My father’s family is from the Basilicata region of Italy, and even after moving to Australia, my Nonna and Nonno would make their own sausage every year. I think one of my great-uncles kept pigs, or maybe just one pig each year, who was the source of said sausages. I never enquired. Nonna’s sausages were big, cured, salami-like things that would hang from the garage roof or from a hook in our pantry for weeks or months without going off. They were fairly highly spiced, I think with chilli and fennel seed, but I could be making that up, and you had to slice them thickly and cook them to render the big chunks of fat before eating them.
Pasta carbonara, in my family, was made with chunks of this sausage, and not with ham – if there was no sausage, my mother would use ham or bacon and add paprika to the dish, because the important thing about carbonara was that it had to be spicy. If it was not spicy, we were told, it was not proper carbonara. We never put cream in the recipe, either – it was all held together with eggs, ideally from Nonno’s chooks. Nonna’s sausage and mum’s carbonara were two of my favourite foods as a child, and I was terribly disappointed the first time I ordered carbonara at a restaurant and got this weird, bland, creamy thing with ham. Not the same thing at all.
The recipe is not my mother’s, though it started there. It has since evolved to fit the ingredients I can get, with a few ideas from Rachel Ray thrown in. It goes without saying that my carbonara does not taste anything like the carbonara you get at restaurants, though it is clearly a related dish.
I maintain that this is the only true and authentic way to make pasta carbonara.
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250g spicy soppressa or Calabrese salami, whole, not sliced
2 bunches flat-leaf parsley
150g parmesan cheese, grated (the real stuff, please)
6 cloves of garlic
1 cup white wine
400g pasta (penne or penne rigate are my favourite kind for this)
3 big tomatoes
lettuce or cucumber
balsamic or red wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil