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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Easy Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti is definitely a go-to meal around here and my kids could eat it every day, much like myself as a kid. Once, when I was in 3rd grade, my dad and I found ourselves home alone for a week. We ate spaghetti every night. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. My dad was lucky I was a clueless 9-year-old.

While I am grateful to know that my kids will always eat spaghetti (it really is a good option on a busy night), I must admit that Nate and I are less enthusiastic about the dish. I don’t know, it’s just kinda boring. The razzle dazzle of spaghetti has finally worn off for me. Sorry, Dad! πŸ˜‰

Last week, however, I decided to try to make spaghetti more interesting. The result was delicious! I used a recipe for spaghetti carbonara from Christina Ferrare’s Big Bowl of Love cookbook and it came out beautifully. The ingredients are simple, the taste is flavorful, and the sauce is creamy without using actual cream.

Nate and I both really liked this recipe. I actually loved it. The girls stuck with classic boring spaghetti that night, but I don’t think they even tried the carbonara, little stinkers. Owen, however, ate three servings and couldn’t get enough!

Easy Spaghetti Carbonara
Adapted from Big Bowl of Love by Christina Ferrare (I changed a few of the ingredient amounts and also some of the technique based on my experience with the recipe)
Recipe type: Main Dish, Pasta
  • 2 cups peas (original recipe calls for fresh, I used frozen)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces diced pancetta
  • 2 tablespoons chopped shallot (or regular onion if you don’t have a shallot on hand)
  • 8 ounces spaghetti or linguine (fresh is yummier, dried is fine)
  • 1 cup low-fat milk
  • 1½ cups freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus additional for garnish
  1. If using fresh peas, remove the peas from their pods and set aside. For frozen, run warm water over the peas to separate them, drain, then set aside.
  2. In a cold, large, heavy pot, pour the olive oil and swirl to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the pancetta, cook over medium heat until pancetta is crisp. Remove pancetta and set aside. Add shallot to the pan and saute until crispy. Remove from heat, add pancetta back to the pot and set aside. I am lazy, so I cooked the pancetta then just added the shallot/onion to the pan without removing the pancetta. I added the shallot before the pancetta got crispy then cooked until the onions were softened. Once cooked, turn off heat and set pan aside.
  3. Cook pasta to package directions. Be sure to salt the water – 1 tablespoon salt per 3 quarts of water. Three minutes before pasta is ready, add peas. Drain pasta and peas, reserving 3 cups of the pasta water and set aside.
  4. The original recipe tells you to add the pasta to the large pot with the shallots and then mix in the sauce ingredients. I did it this way and found that the cheese was very clumpy. It tasted good, but I didn’t get a smooth sauce. So, I am modifying the directions. Return the pancetta/shallot pan back to the stove and turn the heat on to medium-high. Immediately add ½ cup pasta water, ½ cup milk and ½ cup parmesan cheese. Whisk well. Add remainder of the parmesan cheese and milk and keep whisking. If the sauce is too thick or gooey, add pasta water ¼ cup at a time until sauce is creamy. Reduce heat to low then stir in the peas and spaghetti.
  5. Serve topped with additional parmesan cheese and mint leaves if desired.



  1. That’s one of my favorite cookbooks! I love Cristina’s recipes. πŸ™‚ I haven’t tried a carbonara lately because of the uncooked egg (and my aversion to that!) but I’m enticed by your egg-free version!

  2. We just finished dinner and I would still eat a bowl full of this. It looks that delicious! It’s going to be dinner tomorrow πŸ™‚

  3. Carbonara is one of my favorites. This sounds great.

  4. 4

    i keep making carbonara thinking my kids will definitely eat it, and they push it around their plates without eating it every. single. time. it’s usually ok with me because then i get all the leftovers, but i’m always surprised…seems like a kid-friendly dish to me. glad my kids aren’t the only ones who won’t eat it.

  5. 5

    Love how easy this recipe is!

  6. I love carbonara, and love that this has peas in it!

  7. This is going on the must make list!

  8. Very interesting way of preparing this dish.

  9. I need to try this – I know my family would love it!

  10. I really like your recipes, but why does anybody understand that carbonara is with eggs??!! I’m Italian (from Italy, so real Italian) and I can tell you, the real recipe of pasta carbonara is with whisked eggs (1 per person + 1) which you add pepper and parmisan cheese to, and at the end you can add sour cream (not compulsory) to melt it better. I don’t know why everywhere else out of Italy they make it in the wrong way -.-

  11. 11

    Carbonara is made with eggs! (This is an advice, not a critic). Eggs are the most important ingredients in this receipe! No peas, no milk and it is better to use dried pasta.
    P.S. I’m italian, from Rome, the home of carbonara!

  12. 12

    Okay, I am really sorry, but this pasta has nothing to do with carbonara… I’m not saying this tastes awefully, maybe it’s really good, but PLEASE don’t call it carbonara!! Carbonara is made with eggs, guancale (or pancetta for the easier version), pepper, salt and if you want some pecorino romano, and you use spaghetti… No milk, no peas, no shallot, no parmesan cheese! I don’t get it how you cuoldn’t include at least the most importanti thing for the carbonara, the eggs!? If you don’t know how to make carbonara then don’t call your self-created dish carbonara because it looks like it for you!

    An italian, who knows how to make carbonara

  13. 13
    Jane Maynard

    Hi Vittoria, Sandra and Martina – Thanks for your comments! Yes, I understand that carbonara is an egg-based sauce. This was a recipe I tried from a cookbook and is simply an easy, cheater’s version of carbonara. Thanks for your great tips on making the real deal! I agree it is beyond delicious! πŸ™‚

  14. 14

    As for the Italian’s making the comments in regard to egg’s and carbonara..I would love to have this dish made the “REAL ITALIAN WAY” ……BUT iam highly allergic to eggs, and become violently ill when I eat anything with egg in it ( or by themselves ) SO with that being said…Iam grateful for people like Jane who have modified “carbonara” recipe’s WITHOUT egg so I can at least PRETEND iam eating the real thing! πŸ™‚ Thanks Jane!

  15. 15

    has anyone tried subbing non-dairy milk?

  16. 16
    Pasta Masta

    Hey, i was wondering if you could sup in bacon instead of pancetta? i was going to make this for siblings and parents but my siblings dont like pancetta? is this ok?

    • mommyof1oneontheway

      hey @pastamasta just wanted to say when it comes to cooking don’t be afraid to try new things, and make a recipe your own πŸ˜‰ That is the fun of cooking. I’m actually making this tonight, but completely different with bacon & cheddar cheese πŸ™‚ Good luck

  17. 17

    People don’t get so offended by a different take on this dish some people (me) can’t have eggs because of allergies, this woman s just trying to create a similar taste without using eggs!! Chill out

  18. 18

    Ys. We all know the carbonara sauce has eggs in it. This recipe is also intended for allergic people to eggs and I thank this website I found this for my son whose eggs allergy is really bad! The ones who have no problems with eggs can put them in it! It is an awesome alternative….

  19. 19

    Italians always need to come off like they are so special in a rude way. Love this dish.

  20. 20

    This recipe was……Shite. The sauce done that way seperated and I ended up with clumpy cheesy onions and veg and yellow liquid that just didnt turn into a sauce. WTAF. Never avoiding my instincts to make a rue and opt for the “FAST WAY” of doing things EVER AGAIN. Terrible recipe.

    • That is too bad the sauce didn’t come together for you – it did come together fine for me, so not sure what to say. but I agree using a roux is always very reliable. good luck with other recipes!

  21. 21

    Making this tonight (minus the peas) and using ground beef instead. Great recipe!

  22. 22

    This looks really good but sadly i dont have parmesan cheese is it good to use cheddar cheese?

    • probably would work, it will just be more like a mac n cheese dish rather than a carbonara dish, but I’m sure would taste good. that said I haven’t ever done it with cheddar. if you do try it, let us know how it goes!

    • Thats true it might just turn out to be a mac and cheese..

  23. 23

    This recipe is confusing (not negative). Everything I’ve read about carbonara – that recipe is my nemesis, I’ve made it many, many times and it’s been edible just a single attempt because I really am that terrible of a cook – has given me the same information for the most part. What I thought I knew, is that carbonara will always have these ingredients: pasta, pancetta/bacon, parmesan and eggs. I’ve never seen anything even close to the recipe you’ve shown here. That I absolutely intend to try (and most likely, destroy) making. Do you think it really qualifies as a carbonara? It’s the same idea but really, since it’s missing the component that is responsible for the sauce… I won’t touch an egg without an entirely cooked yolk but that sauce? Started with raw eggs? It’s delicious! Just wondered what your thoughts are here.

    • hi debi! this recipe comes from an Italian cook. it’s not traditional carbonara, but rather a simplified variation. if you read through the comments there are some people who definitely do not think it qualifies as carbonara…but that’s okay! it’s a delicious sauce that is very similar and great for people who either don’t like eggs or have egg allergies.

      So, yeah, not a true carbonara. but still tasty and probably sounds like it would be worth a shot for you to try! lmk how it goes! πŸ™‚

  24. 24

    Was yummy. Last minute β€œwhat can I throw together for dinner” moment. Tweaked a bit because I only had bacon, no pancetta. I pan fried 4 slices of bacon, removed the bacon and cooked shallots in bacon grease. After I removed from heat, added crumbled bacon and a little olive oil (you may want to take some of the bacon grease out first) Did everything else following the recipe and the cheese clumped as soon as I added it to the sauce. So…. took the clump out, and added the Parmesan directly to the pasta first, then poured the sauce over. Worked great and tasted good. Everyone ate it which is pretty rare in my house.

  25. 25

    This looks really good! As I child, I always a fussy eater. But ever since my godmother made me this, I loved Spaghetti carbonara.

    I am going to use other cheese that I have in my fridge as a substitute for the other cheeses

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