Look, if I’m going to be a complete purist, the traditional Roman version of this iconic dish is a spaghetti carbonara without bacon or cream because it used guanciale (a cured pork jowl) and an egg yolk emulsion to get the desired effect. But I also am smart enough to know that you searching for a carbonara recipe without bacon likely means that you’re looking to make either a version without pork or cream.
I understand this completely. For one, it’s a lot healthier to have this somewhat indulgent pasta without a cured pork product and, for another, it’s also a lot more inclusive of countless different diets. So to develop a fantastic carbonara recipe without bacon or without cream, I instead drew some inspiration from a Southern Italian dish called cacio e uova, which is, in it’s essence, a meatless carbonara.
So if you love spaghetti carbonara but want it without the pork and without the cream, then look no further. This pasta used traditional techniques but modifies it for these specific tastes to result in a delicious pasta dish that comes together in minutes and, if you follow my instructions, is basically foolproof.
How to Make Carbonara Without Bacon or Cream
Just because I’m making a carbonara recipe without bacon or pancetta or guanciale or any other cured pork product does not mean that I’m ignoring the traditional Italian way of putting together these sauces.
And because of this, we also happen to be making spaghetti carbonara without cream, as well! In order to traditionally get a creamy and delicious sauce, you use an emulsion created by the starchy pasta water (check out my fettuccine Alfredo recipe or mushroom bucatini recipe for an even easier version of this technique!). Also, if you want some other super quick pasta dishes, check out my penne alla vodka and shrimp scampi recipes!
First things first, we will start with getting the basis of the sauce together. This carbonara recipe comes together incredibly quickly but the entire time is active so you need to have everything prepped beforehand. So in a large bowl, whisk together your egg, yolks and pecorino cheese.
I say to use Pecorino Romano cheese in this recipe because that is what is traditionally used in carbonara, however, you can just as easily sub in Parmigiano Reggiano cheese with no sacrifices in quality, it just will taste slightly different.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I actually did just this when making the recipe as imported cheese can be really difficult to source where I am based in Tbilisi in the country of Georgia. If you want to make this fully vegetarian, then just use a vegetarian substitute for the cheese.
Whisk the eggs and cheese until well combined and then set aside, preferably very close to your work station because you want everything within very easy reach.
Then, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil. There is a common phrase that pasta water should be “as salty as the ocean” but don’t really take this at face value as I think the phrase tends to be a tad hyperbolic. The ocean is incredibly salty and that level of salinity would ruin your finished pasta dish. So just add maybe a tablespoon per 2-3 litres of water and call it a day.
Once your water is boiling, add your pasta and make sure to stir it to ensure it doesn’t stick together. I recommend using a long, thick pasta like spaghetti (obviously) or something like bucatini, which is actually my preference (the little hole in the centre makes me happy for some reason!).
Cook the pasta until it is very al dente, about a minute or two less than the package says because we will continue to cook it over the residual pan heat.
While your pasta is cooking, drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a few crushed cloves of garlic (we’re not using pork in this carbonara, so I’m taking some liberty and adding garlic!) to a cold skillet and turn your flame to medium-low and allow the garlic to slowly toast and infuse in the oil until your pasta is cooked.
Once the pasta is one, use tongs to remove it from the pot (leave the water behind, don’t drain it!), and add it to your skillet with the oil and garlic. Toss the pasta in the garlic and oil.
Now, in your bowl with the eggs and cheese, whisk constantly while very slowly drizzling a ladle full of pasta water into it. This will temper the eggs and prevent them from scrambling in the pan.
Turn off the heat in the skillet and pour your egg mixture over the pasta. Using your tongs, toss the pasta in the sauce until it evenly coats the pasta and begins to thicken. If necessary, loosen the sauce with more pasta water — this is why we don’t drain it!
Season your pasta generously with freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste and then serve immediately — this is not a dish that lends well to sitting in the pan for a while.
Top with more grated cheese, if desired, another few grinds of black pepper and maybe a bit of freshly chopped parsley for some colour and a bit of a vegetable, herbal note.
All that’s left to do is dig in and enjoy! This pasta is quick and easy to make but it is always a showstopper. And if you want another veggie version of a classic Roman pasta, check out my bucatini all’amatriciana!
- 1 large egg
- 2 egg yolks
- 100g (3.5oz) pecorino romano cheese, finely grated
- 500g spaghetti or bucatini
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 30ml (2tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
- Salt & pepper
- In a large bowl, whisk together egg, yolks and cheese. Set aside
- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil. Add pasta, stir and cook until very toothsome, about 1-2 minutes less than the package suggests. Do no drain pasta water.
- While the pasta is cooking, add garlic cloves and olive oil to a cold skillet, turn the flame to medium, and heat unit the oil is shimmering and the garlic is toasted, golden and tender, about 3-5 minutes. Using tongs, add the pasta to the skillet and toss to coat in the oil.
- Whisking constantly, slowly ladle in about 125ml (1/2 cup) of pasta cooking water into the bowl with the egg and cheese mixture, being careful not to work too quickly so as not to curdle the eggs.
- Turn off the heat of the skillet and pour over the tempered egg and cheese mixture. Using the residual heat of the pan, toss the pasta using tongs until the sauce is thickened and evenly coats the pasta, about 2-3 minutes longer. Add more pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce.
- Season liberally with freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. Serve immediately with more grated pecorino if desired.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 448Total Fat: 18gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 165mgSodium: 462mgCarbohydrates: 51gFiber: 2gSugar: 2gProtein: 20g
Nutritional information is automatically generated and provided as guidance only. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
So if you’re wondering how to make spaghetti carbonara without bacon, guanciale, pancetta or cream — this is how! You’re not really missing out on anything without the pork products as the cheese, eggs and garlic add their own levels of flavour to the dish making is delicious even without the meat!
Are you searching for the perfect carbonara recipe without cream or bacon? Have any questions? Let me know in the comments!