Friday, March 12, 2010

Beware the Ides of Wholemeal Carbonara

There’s no greater way to strike terror into a Roman’s heart than by declaring your intention to rustle him up a little something in the kitchen, without using a recipe. No menu in a restaurant means homemade delights but no recipe in the kitchen means red alert. As part of my transition from precise, reliable Briton to abstract Roman, I’m now embracing their ideology that anything official is in fact a suggestion; opening times, speed limits, road markings, invoices, terms of use, consumer rights, but apparently a recipe is holier than a scripture, carved into Dolomite marble. It is timeless, exempt from evolution and must be followed to the letter.  To a Roman, no recipe means it doesn’t exist and it never will.

 For one such as myself, whose cooking style is more suited to cauldron than saucepan, the idea of zero creativity in the kitchen is inconceivable but when I glimpsed the panic in my Roman victim’s eyes (nickname “Gastro-gnome”) as I announced my intention to experiment with Carbonara, I decided to search on-line for a  hasty compromise. Here I found Luigi, traditional Roman chef at Ristorante Giancarlone ,  a small restaurant not far from my apartment. I watched a video of him effortlessly conjuring up the mythical dish while warning kitchen clowns like myself, not to stray from the Carbonara recipe.(Watch How To Make a Real Carbonara with Luigi with English subtitles) His nettled tone communicates that he’s said it a thousand times and he's saying it again for the slow student at the back of the class.  The quantity of pasta is precise, the maturity of cheese is non-negotiable and don’t even think about separating the eggs! 

I watched and studied Luigi's performance, thinking his boss Giancarlone (Big John Charles)  would probably take a contract out on England’s most successful TV chef (Delia Smith) if he saw her recipe. I considered cycling round to see him for more tips, but in the end I rationalized: how difficult could it really be?  My final result had a certain fascination of its own: a type of scrambled egg and chopped bacon spaghetti dish which Gastro-gnome will forever refer to as my “Nuclear Carbonara” I have to admit, James Taylor and Jackson Browne would have scheduled another No Nukes rally in Battery Park had they seen it. A postmortem revealed Luigi hadn’t been precise enough about the type of spaghetti required. I had used wholemeal which had arrogantly disassociated itself from the sauce. The sauce had then taken on an unsavoury life of its own, having been snubbed by the pasta. Gastro-gnome chastised me. Really! Anyone would have thought I’d tried to smuggle in some cream!

The next of my restaurant recommendations knows how to make a great Roman carbonara. Maccheroni, near the Pantheon makes delicious Roman fare with side dishes which are more imaginative than most. I’m always bored by Roman mixed salads but here they are a little more creative and big enough to share. Maccheroni is versatile, sophisticated and relaxed. Go early and have an aperitivo in the beautiful Piazza delle Coppelle  in which it’s situated. If you want to avoid making “Nuclear Carbonara”, ask for a seat with a view of the kitchen. It’s  a feature of the restaurant . You can watch a great culinary performance while you eat. Just don't forget to silently applaud or wave a breadstick at the end.

Maccheroni. Open every day. Recommend reserving a table. Great for daft vegetarians like myself. Price: mid-range. 10 mins walk from Via del Corso. No metro. 

TO POSTS VIA FEED. Ice cream's on me in Rome!


  1. Maccheroni is one of my favorites. The pasta dishes are delicious.

  2. Maccheroni pasta dishes are great! If anyone follows Luigi's demo successfully, please let me know. I don't think I used enough hot water in the frying pan so when the raw egg went in, it hit the pan and turned to scrambled egg immediately!

  3. I'm sorry the dish did not turn out as planned. I have yet to make carbonara but want to try. Great blog by the way.

  4. Ate the best Cacio e Pepe of my life there on Friday night, served by a waiter who could easily have been mistaken for Nanni Moretti..