Comic Book Carbonara: A Graphic Novel Pasta

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When I first met my husband, he whipped up a fantastic spaghetti carbonara that has since become part of our menu. Because Marc is part Italian, I assumed his recipe came from his family's kitchen. Not so.
Click here for the
Free Recipe PDF.

Marc informed me that he adapted the recipe from one he found in a 1980's comic book. To continue reading this post, scroll down or click here

To download this recipe now in a free PDF document, click here

And may you eat with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle, author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

My husband's comic book pasta was inspired by Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!, launched in 1983. Fans of this series include Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon, who hailed Flagg as a precursor to the cyberpunk genre of science fiction. 

Flagg is not for everyone. It presents a hard-boiled look at life in 2031—after nuclear war and an economic collapse leave things a tad chaotic in the USA. How bad do things get in Chaykin's 2031? One example: The broken down piano player who inhabits the local lounge is Princess Diana's oldest son. :)

Carbonara also appears 
in On What Grounds, our
first Coffeehouse Mystery, 
now in its 20th Printing.
Click here to learn more.

As for today's recipe, spaghetti carbonara happens to be the favorite dish of Rubin Flagg, the comic book's hero. The recipe was published in the same issue that Rubin cooked it up.*

Recipes included in fiction? 
Wow, is that a good idea or what?!

As it happens, spaghetti carbonara is not only part of my personal history with my husband, it's also part of our publishing history because it plays a diverting role in our first Coffeehouse Mystery, On What Grounds. When two alpha male characters argue about the proper way to prepare the dish, our amateur sleuth (Clare Cosi) breaks up the deadlock before cleavers are thrown.

As far as this dish's actual history, read more about it in my recipe note below...

*Also note that Rubin Flagg's nostalgic recipe appears in the original publication and not reprint editions. Fans of the recipe often search for it, and we hope our adaptation below will give you joy!

Cleo's Comic Book Carbonara

Adapted from the comic 
book series American Flagg!

To download a free PDF of 
this recipe that you can print,
save, or share, 
click here.

Cleo Coyle has a partner in
crime-writing—her husband.
Learn about their books
by clicking 
here and here.

A Recipe Note from Cleo

Spaghetti carbonara may not have originated in Italy. Some say Italian immigrants developed it in America during the Great Depression, which is easy for me to believe since my father, who grew up during that era, remembers the "old timers" throwing lard into the skillet to start everything from sautéed vegetables to pasta sauce.

Others believe the dish was created during World War II, when ingredients common to American GI's—bacon, powdered eggs, and powdered milk—were handed out to hungry Italian citizens during the American occupation. (More on the history of this dish here.) Today the people of Italy make this dish, which they call pasta alla carbonara, with raw eggs instead of cream. (The cream version is more commonly found in the USA, France, Spain, and the UK.) Italians also use pancetta or guanciale (types of Italian bacon). To each his own, as they say. And, when it comes to this mutable recipe, our favorite is below.

One last note: With bacon and cream, you'd think this dish would be heavy, but it's very light and so delicious that a single bowl truly satisfies. Paired with a spinach or tomato salad, it's a complete meal for us. In the summer, we might whip this up as a late lunch or early dinner. In fall and winter, tomato soup, broccoli rabeand garlic bread make nice pairings. 

BTW, the colorful pasta you see in my pictures is Garden Delight spaghetti from Ronzoni. The semolina (durum wheat) is enriched with tomato, carrot, and spinach. The flavor and texture are very nice and the (comic book!) colors let our eyes eat first. 

Comic Book Carbonara

Adapted by Cleo Coyle from the
book series American Flagg!


12 - 16 ounces spaghetti (usually 1 package)
8 ounces bacon (we use 5 thick-cut bacon slices)
6 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon butter
4 tablespoons heavy cream (+ a tiny bit extra, just in case)
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan) cheese
(optional) Ground pepper to taste


Step 1 – Make your favorite spaghetti according to package directions. FYI - As mentioned in my note above, the colorful pasta you see in my pictures is Garden Delight spaghetti from Ronzoni. The semolina (durum wheat) is enriched with tomato, carrot, and spinach. The flavor and texture are very nice and the (comic book!) colors let our eyes eat first. 

Step 2 – While your pasta water is coming to a boil, begin to make the cream sauce. Into a large skillet, slice up the bacon. We simply snip the bacon slices into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch pieces using kitchen shears. Turn up the heat to medium and begin to sweat the bacon pieces. After a few minutes, as the fat begins to render (but long before the bacon browns or crisps), toss in the garlic.

Sweat the bacon and toss in whole garlic cloves...

Step 3 – When the bacon is browned and cooked through (but not crisp or dry), remove the garlic cloves and drain the bacon grease out of the pan. Set aside and finish cooking your spaghetti. When the spaghetti is completely drained, set aside and finish the sauce.

Step 4 – To the pan with the cooked bacon, add a tablespoon of butter. As soon as the butter melts, stir in the cream. Simmer the mixture until it thickens. If the sauce breaks, simply add a bit more cream and stir again.

Remove the garlic, drain the bacon fat,
toss in a pat of butter and the cream...

Step 5 – Add the cooked and drained spaghetti to the large skillet. Pour the grated cheese over the pasta and toss...

Place a pepper grinder and a small bowl of grated cheese
on the dinner table for guests to finish their plates to their taste.
Then plate that pasta up and...

Eat (and read) with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Yes, this is me, Cleo (aka Alice). 
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