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New Age Vegan Pasta Carbonara

The past couple of weeks have been beyond hectic here at the DDD household, what with a surprise party (at my place) for my office mate; a wedding shower (no, not mine–okay, breathe normally now); two new courses to prepare for my return to teaching next week (what?? Seriously, is my vacation over already?); and some heavy-duty baking from Sweet Freedom so I could deliver samples to a slew of people. Not to mention the energy it took to get over my excitement at having Ellen read my cookbook!**

With all this frenzied activity, I haven’t had a huge amount of time for cooking–at least, cooking anything that takes up more time than your standard elevator pitch. I searched through my mental archives for quick, easy recipes–and then I remembered Leticia.

Leticia (well, actually, I don’t remember her real name, but I do know it was seemed somewhat exotic to me at the time, and it started with “L” and ended with  “A”), was a fellow don in residence when I was there during my PhD years.  And who knows more about the ins and outs of “quick and easy” food than students living in residence over the long and lonely summer months?

Leticia (or was it Lydia?) was a new-agey, hip and–to my mind–somewhat radical young woman.  One evening as we sat out enjoying the summer air on the residence balcony, she casually revealed to me that she’d once married another student during her undergraduate years, simply to help him avoid deportation.  Wow!  How daring!  How outré! How anti-establishment!  How illegal!

I was in awe of her.

Lydia (or Leora) was tall and thin as bullrushes, with thick, frazzled brown hair that seemed to be suspended around her square face like a floating birds’ nest, its stray strands protruding at erratic angles. She had a tendency to wear loose cotton dresses that were either tie-dyed or hand-painted, sporting faded splotches of color like an artist’s smock that had been bleached over and over.  Leora (Larissa?) actually had a very pretty face, with large, heavy-lidded eyes and Angelina Jolie lips.  And when Larissa (or Lorena) spoke, it was in a low, deep whisper like an FM radio announcer, as if she’d just unearthed a scandalous childhood secret.

Because of her Italian background, Lorena/Ludmilla informed me, she was an expert on pasta.  One evening, when the two of us roamed the otherwise empty corridors in the residence hall, she invited me to share her pasta carbonara.  I was entranced by how quickly it came together: she boiled the pasta, tossed it with a couple of beaten eggs and threw in crumbled bacon that had been fried as the pasta boiled.  The final touch was a handful of green peas; the entire dish was then topped with grated parmesan cheese and a liberal grinding of black pepper. I was amazed at how creamy the eggy sauce was, and how well the smoky bacon complemented the almost-instant satiny coating.

Never mind that I don’t eat bacon any more; the idea of eating raw egg (the heat of the pasta supposedly flash-cooks it) is, to my current-day digestive system, repulsive.  But the ease of preparation, the creamy-and-smoky texture and flavor combination–well, those still appeal. Big time.

So I set about finding recipes for pasta carbonara that I could adapt to my current dietary limitationss.  And you know what?  Not one of them contained peas!  I’m not sure if the peas were Latoya’s own addition or if they were generated by my imagination, but I couldn’t conceive of the dish without them. So my version may not be conventional–but then again, neither was Lillianna.

After examining various other vegan pasta carbonara recipes, from Vegan Dad’s coconut-milk based to Urban Vegan’s  with white wine to a more conventional recipe, I decided to go with my gut and create my own soy-free, wine-less version.  I still wanted the sauce to be creamy and eggy (but without any resemblance to raw eggs).  For the bacon, I adapted the tempeh recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance to create a super-quick, non-marinated version; and since I loved Loretta”s original creation so much, I retained the peas in the mix.

The result was a silky smooth sauce infused with a hint of smokiness from the bacon and a surprise burst of sweetness on occasion from the peas.  As is our wont when I cook a vegan main course, the HH and I sat down to individual plates so he could doctor his up with something more animal-centric.  With the the tub of parmesan by his side–something he perfunctorily dusts on every pasta dish I make–he decided to taste the pasta first, au naturel.

Slowly, he chewed, moving the penne around in his mouth, carefully assessing the flavor.  He swallowed.

“You know,” he said, “it doesn’t actually need the cheese.  I’m just going to eat it like this.”

It doesn’t need the cheeseHe ate it just like that! TRIUMPH

So we ate the pasta carbonara, the HH and I, both equally happy with its warm, filling, flavorful sauce and meaty, smoky bits of tempeh bacon.  As he cleaned his plate, the HH pronounced, “I don’t think you could improve on this with anything.” (I nearly fainted.) “It’s perfect as it is.”  Well, knock me over with a feather! (Okay, it would have to be a pewter statue of a feather, because, as we all know, an actual feather would have no impact on me whatsoever. . .but whatever).

If you’re looking for a quick and delicious weekday dinner and feel like some pasta, give this a try.  In no time, you’ll have a dinner that’s not only toothsome, but slightly unconventional and really hip, too.  Like Lucinda.  Or Leticia.  Or whoever she was.

** (The quest continues–so please feel free to let Ellen know if you’d like to see me on the show! You will win a free copy of Sweet Freedom if I’m on! Click here to send her a comment about how talented and witty I am. Oh, and what a good cook, too. 😉 )

This post has been submitted to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays over at Simply Sugar and Gluten Free.

Last Year at this Time: Flash in the Pan: Almond-Crusted Root Vegetable “Fries”

Two Years Ago: Peanut Butter Biscuits (pre-ACD recipe)

© 2010 Diet, Dessert and Dogs


57 comments to New Age Vegan Pasta Carbonara

  • Mo

    This looks sooo good. Tempeh has always kind of weirded me out but this makes me want to try it. 🙂


  • That looks so much better than the vegan mac and cheese I had from a box for lunch today.


  • Congratulations on your delicious victory! I’m so glad HH loved this dish enough to enjoy it sans cheese. I hope you savour the sweet taste of success.


  • MMM, I’m in the throes of finals right now, so anything comfort foody is like WHOA OMG I NEED THAT. hahah


  • Spaghetti carbonara was my good friend Suzanne’s (long, thick, wavy red hair) signature dish. I can’t even tell you how many times I ate it at her house. I think she used sausage, and I don’t remember peas, but it was SO rich it gave me shivers as I swallowed it. There must have been a billion grams of fat in every serving. I think I’ll make your version (or my version of your version 🙂 and enjoy my memories! Thanks.


  • I’m so glad your vegan carbonara was a success because I am so going to make this! It was just recently that my husband, son and I were talking about how I used to make carbonara and how good it was. Now I don’t have to rack my brain on how I’m going to make it. thanks, I’ll get back to you on what the family thinks.


  • goodness, ricki. that looks almost too delicious to be true! you are a whiz at tasty vegan food, and ellen would be lucky to have you!

    I wanted to let you know that I have bestowed on you the great honor of “Sunshine Award” 🙂 You can check it out here, http://theradioactivegan.blogspot.com/2010/05/let-little-sunshine-in.html but it basically just means you’re awesome! Thanks for some great blogging 🙂


  • I’m sure my gentleman friend and I would agree with your HH, because this dish does indeed sound perfect as it is. I was out of tempeh for a while, but finally replenished my stock yesterday, so I’m all set to make this soon – I’m looking forward to it!


  • WHOA WHOA WHOA. This looks AMAZING! I never had ‘real’ pasta carbonara, but this looks so delicious I bet it is even better. Thanks for another great recipe!


  • Wow this looks amazing! I must try this!


  • I think I would skip the peas, but I love the recipe. Must get some tempeh 🙂


  • Your narratives always crack me up. I think you should write a memoir.
    And congrats on the triumph with the HH — an omnivore enjoying your food without adding cheese? Ultimate compliment!


  • Ari

    Heaven! I’m happy to have a “bacon” recipe without apple cider or the bizarre addition of tomato (bacon has never, and will never, taste like tomatoes…). Is rice pasta okay with the ACD?


  • I always love the stories behind the recipes…


  • that creamy pasta looks so good and even better for not being laden with dairy – though I do love some cheese on my pasta, it can be just so heavy. Perhaps your friend was called lolita!!!


  • Jes

    This does look 100x better than the original eggy recipe! Definitely on my to-make list!


  • Oh wow, this does look incredible Ricki – I’m not surprised it was a success. You always seem to mix just the right seasonings.


  • I’ve recently learned that the combination of cashew, miso, tahini, and dijon mustard = magic! No doubt I would love this dish wholeheartedly. Well done!


  • Mo,
    Really? I actually like it better than tofu. Give it a try–you might like it! (Be daring!) 😉

    That’s great–I bet it tasted better, too. 😉


    Yes, it was a sweet victory (or a savory victory, actually!) 😉

    I bet this would be a great exam food. . .just be careful as you’re eating–it’s very easy to consume the whole batch!

    Glad to provide some good (?) memories. I honestly can’t remember exactly what the original one I had tasted like, so I have no idea if this is authentic. . . but we sure did like it. 🙂

    Hope you all like it! I’m not sure if the flavor is “authentic,” but it’s delicious in its own right! 🙂

    Thank you so much! I’m honored to receive the award. 😀 And let’s hope that Ellen agrees with you! 😉

    Hope you both enjoy it! 🙂

    Voracious Vegan,
    This may not be like actual carbonara, but I bet you’ll like it!

    Thanks! Let me know what you think if you do give it a try. 🙂

    I know the peas aren’t conventional for this dish–but I couldn’t imagine it without them! 🙂

    I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yeeeeah! 😀

    Thanks so much! Rice pasta is okay on the later phases of the diet, once you start re-introducing some previously forbidden foods (like fruit, some nuts, etc.). I’ve been on the diet over a year now, so I felt safe using whole-grain, brown rice pasta. If you’ve just started–or if you know that your body reacts to pasta–then you shouldn’t use it. (And thanks for asking–I’m going to add a note to the recipe.) 🙂

    Aw, thanks! They seem to attach themselves to certain recipes in my mind!

    Hadn’t thought of Lolita–hmmm. Truly, none of the names I used rings a bell. . .but I know she’s out there somewhere! 😉

    Yes, and better for you, too–no raw eggs! 🙂

    Thanks so much! I was just guessing, of course, as to what an egg-based sauce would taste like. . but I still like this nonetheless! 🙂

    Ordinary Vegetarian,
    There is something very appealing about those particular ingredients together, isn’t there? I know I love them!


  • Wow! we are totally having this for dinner some night this week, thanks!!!
    Love your writing so much, just found your blog via your nut butter oven fries (holy yum! thanks for those too)
    I hope you get on Ellen.


  • Metta

    This looks really good! I’ve never had pasta carbonara (and never heard of it until after I became vegan – thanks to my Food Network education). I wonder if the creaminess might be a little reminiscent of fettuccini alfredo? I don’t remember what it tastes like, but do remember liking it very much.


  • Wow Ricki,
    So creative! Looks great, even tho I do eat bacon…


  • Oh, this looks fabulous! I can totally see my husband and I happily digging into a big plate of this. I love the addition of the peas! Peas and pasta are one of my favorite combos.


  • This looks amazing. I have always been repulsed by carbonara because of the ingredients it contains, but a little wistful because it looks so delicious and smoky and creamy (and I feel like the peas are an integral part, but what do I know?). So it’s very exciting to have you reworked recipe! All the yum and none of the ick.

    The post itself was hilarious. You’re such a delightful writer!


  • As always Ricki, your story charmed me and your recipe tempted my taste buds. Leticia/Larisa/Lenora/etc sounds absolutely intriguing; she could have gotten me to eat nearly raw egg too! THanks for another great recipe – I will have to try making this sauce ASAP! And I would have added peas as well. 🙂 xoxo Kim


  • I’ve never had “real” (for lack of a better word) pasta carbonara, but I’m sure is way super better. Raw eggs? Gross. But cashew butter, miso, and tahini in the same sauce? Yes please.


  • Oops. I meant to say “I’m sure YOURS is way super better”. I should really proof before I hit submit.


  • What a fantastic idea! This looks so delicious. I’m a meat eater and I’d be happy to eat a big bowl of this tasty looking carbonara.


  • Courtney

    Wow–that is some high praise from the HH. How could anyone NOT try it after that?!

    I remember watching my friend’s dad make carbonara in jr. high and being completely disgusted even then–raw egg in pasta?!? Are you serious?! I have always thought carbonara sounded gross and have never even tried it…yours sounds good, though 🙂



  • ROFL from all your L names that end in A! Too funny. You definitely should be on Ellen. I can only imagine the witty repartee! 🙂 Gosh, it looks good and HH’s words are very high praise indeed. Since I don’t do soy, I wish it had all been soy free, but I guess that would take a miracle. Wondering if I can make a soy-free version using real bacon though.

    Thanks, Ricki!



  • Sounds absolutely delicious!


  • Tyrah,
    Thanks so much! (*blush*) 🙂 And thanks for the Ellen-encouragement (let’s hope she thinks like you do) 😉

    Yes, I’d guess it’s very much like alfredo, though a little more yellow 😉

    Yay! So glad to hear that! 😀

    Thanks so much for your comment, and for reading my blog! And I agree totally about the peas. 🙂

    Love it–“all the yum and none of the ick”! 🙂 And thank you so much for your kind comment! 😀

    She was pretty interesting. . . more intimidating, at the time!

    You read my mind 😉

    Crepes of Wrath,
    Thanks for reading my blog, and for your comment! And–Yay! So glad to hear it (so my hubby isn’t an anomaly!) 😉

    I know–he is a man of few words. 😉 But he did love it!

    Thanks so much! 🙂


  • That sounds amazing! I never had “real” carbonara before. I think I need to try your vegan version of it so I can stop disgracing my Italian ancestors.


  • Pasta? Doesn’t need cheese? I could eat the picture it looks so good. For someone with only one toe on the vegan path this recipe is intimidating but compelling. Several items need to be added to my shopping list next time out. It sounds like HH is beginning to realize that good food is it’s own perfect reward but even more so when it is healthy!


  • Vegan carbonara has been on my list forever. I am so glad you tackled it first. I used to use asparagus or peas in mine in place of the bacon. I will be making this soon, I can’t wait to try it. Thanks so much for sharing it!



  • Who needs bacon?! What a fabulous recipe – thanks!


  • wowsers, Ricki – you are one busy lady! hooray for taking the time to post your recipe pasta carbonara recipe. i enjoyed reading about Leticia/Leora/Lydia/Larissa/Lorena/Ludmilla the pasta expert, too. i’m so glad i’m not the only one who forgets some names ever now & again. tee hee. it’s probably been well over a year since we’re made carbonara and i cannot wait to try your version as it sounds absolutely delightful, perfect, and looks beyond stellar! mmmmmmmm!


  • Loved the story- very entertaining…and that pasta looks so good. I’m still waiting to get Monsieur Fish to not add cheese…I know the day will come.


  • Oh, wow — this looks heavenly! Rich and decadent but healthy. Will have to try it as a dinner party dish!


  • Yum yum yummmmy. I haven’t ever had the real deal pasta carbonara either, but yours looks sensational!

    I am sure glad you met Leonora! Thank you- this will hopefully be gracing our dinner plates this eve 😀


  • I’ve never tried Tempeh. This pasta looks really tasty though, I especially like the added peas! I haven’t eaten peas in a while because The Boy hates them. I should make this for ME though, haha.

    ~Aubree Cherie


  • I just re-read this post Ricki and realized how funny it is! Somehow the first time round I just focused on the recipe and not on the whole L name thing. You are hilarious!


  • Kiersten,
    That’s too funny! Maybe if you don’t tell them it’s vegan, they won’t realize. .. . 😉

    The HH has his moments, but overall he’s still ambivalent about vegan food. 😉 If the tempeh is intimidating, you could sub smoked tofu–equally yum, and much easier!

    Yay! Glad you like the look of it. Let me know how it turns out!

    Glad you think so–thanks!

    I used to be great with names. . . that’s what 20 years of teaching will do to you. 😉 Glad you like the recipe!

    Have faith. The day will come. 😉

    It would be great for a dinner party, I bet. I hadn’t thought about the “healthy” part, but yes, I guess it is! 🙂

    I’m glad I met Larena, too! (Or was that Lolita?) 😉

    Aubree Cherie,
    Yes, make it for yourself! I could have eaten the whole thing alone, actually. 😉 And if you haven’t tried tempeh, you don’t know what you’re missing–it’s deeeeeelish!

    Aw, thanks. Thanks, thanks 😉

    Glad you think so (I wonder what Leticia would think?) 😉


  • I love carbonara but am wary of the eggs. This looks like a lovely version of it! My fiance usually puts cheese on everything too so I can understand how you feel when your husband doesn’t!


  • This looks simpply amazing! I will have to give it a try!


  • Ricki, I have been obsessed with this photo ever since I first saw it, and last night I finally made it. In fact, I am eating the leftovers right now. It is delicious and even my hubbie liked it.. and ate two bowls without adding any cheese!


  • Megan

    I haven’t had pasta carbonara in ages! I made this the other day and it was delicious. I threw in some chives since that’s one of the additions I loved when we used to make it the other way. Unlike the egg-based carbonara it tasted just as good the next day too! Thanks for this recipe, I’m totally going to be making this one again!


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  • Debbie

    Delicious!! Thx for sharing!


  • Bea Amborski

    This recipe sucks…paste,flavorless and uneatable..yuck…don’t know what to do to fix it. I put more Braggs on it to give it some kick..


    Ricki Reply:

    Hi Bea,
    Thanks for giving the recipe a try, and for your comment. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you. The sauce is definitely on the mild side. . . not sure why you’d find it paste or flavorless! Did you use the tempeh in the recipe as well? I found that the smokiness of the tempeh was a lovely contrast to the rich and creamy sauce. And of course one has to be careful not to overcook rice pasta. I can try to determine what went wrong if you let me know whether or not you followed the recipe exactly, and if you changed anything, what that was. Since I didn’t have the same outcome, I’m not sure what else I can contribute!


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