Vegetarian spaghetti carbonara

Joined Nov 27, 2010
I had a ridiculous craving for spaghetti carbonara the other day.  The wife is a vegetarian, so normally I don't make it at the house because I just don't enjoy carbonara without the pork.

I decided to try it with tempeh.  I bought some Lightlife fakin' bacon, chopped it up as I would for a more traditional carbonara and pan fried it to give it a little more crunch.  Still not quite as crunchy as some fatty pork, but good.

Believe it or not, it was delicious.  Maybe I'm fooling myself, but I'm a huge fan of carbonara and have eaten it all over the world.  

My simple method is this:

1) Pan fry the tempeh in some oil until it's nice and crisp

2) Toss some pasta in boiling, salted water

3) Whisk a few eggs, roughly 1 per person in a separate bowl

4) Add a generous amount of finely grated parmesan cheese to the bowl with the eggs and whisk

5) Remove the tempeh from the pan and let it drain

6) Saute a generous amount of chopped garlic for a minute or two

7) Throw the pasta into the pan and saute everything for a minute or so

8) Take the pan off the heat

9) Slowly pour in the egg/cheese mixture and whisk like crazy so it doesn't scramble

10) Whisk in a generous amount of coarsely ground black pepper

I know there are probably other ways to do it, but this works well for me.  Any thoughts or ideas as to what else I can do with carbonara'esque dishes, still vegetarian?
Joined Jul 5, 2010
Sounds like a good meal.  One of the tricks I learned, and still use - even though I haven't been a strict vegetarian for a long time now - for getting a really nice savory-meaty flavor into a dish without the liberal use of salty stuff like fermented bean sauce or meat substitution products is what I call shitake mushroom nibs. 

Slice them thin, get a pan up to screaming heat, coat the pan generously with frying oil (about 1 TBLS oil per cup of sliced mushrooms), and immediately after (before the oil begins to smoke) add the mushrooms.  Saute (practically a sear) them on as high of a heat as you dare while avoiding any charring.  * note - the mushrooms will absorb the oil at first, but about 1/3-1/2 of the way into the cooking process, they will release some of the oil again, along with natural juices *   I find that seasoning at this time works best, but be sure to under-season them, as they will cook down significantly, and you can always add more seasoning to touch them up at the end.  Cook au sec on med-high until almost crispy.  Remove the pan from the heat and add finely minced garlic or garlic paste to brown in the residual heat while the mushrooms fully crisp (or keep the pan on a med-low heat after adding the garlic if your pan does not retain heat very well).  You may add a small amount of vegetable stock or even water (approx. 1 TBLS) with the garlic for a more complete infusion of flavors, or if you're working with a heavy cast-iron pan or something of the like that has amazing heat retention, but it's not absolutely necessary in most cases, and it can take away some of the crispiness of the mushroom nibs. 

A little more oil than necessary is better than too little oil in this technique.  If the mushrooms end up slightly too oily, just let them rest on some paper towels after cooking as you would bacon, then you're good to go. 

Add them as is, or minced, to any dish for a bacon-like flavor component.  They're great as a basic garnish for just about anything or as a salad topping, too /img/vbsmilies/smilies/licklips.gif   I enjoyed working to enhance my technique on this one.  It's relatively easy to do on a less-than-threat-of-burning-the-house-down heat, and rewarding enough at that; but the better you get at it, and the higher the heat (no charring or smoking!), the better the treat.
Joined Feb 26, 2007
Nice idea Iplay, thanks for that.  I would suggest 'shrooms too, but hadn't thought of searing the heck out of them.  Tempted to give that one a try.  We're not vegetarians by any description, sometimes tho it it nice to not have meat.

Just a thought - what about deep fried and well drained sliced shallots for a bit of mouth feel?  You can get them from the grocery store (much easier) or make your own.

Oops another idea just came my way - it is really not on the carbonara theme, but finely sliced cabbage deep fried until crispy is a nice dressing, ends up like deep fried seaweed.  Crunchy and tasty, lots of salt on this please after cooking and draining.

You could also try it with some toasted flaked almonds or your nut of choice, say some spiced up cashews.

Hope this helps. :)
Joined Nov 27, 2010
Good stuff iplay and DC.  I love mushrooms and use them often in my cream sauces, but I too never thought of working them over like that.  Sounds like that would be delicious.  I'll give some of these ideas a shot!
Joined Apr 3, 2010
This is a far cry from true Carbonara, although it may be good to you I suggest another name.  Pasta A La Chadwick
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