According to food lore, Spaghetti Carbonara is a relatively new addition to Italian cooking.. In fact, one of the theories is that Spaghetti Carbonara came about due to food shortages during World War II. Another theory is that coal miners may have invented the dish. (I’m not buying that theory.) Or… that the black specs of freshly ground black pepper – and you should add a good amount of pepper – resemble coal dust lying atop a bed of spaghetti mixed with eggs and cheese. Actually, who cares where or why the recipe originated? We love it because it’s easy to make and delicious!
Like spaghetti and meatballs, there’s an unlimited number of ways to prepare Spaghetti Carbonara. While living in Malta I found a recipe very much like the ‘Popeye’s Spaghetti Carbonara’ served at our favorite restaurant, to which I added peas simply because that’s how it was served. WHAT??… you’re probably thinking. Yup – peas. And now I have to tell you how the making of the movie Popeye in the small island country of Malta led to a chef naming his version of Spaghetti Carbonara “Popeye’s.
If you’re not familiar with the character called Popeye, you may not know he always eats a can of spinach (yuck..) to give him strength. It seems the chef preferred adding peas, as opposed to Popeye’s spinach, to the Spaghetti Carbonara dish named Popeye’s, and I think he made the right call. Enjoy!!
INGREDIENTS Serves 4 – 5, depending upon your appetite ; o )
- ¾ cup cut-up bacon or pancetta (about 4 ounces) ++ Use kitchen shears!
- ¾ package spaghetti (12 ounces) ++ I used ‘rigati’ – it has ridges to hold the sauce.
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 1/3 cup finely chopped onion ++ Optional
- 2 whole eggs – and – 2 egg YOLKS ++ Take eggs out early – OR – place eggs in a bowl with very warm water.
- 2/3 cup grated good-quality Parmesan cheese ++ Or Romano …….. Or a combination of both.
- ½ tsp. salt
- lots of freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup WARMED heavy (whipping) cream ++ Optional – but I recommend using it!!
- 1/3 cup frozen peas ++ Optional
++ Reserve some of the pasta water.
Eggs should be room temperature, so either take them out earlier – or place them in small bowl with very hot water.
Following the directions on the box, cook 12 ounces (3/4 of a 16 oz. package) al dente, which means the pasta shouldn’t be too soft. Add 2 tsp. salt to the cooking water.
While waiting for the water to boil and the pasta to cook, cut up the bacon (or pancetta). If using bacon, cook in a skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. If using pancetta , it should be lightly brown but not crisp. Place cooked bacon or pancetta on a paper towel lined plate. Drain skillet of bacon grease and wipe skillet with paper towel.
Add 1 Tbs. olive oil to skillet. Cook 1/3 cup chopped onion over medium heat until cooked through and just beginning to brown. Put onions on the plate with the bacon.
Now it’s time to make the sauce. In a medium bowl whisk together 2 whole eggs – and 2 egg YOLKS, 2/3 cup grated good-quality Parmesan cheese, ½ tsp. salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. ++ If you chose to include the 1/2 cup WARMED heavy (whipping) cream, whisk that in now. Set bowl aside.
Microwave 1/3 cup peas with a small amount of water (about 3 Tbs.) and cook for 3 minutes.
When spaghetti is ready, drain it – reserving some of the pasta water. Place drained spaghetti back in the pot. Replace pot on turned off burner. Add onions, bacon and peas. Pour on the egg & cheese mixture and stir to combine.
Think the sauce is too thick? Add a bit of the reserved pasta water.
After you’ve plated your spaghetti, remember to add a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper! And there you go – dinner is served!
As you can see below, the sauce should be creamy and stick to the pasta. Unlike Spaghetti Alfredo, the pasta will not be swimming in sauce.
25 thoughts on “Spaghetti Carbonara à la St. Julians Bay (Malta)”
Believe me… even when I proofread… there’s still mistakes.
How to cool to think your mom handed down the tale of the the coal miners and the coal dust covering their dish. I gave that idea a bit of thought after reading about it online, and decided that coal miners were, most likely, not cooking ANYTHING down there in those coal mines. That being said, I do recommend lots and lots of pepper in this dish.
I have heard of ‘hay and straw pasta’ but not very often. Tell me, do you have a recipe for that?
I tell you, Carbonara is pretty easy to make but it can be a bit tricky to get the egg cooked properly so that wonderful, eggy flavor comes through. I hope my directions give people all they need to know to make this delicious – and simple – dish!! Sending you a big cyber hug my friend!! ; o )
Sorry, Cecile, I didn’t realize you’d written another note. As for the coal miners, as I recall — and the tale was told to me 40+ years ago — they weren’t eating in the mines and the dust fell from their clothing. As for the eggs in the carbonara, I temper them a bit with pasta water before adding them to the pasta. Works like a charm every time. As for the straw and hay pasta, “paglia e fieno”, here’s the link:
Mangia bene e tanti baci! 😀
Hi Buddy – my thinking was far too ‘concrete’ when it came to the coal miners it seems! I was picturing them pigging out in the coal mine… duh!!
I have heard about tempering the eggs with a bit of the pasta water… is that what you do? When making rice pudding, I used to do a similar thing when adding two eggs at the end to make the rice pudding more creamy. Quite a while ago I found a recipe for rice pudding cooked on the stove and I used to make it for my boys. You know – I’ve gotta remember to post that recipe someday!
Thanks so much for the link… I’m wondering if I have already seen it ’cause the name (in English) sounds familiar. I hope you’re enjoying spring!! ; o )
Yes, that’s how I temper them. Long ago, I, too, had a rice pudding recipe but it’s long gone. Oh, I am enjoying spring — or will be. My nephew and I will be heading to San Marino in a few days. “See” you when I get back! 😀
That’s right – San Marino!!!! Please take lots of photos and share both those – and your wonderful stories – when you return. Have a fabulous time John!! ; o )
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Mom told me the story of the miners and carbonara, Cecile. The pepper mimics the coal dust that fell to the plate while they ate their lunch. No matter the nam, I love this dish. We never used peas in ours but love putting peas in pasta. Our your familiar with paglia e fieno (straw and hay) pasta)? It’s a traditional Easter dish in my family and is much like this dish of yours, only the pasta is both yellow and green, hence the name. Again, colors be damned! It’s one good pasta, as I’m sure this dish is, too!!!
Hope you’re doing well my friend.
Ugh! I need to proof read … it’s “Are you familiar …”
Also – did your mother only use egg yolks in her Carbonara. A follower on Reddit said that’s how they make it in Rome…. interesting how many variations there are of this… and so many other… Italian dishes!!
You are right…who cares about where a recipe originated. What I do know is that your pasta looks and sounds delicious.
Thanks my friend!
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St. Julian’s Bay, Malta, is a gorgeous place! You are fortunate to have lived there for so many years.
Maybe some day I will have the opportunity to pay a visit there.
Hi Joanne – I agree – we were so very lucky to have lived there. Talk about a totally different experience than living in Quebec, Canada and different cities in the northeast of the U.S. !!
What a beautiful village. I just wish I could go and live there. The Carbonara is tantalizing! It’s lunch time right now, and I just wish I could dig in with my fork…if wishes were horses…
The photo shows how the fabulous color of the Med. Sea which surrounds Malta. And the Med. is the cleanest there ’cause Malta’s in the middle. But being in the middle made many, many cultures want to ‘own’ Malta, sad to say.
Wouldn’t it be fun to live in that village? How cool would it be if you could rent one of those little houses!!
Isn’t lunch time the absolute worst time to be looking at food posts!!!??? I’ve had times I’ve wanted to just lick the computer screen!! ; o )
Cecile, your spaghetti carbonara really looks delicious and the Popeye village is so pretty 😊
Hi Marisa! Doesn’t the Popeye village in the photo look like a miniature village? I went to see it once with a young Kuwaiti friend (a guy) friend of my husband’s. We both felt bad to see such a wonderful bay turned into a freakin’ Popeye Village….. ; o (
As you can see in the photo, the water surrounding Malta is the most beautiful color!! I’m gonna have to get back there again. I haven’t been in about seven years and I miss it. And I miss my friends there too, of course!
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It is so picturistic and looks really serene, I can imagine spending some quiet time there and enjoying the pretty views! 😊
We loved going there. And – get this we could walk there from our ‘flat’!! ; o )
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That must have a been a truly wonderful vacation!
I forgot – you wouldn’t have known that we lived for eight years. It was an amazing experience. My husband was pres. of an international merchant bank there.
mmm I’ll have a bowl, please! 🙂
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Hi ‘A’ – I, too, love fresh spinach. It’s too bad that, during my childhood, fresh spinach was cooked to death until it was a mushy mess which tasted terrible.
I love to stir fry fresh spinach in a bit of olive oil and add some pine nuts – soooo yummy! I also really enjoy spinach in sandwiches and salads.
So you’re NOT a weirdo – LOL !!! ; o )
We used to put vinegar on spinach. It was good! I’m diffently going to try and make this one Cecile thanks.
Hi Alan – aren’t you sweet to have taken the time to comment. None of my friends or family usually do…..
I have to ask you – when you put vinegar on spinach, was it canned spinach or overcooked spinach like we ate ‘back in the day’?
I think you’d like this dish Alan. It makes a lot, so you might want to prepare half of it. But then again, leftovers are great!! ; o )
I’ve always enjoyed this dish and peas sound like a great addition … even though I’m one of those wierdoes who like spinach in many ways.