Friday, April 13, 2012

Vegetarian Spaghetti Carbonara

So, my foray into the world of vegetarianism is nearly at an end. Yes, I know that Easter was last weekend, but I decided to do an extra week of Lent to atone for my meat consumption at home over spring break. (I can only justify my behavior with the following words: Steak. Pork chop. Cheeseburger. As in, I ate and relished them all in their homemade glory.) But I'm "doing the time" now and on Sunday I'm back to my omnivorous habits once more.

I already have my first meat-containing meal picked out: spaghetti carbonara.

Carbonara is one of the dishes I have missed a lot over the past couple of months. But, eventually I decided to stop missing it and to create an alternative, vegetarian version.

My first attempt was a pared down version, exactly like the original but without the bacon. It was bland and boring. I realized that it wasn't enough to leave out the bacon; instead I had to replace it with something that would add depth and flavor to the dish, as well as some sort of fat to help the sauce come together.

The version I ultimately created relies on spinach sauteed in garlic, red pepper, and olive oil to provide that extra fat and flavor, not to mention a little bit of a kick!

Vegetarian Spaghetti Carbonara
Serves 1

  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • Spaghetti or other long pasta
  • 1 tbsp salt 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach
This dish features many of the "usual suspects" in my kitchen.

1. Beat the egg in a serving bowl. Add the Parmesan cheese and black pepper, and stir to combine. Set aside near the sink where you will drain the pasta.

2.  Bring a pot of water to boil. Add the salt and pasta and cook according to the package's instructions.

3.  While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a frying pan. Add the garlic and red pepper and cook for about a minute. Add the spinach and saute until just barely wilted.

Saute the garlic and pepper for about a minute.

After the spinach is just wilted, I turn off the heat
and push it all together so it's easier to dump it
in the bowl later.

Don't overcook the spinach; it will continue to wilt in the pan
and once it's tossed with the pasta.
4.  When the pasta is al dente, drain it and immediately add it to the egg mixture. Dump the spinach and olive oil on top, and toss until a sauce forms on the noodles. Top with additional cheese and black pepper, if desired.

Remember, this is the step where you need to work quickly
to cook that egg! Toss it like you mean it!
The result:
It may not be bacon but I do love spinach--especially when it's paired with garlic and red pepper. I think the spiciness of this version makes up for the lack of meat. It's not a replacement for the real thing, but it's a decent alternative and one that I'd make again--even if it's not Lent!

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