Vegetarian Carbonara



by Cat, Oct 2009 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

See also:  Classic Carbonara (with Pancetta or Guanciale)Chicken alla Carbonara

Carbonara is a rich, creamy sauce that clings to pasta and tastes divine. It originated in Italy where it is typically made with olive oil, garlic, eggs, and cheese. Classic or authentic carbonara includes pancetta (Italian bacon), but you can make it vegetarian (but not vegan) by omitting the meat and adding mushrooms, walnuts, and/or onions.

To be truly authentic, no cream is used; only eggs, oil and cheese make up the ‘creamy’ sauce.

Vegetarian Carbonara

This recipe is adapted from The Vegetarian Epicure Book Two, by Anna Thomas (1). This is decidedly delicious, and I don’t think you’ll miss the meat. For an interesting meat-like variation, add diced mushrooms (such as chanterelles, crimini or morels), to the onion saute.

Many people are daunted by making this dish because if not done right, the sauce turns into scrambled eggs instead of a creamy sauce. But really, it’s not hard as long as you follow directions. Keys to success:

  • Eggs should be at room temperature before stirring in the cheese and adding to the sauce;
  • The pan should be hot, but off-flame when adding the eggs. Let the hot pasta thicken the eggs, rather than the heat of the pan.
  • This is done by adding egg/cheese mixture to pasta in the pan, rather than onto the bottom of the pan; then, using 2 wooden spoons, lift the pasta to allow the sauce to coat all sides and thicken. Let the pasta fall back into the pan and lift again. Repeat until all the pasta is coated with the thick sauce.

The best pasta for Carbonara is spaghetti, bucatini or linguini. Fettucini can be used in a pinch, but the skinnier the better – and the more sauce it can hold. Tubular pastas (like macaroni) do not work well with carbonara.

Serves 2 – 3

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 3 medium-sized eggs (free range)
  • 1/4 lb parmesan, finely grated (about 1 cup)
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • Unrefined Sea Salt, to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 lb spaghetti (or other thin pasta)
  • medium bowl
  • cast iron skillet
  • large saucepan
  • colander
  • two wooden spoons


  1. Beat eggs until fairly smooth, then stir in grated cheese. The mixture should have the consistency of a soft paste.
  2. Peel, quarter and slice the onions, or chop very coarsely. Mince garlic.
  3. Heat olive oil in skillet; add onions and saute over medium-high heat until they begin to turn golden brown. Add garlic and mix well.
  4. Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in vigorously boiling water until just barely al dente. If onions are done before spaghetti is ready, remove skillet from heat until about a minute before the spaghettis will be drained, then quickly reheat.
  5. Drain spaghetti thoroughly in a colander. Remove onions from heat and add spaghetti to the hot skillet. Pour egg/cheese mixture over spaghetti (not directly into skillet). Mix together quickly by lifting pasta with two wooden spoons, for about 1 minute. The heat of the pasta, onions and skillet will thicken the eggs and melt the cheese, and the pasta will be thoroughly coated. If eggs are still runny after about a minute of lifting, just continue process until the right consistency is reached.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste; serve immediately.

Assembly or Serving ideas

  • Serve with a salad of greens, ripe tomato slices, and a light vinaigrette.
  • A side of brined olives is a great accompaniment.


  1. The Vegetarian Epicure Book Two, by Anna Thomas

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