Dishing Out Alla Carbonara" Food Bytes By Monish Gujral Weekly column in Sunday Express 29thMay 2011

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I have always been fond of Italian food and cooking. On my recent trip to Paris, on invitation by Edouard Cointreau, chairman of the Paris cookbook fair, I met many celebrated chefs—K-C Wallberg from Sweden, Chef Wan (Malaysia), ED Chhakal (Germany) and Benedetto D´Epiro (Italy). When I heard that Benedetto alias Benny the Chef specialises in the ancient Roman style of cooking, I was anxious to learn more about it. The first lesson I learnt was Italian food is all about aromas and freshness of food. He said, “Insaporire means ‘to enhance the flavour’. One would do this with an insaporiti, a mixture consisting of olive oil or butter perhaps flavoured with onion, garlic and parsley added during or after the cooking.”

Although whenever we think of Italian food, first that come to our minds are pizzas, pastas and fresh gelatos, Italian food is not limited to these popular dishes. Nevertheless, pasta is one of my favourite dishes too. The list of its varieties is never-ending—Aglio e Olio, American Chopsuey, American Goulash, Pasta-Arrabiata, Cincinnati Chili, Fettuccine Alfredo, Fideua,

Giovetsi, Johnny Marzetti, Pizza-ghetti, Penne Ala Vodka, all-time favourites sphaghetti with meat balls, macaroni and cheese, ravioli sabounee and grand Carbonara.

Pasta alla Carbonara (commonly spaghetti or sometimes can also be fettuccine, Rigatoni) is a mid-20th century Italian pasta dish made with bacon, eggs, parmesan cheese, olive oil and black pepper. Although cream is not used in the Italian version, it’s used in the US, Japan, Russia, Australia, the UK, Spain and other countries. In some variations, peas, mushrooms and broccoli are also added. What remains common is: eggs are added in raw form to sauce which cooks or coagulates with the heat of spaghetti.

Carbonara is a complete meal in itself and forms a part of main course. A typical Roman dish, it’s said to have originated in the Appennie mountains in Abruzzo by woodcutters who made charcoal for fuel. Hence the name Carbonara, meaning charcoal burners. It’s also said to be created by Carbonari, a secret society in Italy responsible for Italy’s unification. Another hypothesis is the obvious one: given the meaning of Alla Carbonara, coal worker’s style, it takes its name from specks of black pepper which resemble coal dust.

Another story is that the food shortage after Rome’s liberation was so severe that the allied forces distributed military rations comprising powdered egg and bacon  which the locals used with water to season the dirtied pasta.

When people outside Italy think of Carbonara, they usually think of pasta, often tagliatelle, smothered in a sauce made from slices of ham and mushroom in cream. The original Roman Carbonara recipe, however, is very different; it has no cream or mushrooms and is usually made not with tagliatelle but with spaghetti. This authentic Carbonara is quick and fairly easy to cook, and requires only a handful of ingredients.

The writer is a well-known restaurateur and author of many cookbooks



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First chef from India to be invited to Le cordon Bleu to demonstrate in Paris. Monish is credited with the trailblazing turn-around of Moti Mahal, from being a small but iconic presence in Delhi, to becoming a multi-national corporation that is well on its way to defining how the world eats Indian food. A traditionalist, Monish has remained true to the signature dishes that made Moti Mahal a legend, while reinventing the dining experience into one that is exciting and avant garde to suit modern sensibilities.

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