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A Roman Jewish Thanksgiving Recipe

A kosher take on Calvin Trillin’s Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Stephanie Butnick
November 24, 2014

Calvin Trillin has long proclaimed that Spaghetti alla Carbonara, and not turkey, be the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving dinner table. (His reasoning was that the pasta dish might have been the Indian contribution to the very first Thanksgiving meal, since their ancestors could have learned it from Columbus.)

Last year, lamenting the fact that Jewish Trillin fans couldn’t partake in his Italian-inspired pasta pastime, Elin Schoen Brockman found a kosher recipe for Spaghetti alla Carbonara straight from the rich culinary history of Rome’s Jewish community. Schoen Brockman wrote:

Jews have lived—and, of course, cooked—in Rome since the second century B.C., borrowing and reinventing recipes and ingredients, as Jews around the world often did, from the surrounding food culture.

“Many dishes were born of frustration,” Umberto Pavoncello, a seventh generation Roman Jew, told me recently when I visited his restaurant, Nonna Betta, named for his grandmother, on the ghetto’s busy Via del Portico d’Ottavia. “They couldn’t eat this, so they substituted that,” he said. Eventually, the community created a whole cuisine unto itself, a Giudaico-Romanesco cooking tradition that’s been enriched over the centuries by the arrival of Jews—and their recipes—from Spain and Portugal after 1492, and from other parts of the world, including, most recently, Libya.

You can find the recipe, which uses zucchini—and which is what Pavoncello serves at his restaurant—here.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.