ROME—When New York Times Cooking contributor Kay Chun filed her recipe using cherry tomatoes in Italian carbonara to “lend a bright tang to the dish,” she maybe had no idea the culinary third rail she was about to touch. But tinkering with a perfect Italian recipe—and one as controversial as the egg, pork jowl, pecorino cheese, and pasta combination known as carbonara—is dangerous business.
First, carbonara is already the ugly cousin of traditional Italian cuisine to purists, who say it was inspired by American military officers after they liberated Rome in 1944. The dish first started appearing on menus in the 1950s, according to the Silver Spoon cookbook, which is one of the standards of Italian cookery. Since then, Italians have adopted the recipe as one of their own, which means, simply: Just don’t mess with it.
Like Chun, others have dared to improve upon what to so many is already perfect. A year ago, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay was heckled for his “perfect” carbonara recipe in which he merely used bacon instead of guanciale, which is pork cheek (not bacon, not pancetta). His recipe was met with comments like: “My liver is rebelling” and “Leave the stove, Gordon.”
Then Martha Stewart took things further this month by adding (avert your eyes now, Italians) GARLIC to the recipe. Her creation inspired a slew of headlines, including “Martha Stewart and the Nightmare Carbonara: Garlic, Cream, Bacon and Parsley.” (For the record, cream alone would have won her that criticism in many circles.) One writeup suggested, “A real triumph for her, a real funeral for traditional Lazio cuisine.”
Chun’s foray into tinkering with an Italian favorite brought on a full-throttle Twitter attack, with posters adding many references to a notorious British television cooking segment in which a host tried to add to the carbonara recipe, only to be lambasted live on the air by the Italian chef Gino D’Acampo: “If my mother had wheels, she would be a bicycle”—as if to say, if you add anything to carbonara it is simply something else.
Of the many responses by Italians to the Times’ tweet of the “tangy” carbonara, one by blogger Will Bott summed up the general feeling in Italy: “Fun fact. The word ‘carbonara’ actually comes from carbonio, which refers to the ashen remains of the NYT headquarters after an angry mob of Italians burned it to the ground.”
There were countless calls to just remove the recipe altogether or rename it. One Twitter user even compared the recipe to Italy-bashing for its latest round of government upheaval. “Great, even The New York Times recipe section is trolling us now,” wrote one Italian. Another pointed out that Chun didn’t have the basics, with her recipe calling for Parmesan instead of pecorino and bacon instead of guanciale.
Yet another couldn’t resist bashing the Times for publishing such blasphemy in the first place: “Frozen shores and abundant ice floes might not be traditional on a tropical beach, but they lend a bright chill to this Caribbean vacation. THAT’S WHAT YOU SOUND LIKE NYT.”