Saturday, May 9, 2009

Coal Miner Pasta

Tonight Darling Husband made spaghetti carbonarra, which was nice of him considering I found myself standing in the middle of a huge grocery store at 7pm unable to think of anything appetizing for dinner. I could think of dishes, per se, but nothing I felt like eating.

Do you ever feel this way? You're hungry, but nothing sounds good? I think it's all tied up in emotions. Sometimes, it's caused by low blood sugar, I admit, but other times it's tapping into food as soul nourishment as well as body fuel. I distinctly remember being at college and working on my thesis one evening. It was dinner time and I was sitting upstairs from the student union in a large, airy common room/study hall. I could smell food from downstairs, I could see another cafeteria from the window. But I couldn't think of anything I wanted to eat. I thought to the pantry and mini fridge in my dorm room, the peanutbutter, the canned corn, the tuna, the spaghetti oh's, the cheese and crackers, the bagged salad. These clearly weren't cutting it. I remember saying to myself, "okay, if you could have anything, anything at all. What would it be? Even terrible for you stuff. Burger King. Mickey D's. Food court chinese food. A bag of peanutbutter M&Ms. Anything!" Still, nothing even remotely sounded appetizing.

I knew I was hungry, since I hadn't eaten much lunch, and worried I would reach the danger zone where my blood sugar drops low enough that I stop making rational decisions and get a headache. I started to feel really sorry for myself and imagined calling my mother, but didn't know what to say ("hi, mom, what should I have for dinner?") That's when it hit me. The only thing that sounded good was my mother's cooking. I didn't even care what it was, if my mom made it, I wanted it. I packed up my stuff and went home right then.

I remember what happened later, too. I was sitting in my parents' library, typing away at my thesis just like I had been in the student union, when my mom came in and handed me a beer. This really warm feeling washed over me, a mix of contentment, gratitude and... what's that feeling where you know you're being pampered and indulged but you're so happy for it and it's such a relief so you don't even feel guilty? That.

But tonight, I was saved by Darling Husband. I had just made up my mind that we should go home and take care of Baby Girl's needs and if we wanted food later, we'd deal with it then. (This was just after my decision to just make roast beef and brie panini, which was voted down in my head on the basis that it didn't sound good.) He picked up some pancetta and promised I could cuddle our daughter and he would make dinner magically appear. I definitely got the sweet end of that deal.

In addition to a wonderful meal, he also gave me a bit of trivia. Carbonarra refers to coal and coal miners. I googled it quickly, and found references to this and nothing to dispute it, so I'm going with it. For those unfamiliar, this pasta dish has an egg based sauce which is cooked by the heat of the pasta only. Traditionally it's made with egg, parsley, pancetta and parmesan, although many in this country add cream and peas. Darling Husband went with tradition tonight and it was spectacularly hearty and comforting.

The best part, hands down, was the pancetta lardon. These are made by rendering the pancetta, cut into little rectangles, until they're crunchy and dense, dry and chewy--which sounds bad but it actually a little lardon of heaven.

I'm glad Darling Husband was there to put on his super hero cape and rescue me tonight. He even did dishes.


  1. Originating in the hills outside of Rome, carbonara did not become popular in Italy until after World War II, when the Americans supplied Italy with large quantities of bacon and powdered eggs. The origin of the name appears to be obscure, given the may theories about it, including DH's coal miner story. Carbone also means charcoal, so some speculate that the dish originated among workers who made charcoal, or that the pieces of ham or bacon reminded people of bits of charcoal in the dish. "Alla carbonara" can be translated as "from the charcoal grill," leading others to conclude that the name referred to the grilled bacon or ham it contains. Another theory is the the dish came originally from the province of Ciocioria and the name transmogrified into carbonara. Finally, the Carbonari were a secret revolutionary society in early 19th Century Italy and it has been suggested that the dish was named in their honor. In other words, nobody seems to know and DH could be right.

  2. very cool! I didn't know the Americans supplied Italy with bacon and eggs. Was that some kind of aide after the fascists left?

  3. After the North African campaign, here was long and bloody fighting as the allies fought their way up the Italian Peninsula. The King of Italy offered to switch sides and declared war on Germany in October, 1943. The Germans, in response to this betrayal, disarmed and disbanded much of the Italian army and took over the "defense" of Italy. They were not kind to the Italians. For example, when the Germans pulled out of Naples they destroyed the port, and released the criminals from the prison. The university was destroyed and the hospital looted. When the allies arrived, the population of the city was half starved.

  4. ...if they were half starved, no WONDER they wanted carbonara.