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Vegetarian Carbonara

Vegetarian Carbonara

Swapping traditional ingredients like guanciale and pancetta for vegetable-based umami bombs (hello, garlic and smoked paprika) isn’t the only thing to consider when making a vegetarian carbonara. Many hard cheeses (including Parmigiano-Reggiano) use animal rennet, so if you want to seek an alternative, ask your cheesemonger or check out this list.


  • 12 oz. fettuccine or other long pasta
  • 1 lb. asparagus, trimmed, cut into 2" –3" pieces
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup pre-grated vegetarian Parmesan, plus more for serving

Recipe Preparation

  • Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling generously salted water, stirring occasionally and adding asparagus when pasta has 1 minute left to go, until pasta is very al dente, about 3 minutes less than package directions.

  • Meanwhile, combine garlic and oil in a medium Dutch oven or other high-sided pot and set over medium heat; season very generously with pepper. Cook, stirring often, until garlic is light golden, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in paprika; set aside.

  • Place egg yolks in a medium bowl. Scoop out 1 cup cooking liquid from pasta and, whisking constantly, gradually add to egg yolks to temper. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.

  • Drain pasta and asparagus, reserving 2 cups pasta cooking liquid; transfer pasta and asparagus to pot with reserved garlic oil. Set back over medium heat and toss to coat. Tossing constantly, add 1 cup pasta cooking liquid, followed by reserved yolk mixture, then ¾ cup Parmesan. Cook, tossing constantly and reducing heat as needed to keep mixture below a simmer, until cheese is melted and liquid thickens enough to coat pasta in a glossy, silky sauce, about 5 minutes. (This might be easier on your hands if you use 2 wooden spoons, as though you were tossing a salad, rather than trying to do it with 1 hand and a pair of tongs.) Add more reserved pasta cooking liquid if needed to loosen.

  • Divide pasta among shallow bowls and top with more Parmesan and a few grinds of pepper.

Recipe by Carla Lalli MusicReviews SectionDelicious and easy, and pretty low-calorie (I used whole wheat pasta). I used peas instead of asparagus and added shrimp for protein. Trader Joe’s umami seasoning makes a great addition if you’re really missing the savoriness you’d get from guanciale.ckellenNashville TN07/13/20So easy! The paprika does a lot of heavy lifting in this recipe, and it's supremely delicious.AnonymousBrooklyn06/29/20The best vegetarian carbonara I’ve made, the smoked paprika is brilliant. Overall awesome dish and an actual 30 minute meal!AnonymousNew York06/14/20BOMB recipe! It is very adaptable and diverse. Plus, since it's carbonara it feels like a step up from regular pasta. Would 100000% make again. It takes about 30 minutes to make and you can sub the asparagus for other veggies (I used zucchini).dani.n.kaye4088Haifa06/11/20This was pretty good! I love having a use for egg yolks since I have a granola recipe (Alison Roman) that calls for 3 egg whites and I usually struggle to use up the yolks. This was really easy to make and you could definitely make this all year round just swapping out the vegetable. My sauce wasn't as smooth and glossy as I would have liked - I'm not sure if the yolks got scrambled (seems unlikely since I tempered them with the boiling water) or if I was just seeing bits of cheese. Either way, it tasted great. The only adjustment I might make is adding some lemon and/or lemon zest at the end to give it a bright pop.soapnanaChicago, IL06/02/20SO good! 10/10! I've never had regular carbonara since i don't eat pork but this was so tasty. really creamy without any cream, feels pretty low cal and good for lactose intolerance since parm has very small amounts of lactose! definitely a new staple in my dinner rotation, extra bonus that you can cram whatever greens you've got into it. I did beans.This dish came out excellent. I subbed the asparagus for broccoli and this was really delicious. I also added a bit more paprika since I know my spice taste requires more than most. I've never tried the "original" version since I have been vegetarian my whole life so I can't comment on the difference but it was very good.Delicious! I only added 1 cup of liquid pasta water and more pasta and was so good!Made with fettuccine and it felt like too substantial a noodle. I would make it again, but with spaghetti instead. A comforting bowl of carbs, for when that's what you need.AnonymousMinneapolis, Minnesota05/10/20Loved this! Made it for my parents, including my dad who usually refuses a dinner that's meatless, but this sent him back for seconds!AnonymousMinnesota05/09/20I had my doubts. Vegetarian Carbonara sounded like an oxymoron. I'm a carbonara traditionalist. But I loved this recipe. I love this carbonara in a different way. Followed the recipe to a T, but I swapped in rigatoni (Tunnels, Carla! Tunnels!), and that ruled stayed true in this vegetarian version, too - the asparagus would find its way into the 'tonis and make for an adorable and satisfying bite. Make this dish.haleyfreedlundSeattle, WA05/06/20This was fantastic and worked perfectly by following the instructions. I didn’t have smoked paprika but regular paprika was a fine substitute. I’m convinced you don’t need meat to make a delicious bowl of carbonara. Thanks Carla!Jimmy PooterinoBoise05/05/20Not sure how I feel about this, adding anything even remotely healthy looking to a carbonara sounds like sacrilege to me. However, I did happen to have some leftover asparagus, so this was a good excuse to use them up. The end result turned out okay, but I guess almost anything would taste nice when paired with a creamy-cheesy-carb(onara)y base. This is not going to be my fave veggie carbonara ever, but it's certainly a nice trick to pull when you have no idea what to do with those extra spears of asparagus in your fridge.I've been skittish around pasta since the "carbs are evil" days; the idea of tempering an egg (why?!?) scared me to no end. I plunged in and made this for our 8th wedding anniversary dinner and huzzah! Accessible to tempering newbs like me, super delicious [especially with asparagus from our garden, lucky us] - huzzah! We carbo-loaded enough to run several imaginary 5ks. Thank you!AnonymousHardin, Illinois04/29/20

Vegetarian spaghetti carbonara with smoked cheese recipe

Keiron George July 1, 2020 6:00 am

Credit: TI Media Limited

Nutrition per portion

We’ve updated this classic Roman dish and made it veggie. For our vegetarian spaghetti carbonara we’ve added smoked cheddar and mushrooms to mimic the iconic pancetta flavour - but we promise you won’t miss the meat.

When the carb cravings take hold, you need a recipe you know will satisfy them. Our vegetarian spaghetti carbonara fits that bill. Using very basic ingredients and some simple techniques, this is sure to become a favourite family-friendly dinner. We’ve replaced the meat with smoked cheddar for flavour and mushrooms for texture and we’re certain you won’t miss the meat. For more pasta recipes that riff off carbonara try our asparagus twist or the lower-fat penne version. When you’ve spent time perfecting your pasta sauce, make sure you cook the pasta perfectly too. Timings will vary depending on if you’re using fresh or dried pasta so be sure to adjust the recipe. If you’re interested in wine pairings for this cheesy Italian classic, we’d go for a crisp Pinot Grigio, or chilled blush Rosé.

Vegetarian Pasta Carbonara

When you travel to Rome, eating a traditional Carbonara is an absolute must. In fact, this classical dish from central Italy is one of the most rich and mouth-watering pasta recipes you might ever taste. The recipe is so famous that you can now count endless variations of it all around the world. No one knows who actually invented this amazing combination of flavors, what is certain is just the origin of the name: carbonara simply means coal worker’s style.

The original version of this dish uses just a handful of high-quality ingredients, and its lovely simplicity is hard to match. The downside however, is that traditional Carbonara calls for a good amount of guanciale, an Italian cured meat similar to bacon but way fattier. Therefore, it’s not something you should eat on a daily basis.

The good news is that you can use zucchini and cherry tomatoes in place of guanciale. You will get a dish that is just as tasty and satisfactory to eat but definitely healthier and more suited for your well-being. Moreover, this vegetarian version is also a nice variation for whoever follows a meatless diet.

Zucchini and cherry tomatoes apart, the rest of the ingredients and the cooking process are exactly the same as the traditional version of the dish. I hope you will like it as much as I do!

The only important thing in the preparation of this dish is that when the pasta is ready to drain, you should work as quickly as possible. The residual heat from the pasta in fact, should be enough to finish the cooking of the eggs without the need of putting it back on the stove. The final result will be a silky, smooth and bright yellow sauce.

On the other end, if your pan is too hot or you forget to turn off the heat before adding the yolks, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs’ pasta, that maybe is just as good, but it’s definitely not Carbonara.

Add veggies to your dish

Want to add more vegetable powerhouse ingredients to your carbonara? Go for it!

  • Asparagus: Chop up spears of asparagus for a nutritious crunch in every bite. Quickly saute or roast them for maximum deliciousness. With that parmesan, it’s a killer combo.
  • Zucchini: Give your carbonara a summertime vibe with fresh chopped zucchini! Just saute them over high heat with a splash of oil until golden browna and slightly soft.
  • Cherry tomatoes: Adding tomatoes is a surefire way to up the subtle sweetness. Throw them in halved, or roast them to bring out their sweetness.
  • Red onion: Finally, add a kick to your dish with chopped red onion.

Recipe Summary

  • 5 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 shallots, diced
  • 1 large onion, cut into thin strips
  • 1 pound bacon, cut into strips
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 (16 ounce) package fettuccini pasta
  • 3 egg yolks
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¾ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Saute shallots until softened. Stir in onion and bacon, and cook until bacon is evenly browned. Stir in garlic when bacon is about half done. Remove from heat.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain pasta, then return it to the pot.

In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cream, and shredded Parmesan. Pour the bacon mixture over the pasta, then stir in the cream mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Mushrooms. Love them or hate them.

We are not big mushroom people regularly but we thought they would still be a perfect substitution for this recipe. And they are. Marinated and sautéed baby bella mushrooms are quite delicious and the texture is excellent.

The only thing that I will give you advice on for making the mushrooms is that you drain the marinade out before cooking them in the pan. And that you wipe down the pan, or use a separate pan, when combining all the ingredients together with the cooked spaghetti. Mushrooms are very porous and will absorb the marinade well and you don’t want the recipe to be too salty.

Cook the mushrooms until they shrivel up. We use 3 cups of sliced mushrooms in our recipe, but I wouldn’t be mad if you made more than that. Traditional Carbonara doesn’t have a lot of guanciale (guanciale is basically like a fancy bacon, I won’t go into details…)

The mushrooms shrink a lot when you cook them, and you want to make sure they are cooked a good amount to make them crispy around the edges but chewy too.

Vegetarian Carbonara Is Like Italian Mac and Cheese

It may sound like a stretch to call this carbonara-inspired pasta "Italian mac and cheese," but hear me out. Carbonara sauce is creamy, cheesy, and eggy, attributes you'll usually find in a bowl of the classic American dish. If the carbonara is made without cured pork and tossed with elbow noodles — as I did here — then can't one call it mac and cheese?

Still have reservations about making it yourself? If you're squeamish about mixing raw egg into the noodles, there's no need to fret! The heat and steam from the pasta will cook the eggs. Just be sure to transfer the pasta into a separate bowl otherwise, you'll end up with carbonara that has a clotted, scrambled eggy texture.

Recipe Summary

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 ounces prosciutto, sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide strips
  • 2 large eggs, plus 2 yolks
  • 1 ounce Pecorino Romano, grated (1/4 cup), plus more for serving
  • 12 ounces rigatoni
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 5 ounces baby spinach

In a large skillet, heat oil and half of prosciutto over medium cook, stirring occasionally, until prosciutto is crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels crumble. In a bowl, whisk together whole eggs, yolks, and cheese.

Cook pasta in a pot of salted boiling water 1 minute less than package instructions. Reserve 1 cup pasta water, then drain. Slowly whisk 1/4 cup pasta water into egg mixture. Add pasta and spinach to skillet, then slowly add egg mixture to pasta.

Stir constantly over low heat until sauce thickens and clings evenly to pasta and spinach wilts slightly, 3 to 5 minutes add more pasta water as needed to create a silky sauce. Stir in all prosciutto. Serve with more cheese and pepper.


Traditionally, carbonara is pasta with egg, hard cheese, guanciale (or pancetta or prosciut-to), and black pepper. Sweet peas are a frequent addition that I chose to include here for the sweetness and freshness they add to the dish. 

Because guanciale, pancetta, and prosciutto are pork products, of course, traditional carbonara is not kosher. But when you look at the role guanciale plays in the dish, it really comes down to one word—umami. There are other ways to get the sort of umami those pork products bring to the party, one of the best being oven-dried tomatoes, which bring a similar depth of flavor and a similar savory profile as the cured pork.

Carbonara is classically made with bucatini or spaghetti, but I love making it with penne pasta. Why? Because the little bits—the peas and oven-dried tomatoes in this recipe—get stuck in the tubes of penne. But you can use whichever shape you prefer. 


  • Salt
  • 1 pound dry penne
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ pound Oven-Dried Tomatoes, sliced into small strips
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup frozen sweet peas, thawed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (plus more for serving)
  • 1 handful fresh parsley, chopped


1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, to the point that the pasta is aldente. Drain the pasta well, reserving at least ½ cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce.

2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the oven-dried tomatoes to the pan, increase the heat to high, and cook for about 2 minutes, until the tomatoes are slightly caramelized. Turn the heat down to medium, add the garlic and sweet peas, and cook for another 2 minutes.

3. Beat the eggs and cheese together in a medium bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Add the hot, drained pasta to the pan along with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss to coat the pasta. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and pour the egg mixture into the pasta, mixing quickly until the eggs thicken but do not scramble (it is lower risk to do this off the heat, but the results will never be as good). Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it just clings to the pasta. Taste the dish and adjust the seasoning.