Carbonara [karboˈnaːra] is a delectable Italian pasta dish that originated in Rome in the middle of the 20th century.
It is prepared with a creamy sauce made of fried pancetta (Italian bacon) or guanciale (Italian cured meat), eggs, hard cheese (usually Pecorino Romano), and black pepper. The pasta used in this dish is usually spaghetti (hence, the name Spaghetti alla Carbonara); but you can also use penne, fettuccine, rigatoni, linguine, or bucatini, if desired). This dish is usually one of the top 5 favorite pasta dishes among pasta lovers because … who doesn’t love bacon?
Carbonara is also one of the recipes that’s most difficult to “vegan-ize” since the major ingredients that give its sauce flavor and creaminess are animal-based (such as pancetta, eggs, cheese). But I recently tried a vegan carbonara recipe that captures the flavor of the original like no other I’ve found.
As part of Underground Health Reporter’s Meatless Monday issue, I’m featuring a version of Spaghetti alla Carbonara that is 100% plant-based. I can almost hear resounding protests … “Yeah, but how does it taste?” Believe it or not, it’s rich and creamy because the brilliant combination of tofu, nutritional yeast and miso creates a silky, egg-like base and a flavorful sauce – not unlike the meat-studded version. The king oyster mushrooms are full-bodied and meaty enough to mimic pancetta — and mild-flavored enough that they don’t overpower the dish and make it taste too much like mushrooms, which won’t lend the desired result.
This recipe is 100% vegan – and every bit as delicious as the pancetta-based Spaghetti alla Carbonara served at the best Italian restaurants and kitchens.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara – Vegan Style
7 ounces silken tofu (½ of a 14-ounce block; 200g)
½ cup sauerkraut brine (i.e., the brine from fermented sauerkraut, or if not available, use ¼ cup each of water and dry white wine instead)
¼ cup nutritional yeast (½ ounce)
1 tablespoon white miso
A pinch cayenne pepper or red chili flakes
3 dashes (about ¼ teaspoon) smoked paprika
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or fresh juice from 1 lemon
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
4 ounces king oyster mushrooms, stems and caps sliced into ½-inch “lardons”
1 pound dry spaghetti (or penne, fettuccine, rigatoni, linguine, or bucatini)
In a blender, combine tofu, nutritional yeast, miso, sauerkraut brine, cayenne or chili flakes, smoked paprika, black pepper, and vinegar or lemon juice. Blend ingredients together in a high-speed blender until it becomes a smooth, silky sauce. Season with salt. Add ¼ cup olive oil and blend at low speed until emulsified.
In a large sauté pan, heat remaining ¼ cup olive oil over medium-high heat, then, add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until browned, about 6 minutes.
In a pot of boiling water (salt added, if desired), cook pasta until firm to the bite (al dente). Transfer pasta to pan with mushrooms, reserving some of the starchy water in which you cooked the pasta. Pour on just enough creamy sauce to coat all the pasta, then add about ¼ cup of the starchy pasta water. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sauce forms a silky glaze that coats pasta. Serve. (Makes 4 servings)