Carbonara, Moral Laxity, and Other Pleasing Roman Traditions


The pre-Christian Roman Empire has never been known for its high-moral standards. Current day views of the period conform to strong physical violence and unchaste excess. Even the orgy allegedly reigned in popularity during this period in antiquity. Society, at that time, achieved a lasting reputation for advocating sexual debauchery. Therefore, it is not a surprise that an age known for its moral laxity would provide numerous folklores about aphrodisiacs.

Many aphrodisiac recipes were based off of the theories of the Roman physician Galen. He considered foods that were “warm and moist”, such as pepper, carrots, anise, nettles, honey, and sweet peas to inspire love, fertility, and sexual satisfaction. Another ancient text that speaks on the preparation of aphrodisiacs is Pliny the Elder’s book Natural History. Most of Pliny’s love recipes consist of inedible and disgusting ingredients. Pliny advised nettle to inspire sexual acts. But not for drinking or eating, for applying it directly on the sex organs.  The fine hairs on the nettle leaf contain a high concentration of acetylcholine and a strong histamine. Though it’s agreed that this method creates stimulation upon contact, I believe it would burn, quite a lot.

Currently, aphrodisiac ingredients exist all over Rome, and show- up in a variety of traditional dishes. This month I am exploring the traditional Roman dish, Carbonara – a dish that exemplifies Roman food, and one with which I have personal aphrodisiac experience. No one can resist the rich, silk sauce that intermingles with long al dente’ spaghetti noodles.

Contrary to popular American belief, Carbonara does not contain sweet peas or heavy cream. A true Carbonara only contains five ingredients: egg yolk, pecorino, freshly cracked black pepper, pancetta, and pasta. Romans take great pride in preparing this dish in its truest form. So here is my recipe (that I learned from an old Roman lover) for Pasta alla Carbonara.


Spaghetti alla Carbonara

  • 1 box of spaghetti
  • ¼ pound pancetta
  • ½ cup grated Pecorino cheese
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 egg yolks
  • freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Once the water begins to boil throw in the spaghetti noodles and cook until al a dente’. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and mix with ¼ cup of cheese and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper, set aside. Cut the pancetta in to small pieces and transfer it to a pan with olive oil. Cook the pancetta over medium heat for 4 minutes, or until the fat begins to render and the pieces have begun to turn slightly golden brown. When the pasta is al a dente’, take the pancetta off the stove. Drain the pasta, throw it into the skillet, and mix thoroughly. Then, transfer the pasta mixture to a large mixing bowl. Throw in the egg mixture and toss with the pasta. Stir quickly. The heat of the pasta will slightly cook the egg yolks making them creamy, but if done too slow or for too long, you will have scrambled eggs over pasta. Once the pastas and its sauce is well mixed divide in to individual bowls and serve immediately topping with the remaining cheese.

Buon appetiio!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *