Pasta Carbonara and The Baron in the Trees

The Connection. It’s an Italian dish and an Italian novelist! A little weak, I know, but it was also the Ides of March yesterday, so all things Italian are fair game.

I first fell for Carbonara sauce as a kid, and I was delighted to realize how simple and quick it is to make. It’s best with peas and bacon, but I suspect that vegetarians could swap the bacon for mushrooms and still be quite pleased.

Carbone means coal in Italian, so some speculate that the dish started off as a hearty lunch for coalminers, while others think that it got its name from the black pepper that looks like specks of coal on white cream (it kinda does, see photo below). But don’t let the name throw you, the dish is embarrassingly decadent and utterly worth it. (More cream, you say? Well, okay. A whole package of bacon? If you insist. I’ll just have a bite. Or maybe I’ll have all the bites.)

Pasta Carbonara

1 lb. fettuccine (or whatever pasta you have on hand—I only had penne)
12 slices of pancetta or bacon
, roughly chopped
1/2 cup cream
1 egg
1 cup peas
1/2 cup Parmesan
Fresh black pepper and salt

Bring about 8 cups water and 1 or 2 teaspoons of salt to a boil. Add pasta, cook as instructed according to type. Add the peas one minute before the water is done. Drain, but don’t run under cold water. The pasta needs to stay hot enough to cook the egg a bit.

While the pasta is cooking, fry the bacon until crispy (just a bit crispier than you would want it on its own). Turn off the heat and drain most of the grease, leaving only 3 or 4 tablespoons for flavor.

Whisk together the cream, egg, about 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste.

Dump the pasta and peas into the pan with the bacon, then pour on the cream mixture, stirring constantly. The heat from the pasta should just barely cook the egg, giving the sauce a shiny gloss. Sprinkle on the Parmesan and eat immediately.

The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino (224 pages) ♥♥♥

“Only by being so frankly himself as he was till his death could he give something to all men.”

The Plot.At the ripe age of twelve, a young baron of 18th century Northern Italy climbs into the treetops and never comes down.

Who should read it. Lovers of fables who have patience for intricate prose (Calvino’s rose is never just a rose). It’s a simple, magical story and a quick read, but its characters are flat and I’m afraid the plot is not as gripping as the concept and the language.

Why I liked it. Because who hasn’t dreamed of running away and living in the trees? I wrote “when little,” but I had to delete it. Who am I kidding? I would still love to run away and live in the trees.

The Baron in the Trees is a gorgeously written and creative tale of a stubborn boy who breaks from old traditions. His view from the canopy allows him to see the world from a new perspective, and he is able to break down social barriers, invent marvelous contraptions, and relate to people in a genuine way, uninhibited by rank, convention, and preconceived expectations. The book’s pace is slow and its characters are not well fleshed out, so my suggestion is to finish it before you notice. It’s short, and best devoured in a day or two.

This witty novella satirizes the constraints of rules and formalities, critiques the destructiveness of urban living, and encourages independent thought and strength of character, but at its heart it is a fairy tale for the romantic and rebellious spirit.


  • If you like Calvino’s style and don’t mind a gimmick or two, pick up If on a winter’s night a traveler… immediately. At least read the first chapter, it may be the best part. If you’re still a bit skeptical, try Cosmicomics. I think the short story is a more natural format for his strange magical realism.
  • If you can’t stand Calvino, I totally get it. I usually prefer character driven books, and there will be many more of those.

1 thought on “Pasta Carbonara and The Baron in the Trees

  1. Pingback: Cupcoocups and The Cloud Atlas |

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