Liberation of Rome – June 4, 1944

Spaghetti Carbonara

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Citizens of Rome, this is not the time for demonstrations. Obey these directions and go on with your regular work. Rome is yours! Your job is to save the city, ours is to destroy the enemy.


So read the Allied leaflets that fell from the sky early on the morning of June 4, 1944. D-Day was just hours away. Italy and much of Europe lay in ruins, her great capitals and cities reduced to rubble. Monuments and buildings that still stood were pockmarked by bullets, testament to a continent ravaged by war. In less than a year the Third Reich would fall, consigned forever to history’s dung heap.

The Allied communique sent later in the day to Washington and London was considerably shorter – The Allies are in Rome. The Italian campaign had begun ten months earlier with the landing at Salerno. After brutal fighting, the American Fifth Army under General Mark Clark advanced to Rome, and entered unopposed.


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No propaganda leaflets could restrain the jubilant Romans. By the thousands they welcomed the General and the Allied troops, offering wine and kisses. A boy on a bicycle, just a child, led the way for General Clark’s parade of steel chariots. On to the Campidoglio they rode, along the same streets as the conquerors of old.


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Throughout history Rome has been regarded as the center of the world, the Eternal City. At this moment in time, it was the ne plus ultra, the prize above all prizes, and General Mark Clark grabbed the brass ring. His decision to march on the Italian capital remains a topic of controversy; the original battle plan did not call for entering Rome that day, but such is the hubris of a war commander. From Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar to Napoleon and Patton, these men are not like you and I. They are driven by an unmitigated thirst for victory and a hunger for glory. While one can hardly compare the war in Western European to the horrors of the war in Eastern Europe, the fact remains that the fighting in Italy took a greater toll in deaths and injuries to infantrymen than any other Western European campaign, and General Clark’s move on Rome added to it. But for a few days in early June of 1944 that was forgotten.


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What better way to celebrate the Liberation of Rome than with the city’s iconic Spaghetti Carbonara. There are many stories about its origin. Perhaps the best known centers around WW II and American GI’s. It is said that the Americans had GI issue eggs and bacon and their Italian girlfriends showed them what to do with it, the eggs and bacon, I mean. The ladies combined the eggs (and yes, some were powdered) and good old American bacon with Italian cheese and pasta, and Spaghetti Carbonara was born. On the other hand food lore tells us this dish was made popular by the coal vendors of Abruzzo, hence the name carbonara – for the flecks of black pepper that look like soot. And where would we be today without throwing some politics into the mix? Some sources trace this dish to the early nineteenth century Italian patriots, the clandestine Carbonari.

There are as many different recipes for this dish as there are cooks. The basics are spaghetti, oil, cured pork, eggs and Parmigiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese. Some recipes call for garlic, lightly bruised and cooked in the oil just long enough to perfume it. Others call for widely varying amounts of eggs, either whole or yolks, black pepper and parsley. You can use guanciale, pancetta or bacon for this dish. Guanciale and pancetta have a sweet pure pork taste. Bacon has an assertive smokiness and is much less sweet than guanciale or pancetta, neither of which are smoked. I use 5 ounces of pancetta, and because I like a little bit of smokiness, I add 2 ounces of thick cut bacon. This is one of those dishes you can make your own. The possibilities are endless.


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Spaghetti Carbonara

Serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic
7 ounces guanciale, pancetta or first quality thick cut bacon
2 large eggs*
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
3/4 cup freshly ground Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano
3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti

Cut guanciale (or pancetta or bacon) into 1/4 inch pieces. Pour oil into 12 inch saute pan and heat over medium. Using the flat side of the knife blade, gently press down on each garlic clove to break skin and lightly bruise the garlic. Discard skin, and saute garlic until golden. Using a slotted spoon remove and discard garlic. Add pork to pan and saute until golden and just beginning to crisp. Add white wine (if using) to pan and simmer 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

Meanwhile bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Salt generously. Add spaghetti and cook until al dente, about 10 – 12 minutes.

Meanwhile combine eggs, cheeses, some freshly ground black pepper and 2 tablespoons parsley in pasta bowl. Drain spaghetti, reserving water, and add to bowl with egg mixture. Toss to coat evenly. Briefly reheat pork. Add pork and 1-2 tablespoons of cooking grease to pasta bowl, and toss well. Add ½ cup pasta water, if necessary, to loosen and coat pasta. Top with additional parsley, if desired. Add 1 or 2 additional grinds of black pepper and serve at once. Pass Parmigiano and Pecorino at the table.

*Food Safety Note: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that consumption of raw or undercooked eggs should be avoided, especially by young children, elderly persons, and persons with weakened immune systems or debilitating illness. Eggs mixed with other foods should be cooked to 160°F (71°C). To avoid the risk you can use pasteurized eggs available from Davidson’s Safe Choice Eggs. See the Safe Eggs website for more information and to see where the eggs are sold.

Click here to listen to President Roosevelt’s address to the nation on the occasion of the Liberation of Rome.

Click here to see documentary footage of American Troops in Rome June 1944

World War II Photographs from WWII Archives


Note: You can click on any picture for a larger image, and to see a slide show!

I have no affiliation with any product, manufacturer, or site mentioned in this article.


Spaghetti alla Carbonara

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24 Comments

  1. Comment by Julia della Croce:

    What a delightful post, Adri. Looking forward to every one.

  2. Comment by Ciao Chow Linda:

    Adri – I loved this post when I first saw it, and reading it again only confIrms how gifted you are at what you do – the food, the photography and the history lesson. Loved it!

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Linda,

      I am so touched by your comment. As time goes on, these stories mean more to me. I worry that ours is the last generation to be truly moved by WW II.

  3. Comment by bellini:

    I can imagine the GI’s and locals sharing a plate together. Food really is at the centre of many historical events. If any nation contemplates war place them at a table together with a glass of good wine and a plate of carbonara:D

  4. Comment by Paula:

    Came here at the urging of Barb @CreativCulinary. So glad that I did. What a wonderful post. My Dad served in Europe during the WWII, he was a flight navigator.

    Your carbonara looks delicious, your story was excellent.

    • Comment by Adri:

      Benvenuta Paula,

      I am so glad Barb suggested you visit, and so very glad you enjoyed what you found. The sacrifices of the WW II servicemen and women must not be forgotten. Those folks and the War they fought made us what we are today. It is a pleasure and an honor for me to write about them. Looking at the shots of the GI’s in Rome, I realize how tired and at the same time exhilirated everyone looks. I just can not imagine what it was like. I hope you return often, and thank you for commenting. Alla prossima!

  5. Comment by Barb | Creative Culinary:

    Forget the carbonara; your story touched my heart. My Dad was a pilot during WWII…stories like this always have me think of him and the sacrifices he made. He is 92 and for some reason only in the past few years is he troubled with night terrors from the war; some things never leave our psyche I guess. I’ll share this story with him; he does love getting a feeling that their efforts were worthwhile; you’ve made it seem so. Thanks. XOXO

    • Comment by Adri:

      Thanks, Barb,

      Those men gave so much and spoke so little of it. I was just talking to a friend this morning about how the fathers in our neighborhood almost never spoke about the war when we were kids, but now as they have reached advanced age their experiences seem to weigh more heavily upon them. It is interesting that your father is also troubled by his experiences. The sacrifices of civilian and warrior alike are truly beyond the grasp of those of us who came of age in the latter half of the twentieth century. Thanks for a very kind message. It is a pleasure to get to know you.

  6. Comment by sippitysup:

    Ahh, pecorino Romano (appropriately)!! GREG

    • Comment by Adri:

      Benvenuto, Greg!

      I am so pleased you have visited. Yes, the Pecorino is nice here, and oh so correct. I worship Parm, but these classic Roman dishes are lifted up with the use of Pecorino. It adds its own “sheepy” character and a bite that the Parm lacks. Together they kick this one into the stratosphere. Thanks so much for visiting. I hope you return often.

  7. Comment by Faye Levy:

    Oddly enough, it was in Paris that we discovered Spaghetti Carbonara, at a casual place called Pizza Pino. We loved it immediately and afterwards had it often. They always served the spaghetti with an egg yolk to mix into the steaming hot dish just before eating it.

    Yours looks even more enticing. I love the fresh touch of adding fresh parsley.

    I know this is “heresy” but do you have any suggestions for making it meatless? Mushrooms? Sun dried tomatoes?

    • Comment by Adri:

      Welcome Faye!

      I am so pleased you have visited my site. I love that you first tasted Carbonara in Paris. My, but it is one well traveled dish. I have seen Mario Batali serve it as you describe it at Pizza Pino. Although the sight of the yolk nestled in the hot spaghetti is striking, I prefer the dish when the yolk is exposed to the heat of the pasta straightaway and thus has a chance to lose more of its raw egg taste and contribute to a luxurious coating for the spaghetti.

      I certainly find no heresy in your question – I am forever switching things. I would suggest grilled portobello mushrooms for the ultimate meatless addition. Either chopped or for some drama, a whole cap set in the center of the spaghetti, the texture of the mushrooms would be a wonderful addition. Sundried tomatoes, with their chewy texture would also be grand.

      Thank you so much for visiting my site. I am so flattered, and I can unabashedly say that much of what I know I learned in classes taught by you. Thanks, Faye. Come back soon.

  8. Comment by ciaochowlinda:

    Your carbonara looks better than a lot I’ve eaten, even in Rome. I just got back today from two weeks in Italy – one week in Rome – and I spent one day in Anzio and Nettuno, seeing where the Allies landed and those terrible, terrible sights of white crosses in war cemetaries. I love seeing the archival photos

    • Comment by Adri:

      Thanks, Linda!

      What kind words about the Carbonara. A great deal of the credit goes to Bart, my husband and his camerawork for that one! It can be difficult to make pasta look good.

      How wonderful that you visited the battle sites. What a slog, what hellish fighting it must have been. Those guys worked so hard, and everyone suffered – the Allied soldiers who fought, especially those who gave the full measure of devotion, along with the Italians whose lives were upturned and whose cities obliterated. I will never understand war. It must have been very moving to see the cemeteries. How sad, but how wonderful of you to have gone and paid tribute. I am pleased to hear you like seeing the archival shots. Check out the links at the bottom of the article. I find it all absolutely fascinating. By any chance, did your father fight in the Italian Campaign? Thanks so much for stopping by my site, and also for your very kind remarks.

  9. Comment by LA_Foodie:

    OH BOY! Now I can eat Carbonara again with those special eggs. That’s great.

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Foodie,

      I was very pleased to have discovered the pasteurized eggs; now I can eat quite a number of dishes I have avoided for years. I hope you enjoy the Carbonara, and thanks so much for stopping by!

  10. Comment by afoodobsession:

    Mille Grazie for keeping cream out of this recipe!! Brava!

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Peter,

      Thank you. Now, if we could only get people to leave it the heck out of Fettucine Alfredo, the world would be a better place!

  11. Comment by Janet Croceti:

    Adri,

    This is just wonderful. I love the history of it, and the photos are just magnificent! Thank you again for your wonderfully delightful recipes.

    Love,
    Janet

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Janet,

      Thanks for stopping by. I am glad you like this. As you know, I love history, and it is good to hear that others enjoy posts like this. Can you imagine what it was like for the citizens of Rome? The fear, terror and deprivation are quite simply beyond my comprehension and most certainly beyond any life experience of mine. It is good to remember it and all those who lived through it.

  12. Comment by Italian Notes:

    Great historic photos and very authentic and contemporary version of Carbonara. Thanks Adri. I think I’ll have a look at those archives to see if I can find anything on the American forces stationed in Manduria, Puglia.

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Mette,

      I am so pleased to hear you found this of interest. I am fascinated by it. I have always enjoyed history, but “The War” (as we call it here in the U.S.) has taken on a particular poignance for me. It was my parents’ generation who waged it and made sure that Hitler’s dream of a Thousand Year Reich was never realized. And that generation is now dying, more and more every day. I like to salute them. The liberation of each European capital was a milestone in the path to Allied victory, and all have their iconic photos – either tanks rolling in or ladies kissing soldiers. Sometimes it is difficult to tell which city one is looking at! I hope you can find some info on Puglia. There were airfields there, I think. My, how those soldiers and airmen must have enjoyed those Puglian beaches you just featured on Italian Notes! Good luck on the history hunt, and thanks for stopping by my site.

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