The Ingredient Traditional Carbonara Never Uses

If you polled a bunch of non-chefs and asked what pasta carbonara is, you'd probably get answers along the lines of "pasta in cream sauce with bacon." And any chefs in earshot would roll their eyes because traditional carbonara is a ridiculously simple dish (though not foolproof). There are rules for carbonara, and breaking them is no minor transgression.

According to executive chef and Italian restauranteur Gabe Bertaccini, carbonara most likely takes its name from carbone, the Italian word meaning coal. Pasta carbonara, according to tradition, was hearty fare for hungry coal miners, made with inexpensive, simple ingredients everyone had on hand. The specks of black pepper in the dish are thought to inspire the name, as they resemble flecks of coal dust. While there are competing theories about the dish's origin, there's no disagreement about the traditional composition of the pasta carbonara, though many cooks have concocted their own variations. One of these variations is considered a carbonara cardinal sin by some chefs, from which there's no absolution.

What ingredient has no place in pasta carbonara?

Writing for Vice, Chef Mitch Orr explains that a proper carbonara should only contain five ingredients: egg yolk, Pecorino Romano cheese, guanciale, black pepper, and spaghetti. That's it — full stop. What ingredient isn't on that list? Cream. Chef Orr isn't entirely inflexible; he's willing to accept substitutions. He explains, "Now, you may substitute Parmigiano Reggiano for the Pecorino, and pancetta for the guanciale, but that's already pushing it. Under no circumstances can there be any other additions or switch-ups."

This spaghetti carbonara comes with a few unexpected ingredients, like kale and hazelnuts, but our recipe doesn't call for cream. And that's because classic carbonara doesn't need it. It transforms the dish into something that might be delicious but is not carbonara. Chef Orr agrees, writing, "you cannot call a creamy pile of pasta carbonara, and I reserve the right to think you are damn fools if you do." Even our amazing breakfast carbonara, while substituting bacon for guanciale, doesn't cross Orr's line. Some classics deserve respect, and pasta carbonara is one of them.