y request to the United States comes in the form of two words: Invade us. At least that’s what I tell my wife when Italy struggles through the worst of times.
The World Cup was one of those times. While people focused on the Italian national team (not for long, it turns out), Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was busy trying to rationalize an anti-wiretapping law that would have muzzled the country’s journalists. Newspapers would have been fined for publishing the contents of legally ordered wiretaps. The public’s need to know would have been undermined in the name of “privacy.” Thankfully, that bill was watered down.
Then there’s Umberto Bossi, who used June and July to harp on his divisive political agenda. Bossi uses federalism as a pretext to conceal a strategy that depends on immigrant-bashing and cutting the country in two. Basically, it’s a policy of intolerance that would take the country back 200 years, to the Reign of the Two Sicilies, when Spain and France ran much of the south. Meanwhile, xenophobic incidents and homophobic attacks are on the rise throughout the country.
What makes this especially comical (and painful) is that Italians have formed the backbone of immigration since the country’s 19th century creation. They went to Argentina, to Australia, to West Germany. Italo-Americans form a centerpiece of U.S. culture.
Why this screed? My wife just had a baby, our first, and the Italian political climate is making me increasingly uneasy.
In the spirit of encouraging an American invasion, I’ve decided to begin turning over state’s evidence in the form of my grandfather’s secret and jealously guarded carbonara recipe, hoping Americans will take it as a sign of good will.
The dish, which has Roman roots, is probably a product of World War II, when Italians and Allied troops whipped up dishes on the fly. There’s no documented reference to the carbonara until 1944, the year that American and British troops liberated Rome.
“In those days we really didn’t have much to eat,” my grandmother told me. “It was a major occasion when your grandfather was able to get a few extra eggs. He’d make a frittata or abbacchio brodettato [baby lamb in egg sauce] and boil the leftover eggs to keep them around longer. He used the hard-boiled eggs to make pasta alla gricia [with bacon and pecorino].”
Apparently he got the idea after having seen American GIs dining in his father’s osteria (called La Pergola and nicknamed “Der Cavallaro”). They’d break their eggs and stir them into the pasta alla gricia.
The first time I took my wife to my parents’ house, she put her salad on the same plate as the spaghetti with meat sauce, so I know anything’s possible. Including an invasion.
La Carbonara a stelle e strisce di nonno Cesare (Grandpa Cesare’s Stars and Stripes carbonara) (Serves 4)
- 150-300 g of guanciale (Italian bacon) or smoked bacon.
- 2 hard-boiled eggs.
- Extra virgin olive oil.
- 100 g of pecorino cheese.
- Whole kernels of black pepper.
- 1 spoonful of white vinegar and water (80 cl total).
- 400 g of spaghetti or rigatoni.
- Put the guanciale or cube-chopped bacon into a saucepan and simmer over a low flame, with a hefty drop of olive oil to dissipate the grease. When the bacon browns, add the white vinegar and water and continue cooking until the liquid dries slightly.
- On the side, put two hard-boiled egg yolks into a bowl and mash them lightly (mashed-potato style) with a fork. In the meantime, cook the pasta following the directions on the box.
- While the pasta cooks (spaghetti or rigatoni are perfect), put a little pasta cooking water into the egg mash and add pecorino cheese, mixing well until you get something with a creamy consistency.
- When the pasta is ready (al dente), drain and, while still steaming, put the pasta into the saucepan with the guanciale or bacon. Sauté the pasta. Add the egg-yolk based cream and mix. Before serving, take pepper corns and toast them for a minute or two in a small pan. Crush the pepper and add to each plate of pasta.
A medium, aromatic white, such as a Vermentino, goes well with this dish.