Being no linguist, I accepted the word of my Roman friends when they told me that spaghetti alla carbonara was named for the wife of the charcoal burner, presumably because smoked meat, usually in the form of bacon, is a product she would have readily at hand.
Imagine my surprise when a guest to whom I served the disk told me that the woman would be called carbonaia and that the pasta was named for the town of Carbonara di Bari, a pasta-making center in the south of Italy.
My friend went on to describe what sounds like an apocryphal incident in which his wife noticed lasange verde alla toscana on an Italian menu. "why Verdi? his wife reportedly asked, "It was Puccini who composed Tosca!"
However, despite his wit, my friend was no better scholar than I. I later learned that although it is not proper Italian, carbonara, in the dialect of Rome where the dish originates, is indeed the consort of the humble charcoal maker.
In any case, this is a pasta dish which can be made within a very short time, from ingredients which are often at hand. In the Italian manner, it is properly eaten as a first course, although it might easily be served as the main course, together with a salad. On the other hand, it would hardly be appropriate as a side dish to be eaten with a meat course.
To make the disk, fill a large pot about three quarters full of water and put it on a high fire until it comes to the boil. Meanwhile, to make generous portions for four people, chop about 1/2 pound of bacn into small bits and fry it with a little oil in a sauce pan. If you like garlic, you may add a few chopped cloves.
When the water boils, add a tablespoon of salt and then gently lower in the spaghetti, about 1 1/2 pounds for very ample portions. Fan the spagetti out so it doesn't stick and stir it with a fork ocassionally while it cooks. The Italians figure 8 minutes for al dente pasta. You might like it a little better done, but you should start testing it by biting a strand after 8 minutes are up.
While the pasta is cooking, beat 4 eggs into a bowl. As soon as the pasta is done, drain it quickly in a colander and then mix the hot spaghetti into the eggs with a spoon and fork. Pour the hot bacon and fat over the pasta as quickly as possible. The heat will cook the eggs covering the pasta.
Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sprinkle generously with parmesan cheese. For those who find bacon too heavy, any other smoked meat can be used with oil. It's not quite as authentic, but ligher in taste.