted ricotta salata.
The debate over whose recipe is better started: how to chop and cook eggplants, to whether adding crushed chilies is appropriate (I said yes). In this version the eggplant is diced and sautéed with onions to bring out the delicate flavors of the two.
After being doused with fresh sauce and basil, the dish ends with shavings of ricotta salata… a type of hard, dry ricotta cheese.
Local Sicilian love red wine Corvo Nero D’Avola and Irmana Frappato offers authentic flavors that go well with most seafood and pasta dish found in this region. If you are looking for a cocktail that is a true Italian taste, I would recommend the cocktail featuring Galliano, sweet herbal liquor.
Sicily is increasingly becoming one of the most popular culinary destinations in Italy and rightly so. Traditional Sicilian food is familiar and entertaining to most and loved by everyone. Serve this Pasta alla Norma right away and your family will surely thank you!
2 tbsp plus additional coarse salt for cooking pasta
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup chopped shallots
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 14½-oz whole can of tomatoes, crushed by hand
1 lb Some kind of spaghetti
1 cup fresh shredded basil leaves
shaved ricotta salata
Place the eggplant cubes in a colander and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of kosher salt. Let the eggplant dry for 15 minutes. Pat dry, removing excess salt.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; Saute until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add peperoncini and tomatoes with juice; cook until the tomatoes begin to soften, about 15 minutes. Remove the tomato sauce from the heat.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in another large skillet over high heat. Work in 3 batches and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil for each batch, cook the eggplant until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant to the ketchup in a skillet.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking water for pasta. Add boiled water to sauce; bring to a boil. Add the pasta and basil to the sauce and stir to coat.
Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the pasta to a bowl; Top with ricotta salata and serve.
US newspapers suggest adding tomatoes to carbonara.
A recipe inviting people to add cherry tomatoes to carbonara has generated protests, especially among Italians, after being published on ThatNew York Time.
The newspaper’s cooking contributor, Kay Chun, suggested that the tomatoes would “give a bright aroma” to the classic dish, a staple of Italian cuisine.
The reactions on social media were instant and severe. From outright humiliation and horror to suggestions that it was an effort Sangatriciana instead of carbonara, ThatNew York Time create a stir on Twitter.
“You have just landed on mars … but you cannot understand such a simple recipe,” wrote one Italian, another said: “This is the worst thing that has happened in Italy since Super Mario tennis.”
International Pizza Day falls on February 9th. But with international travel restrictions still in place, Americans can’t celebrate with an off-season food tour in Italy. However, I spoke with someone who knows almost anything there is to know about Italian pizzerias to get ideas on how to virtually explore. Steve Perillo is the president and owner of Perillo Tours, Italy’s leading American tour operator. Perillo shares his favorite pizza which is worth exploring virtually to not only get inspiration for future trips to Italy, but also for some spicy flavors on International Pizza Day.
Perillo’s top recommendation is Starita in Naples. Featured in the film “The Gold of Naples” starring Sophia Loren, this pizzeria is part of local history. “While waiting for the pizza, order a few appetizers – there are lots of great options to choose from.” He says. His favorite pizza is Tartufo e Formaggio, which is truffles and cheese.
Pizzeria Brandi, Naples
It’s no surprise that several Napoli pizzerias are on Perillo’s list because it is literally the birthplace of Italian pizza as we know it. Pizzeria Brandi distinguishes itself because this is where the classic Neapolitan pizza – Margherita – is found. Maria Giovanna Brandi and her husband Raffaele Esposito were invited to serve pizzas for Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy and it seems that the Queen prefers pizza featuring tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil. So of course, this is a must try to this day at Pizzeria Brandi.
Also located in the historic center of Naples, Sorbillo popular with locals, so please wait – but Perillo claims it’s well worth it. “Margherita is a must try here too!” he says.
La Boccaccia, Rome
Heading north to Rome, Perillo recommends Boccaccia. Rome is famous for its pizza al taglio, which is pizza served in square slices, and La Boccaccia is Perillo’s favorite serving this variation. “This is one of my favorite pizza places in Rome. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I love the ‘Patate a fette’ which is a white pizza with potato wedges and rosemary. ” He says.
Pinsa ‘Mpo, Rome
Another Roman pizza restaurant that is worth trying is Pinsa ‘Mpo. Only about half a mile from the Vatican, this pizzeria offers limited seating, so be prepared to stand up while you eat. Perillo recommends visiting so you can try ‘Pinsa.’ Pinsa is a traditional Roman pizza where the crust is light and airy and they even have a Carbonara flavor.
Piccolo Buco, Rome
Perillo recommends making at least one more stop in Rome on this dream pizza tour. Small hole it’s a short walk from the Trevi Fountain and she recommends “Pizza Napoli”, which is made with ketchup, fior cheese in latte and anchovies.
Pizza Man De Amicis, Florence
Our virtual tour continues north to Florence. Pizza Man De Amicis is a take-out place that offers simple, well-presented pizzas and Perillo’s favorite is Porcini.
Perillo recommends Pizzagnolo after visiting the Basilica di Santa Croce. “Calzone al Lampredotto” is filled with mozzarella and lampredotto, which are traditional Florentine creations made with beef belly, making it a must for those who crave pizza but also want to try local cuisine.
Antico Forno, Venice
No tour of Italy is complete without a trip to Venice and Perillo’s pizza recommendation Ancient Ovens. Just a three-minute walk from the Rialto Bridge, Antico Forno serves light focaccia pizzas. Again, this local pizza variation is worth a try for those looking for a local flavor. Perillo prefers “capricciosa, which has a tomato slice, fior di latte mozzarella, prosciutto, mushrooms, and artichokes.”
Toto and Peppino, Bologna
Last but not least, Toto and Peppino in Bologna recommended because of their many choices. “My favorite pizza here is ‘Verace’ made with San Marzano Tomatoes, Buffalo mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and basil.” Perillo said.