The Carbonara Controversy….Rigatoni or Spaghetti

ImageIf you are an aficionado of Italian food, or have spent any time in my kitchen, you are probably involved in what I call the “carbonara controversy.”  There are two issues in question here.  1.  Do you use rigatoni or spaghetti?  2. The ingredients.  

My husband and I have been arguing (not heated, but arguing non the less) for many years over these issues.  He believes (and wrongly so) that his recipe is how they make it in Italy.    My recipe ( the authentic one) comes from the1969 cookbook by Ada Boni entitled, “Regional Italian Cooking.”  I believe this cookbook to be one of the first authentic Italian cookbooks to come to The United States.  It was given to me by my aunt and uncle in the mid seventies.  My uncle had been making carbonara for many years and this was his recipe of choice.  Needless to say, I think of him every time I make this recipe.  For him, and his family, this was a great snack before bed.  For my children, this was a great late morning breakfast that I would make for them on weekends, especially when they were home from college.  It was always the main request from my starving college students.  It is comfort food and beyond. So you can see that I am emotionally attached to this recipe.  And besides, Ada Boni rules!!  Her cookbook is amazing, but out of print now. If you are a cookbook collector, as I am (I am going to have to put an addition on my kitchen just for my cookbooks), you will want to try to get your hands on a used copy of this cookbook.  

Now my husband’s recipe, which is absolutely delicious, by the way, comes from his brother who lives in Italy.  Does that make it authentic?  I’m not so sure.  But why should we care when it tastes as good as it does?  He uses spaghetti, and I use rigatoni.  My recipe calls for eggs, and he uses no eggs.  He uses heavy cream and ricotta cheese, and I use neither.  I use American style bacon (this is what Ada calls for, but she probably used pancetta, which was impossible to find in the US in 1969), and he uses pancetta and prosciutto.  I use garlic and he uses onion.  

Do you see what I mean?  These both cannot be Carbonara recipes.  I say mine is the true carbonara recipe, as dictated by Ada Boni.  But I will say that both these recipes are absolutely scrumptious.  So please try them both and let me know what you think.  I would love you to weigh in on the controversy.

After many years of being caught in the crossfire, my son finally decided to weigh in with his opinion.  He feels that my carbonara is good for lunch or a snack of sorts, and my husband’s is more for dinner.  Traitor!

Rigatoni alla Carbonara ( Ada Boni)

4 tsp. olive oil  (sometimes I use a bit more, depending on how fatty the bacon is)

5 ounces bacon, diced  (approximately 5 strips of bacon)

1 clove garlic, crushed


1 1/4 pounds rigatoni

5 eggs 

5 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

5 tablespoons grated Pecorino cheese


Heat the oil and sauté the bacon and garlic.  As soon as the garlic is browned, discard it.  Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil.  Cook the rigatoni until tender but still firm (al dente).  

Meanwhile, beat the eggs thoroughly in a large shallow pan with a pinch of salt, the Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses, and plenty of freshly ground pepper.  Do not heat.  

As soon as the rigatoni are tender, drain them and add them to the pan with the egg mixture.  Add the bacon, with it’s cooking fat and then cook on a very low heat, stirring constantly, for a couple of minutes to heat the eggs through.  Serve immediately.

She does state at the end of her recipe that “spaghetti is frequently served “alla carbonara.”   But first, please use rigatoni……for the sake of the controversy at hand.ImageImageImageImageImage


Spaghetti alla Carbonara (sort of)

1 onion, chopped

1/4 pound  thick pancetta, cubed

1/4 pound, 1/4 inch thick prosciutto, cubed 

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 pt. heavy cream 

1 cup ricotta 

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese


1 1/2 pound spaghetti

Saute the onion, pancetta, and prosciutto in olive oil in a frying pan.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cook until al dente.

In large saucepan, combine cream, ricotta, Parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper and bring to a simmer over a low heat for no more than 10 minutes….just until heated through.

When pasta is done, drain and put in a large pasta bowl.  Pour the cream/ricotta mixture and the pancetta/prosciutto mixture over the spaghetti and toss to combine.  Add more Parmesan cheese, if desired.


Enjoy and please let me know your thoughts.  He can take it !!




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