When the French try to beat the Italians at Italian food, things get ugly

“Maccheroni you provoked me… so now I’m going to eat you.”
“Maccheroni you provoked me… so now I’m going to eat you.”
Image: Screenshot from "An American in Rome," directed by Steno (1954).
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Italians hate to see their delicate cuisine bastardized by foreigners—especially when those foreigners are French.

So it was when Italians—or those of us who cared enough to pay attention to bad cooking advice from the other side of the Alps—became outraged over Demotivateur, a French entertainment site that on April 7 published perhaps the most awful carbonara recipe imaginable (the site took the article down, but it’s here in cache).

The recipe claimed that carbonara could be made in one pot (while we know no pasta ever should be), and listed onions and crème fraîche among the ingredients. The result can be best commented through the voice of one of Demotivateur‘s readers: ”Pour les anglais, ajoutez de la bière chaude et de la menthe” (“for the English, add warm beer and some mint”).

The outrage boils down to the following: Italian cooking has rules rooted in a rich history. For instance, no chicken on pizza or pasta. In this case, no onion in carbonara. Another rule: Pasta cooks by itself, not with other ingredients. Boiling guanciale (a relative of bacon) with your pasta, as the recipe calls for, would be like boiling the bacon in American shrimp and grits: gross. As for the crème fraîche, the ingredient that makes carbonara delightfully creamy is egg. Period.

Understandably, ”Carbonaragate” made the news in Italy, including in La Repubblica, one of the country’s biggest newspapers, which dedicated a full page to the case, and highlighted just how important the cuisine is to Italians, given everything else they should be worrying about.

Adding to the drama was news that the French recipe had allegedly been published with the support of Italian pasta maker Barilla, which denied involvement faster than it apologized for its homophobic CEO and promptly published a proper recipe on its Facebook page.

To set the record straight, here is a quick recap of what goes in true carbonara:

And please do not use parmesan or regular bacon. Believe me when I tell you there’s a difference—and you’ll taste it.

Once you have this down, you’re welcome to join the real carbonara controversy: how many eggs, and when? 

Whether it’s one egg per person, adding extra yolks, eggs in the pan (but always out of the fire), mixing the pepper and pecorino with the eggs, or no pepper at all, each method has its advocates, and arguments. And we promise not to fault you for giving any of them a try.