If you ask a Roman, they will tell you that spaghetti carbonara belongs to Rome. But I think this dish reflects the way the city welcomes outsiders. I first tried it in 1994, shortly after my arrival from Germany. I visited local restaurants to get to know the Roman culinary tradition, and I ate my first carbonara at Armando al Pantheon.
The history behind carbonara is not fully known. Northern and central Italian cooks have combined egg with cheese for centuries, and cacio e pepe (pasta with cheese and pepper) has been prepared in Rome since time immemorial, so adding egg and bacon was probably a natural evolution.
To make a traditional carbonara, the best ingredients are De Cecco pasta, Romano Brunelli pecorino cheese (the kind with a black skin), guanciale (cured pig’s cheek), Tellicherry black pepper from India and fresh eggs. Recently I tasted a very good carbonara at Pipero restaurant in central Rome.
There are many variants: you can find vegetarian carbonara, with Tropea red onions, courgettes, asparagus or artichokes. There is also a seafood carbonara, where the guanciale is replaced by swordfish. My signature dish at La Pergola is fagottelli carbonara, where I put the sauce inside pasta parcels rather than on spaghetti. They explode in the mouth.
I love simple food: spaghetti with tomato sauce and basil, and a typical Sicilian dish, pasta with tenerumi (green squash leaves from Sicily), prepared by my mother-in-law. I also adore artichokes, particularly deep-fried carciofi alla giudia at Taverna Trilussa in Rome’s Trastevere district.
Heinz Beck is chef at three-Michelin-starred La Pergola, in Rome’s Cavalieri hotel