I chose to perform a Recipe Resuscitation on Spaghetti Carbonara because it is one of my favorite Italian dishes. It’s traditionally a decadent pasta dish featuring spaghetti that’s coated in a creamy sauce and studded with pieces of salty bacon or pancetta. The sauce is made with raw egg and grated pecorino or parmigiano cheese. Some American versions also use heavy cream in the sauce to make it richer, but classic carbonara does not. As the egg and cheese mixture is stirred into the hot pasta, the egg cooks and forms a creamy sauce. The key is to constantly swirl the pasta around with the egg mixture so that the eggs from a smooth sauce rather than scramble. A small amount of the pasta water is usually stirred in at the end to complete the sauce.
My version of the dish is full of fresh spring vegetables that I toss with the pasta and flavor with tarragon, a perfect spring herb. I used vegetables that I found at my local farmer’s market – asparagus, fresh sweet peas and pea shoots. These vegetables are low in calories and high in protein and fiber so they help keep you feeling full. They are also packed with several important vitamins and minerals that have many health benefits. If you’ve never seen pea shoots, they are delightful greens that come from the pea plant. Their leaves and tendrils are edible and have a delicate texture and mild pea flavor. They can be eaten raw or cooked and are a great addition to salads, stir-fries and pasta. They also make a lovely edible garnish. So if you see them at the market, pick up a package- you won’t regret it.
Whereas traditional carbonara uses pancetta or bacon, my version uses Canadian bacon. Despite its name, Canadian bacon is not a true cut of bacon, which is traditionally taken from the side region of the pig. Canadian bacon is a smoked cut of pork taken from the loin region (a leaner region) and thus has significantly less calories and fat. To give you some numbers, Canadian bacon has 44 calories and 2 grams of fat (1 grams saturated) in a 1 ounce portion while traditional bacon has 151 calories and 12 grams of fat (4 grams saturated). It still has a great smoked flavor and it comes fully cooked so you simply need to heat it up.
To make the dish even more nutritious, I like to use quinoa spaghetti instead of traditional spaghetti. Quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse so I try to incorporate it into my diet whenever I can. If you can’t find it, feel free to substitute your favorite type of spaghetti.
And finally, to finish the dish, I use a small amount of freshly grated pecorino cheese in the sauce- just enough to add great flavor. This dish uses few ingredients so you want to use good quality ingredients to let them shine. In general, hard cheeses like pecorino and parmigiano are healthy choices when it comes to cheese because they are packed with flavor so a little goes a long way.
My healthier version of Spaghetti Carbonara features vibrant spring vegetables.
- 1 cup fresh spring peas
- ½ bunch asparagus (about 12 stalks), cut into 1-inch pieces
- 8 ounces quinoa spaghetti
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 ounces Canadian bacon (2-3 slices), diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup pea shoots plus a few extra for garnish
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup grated Pecorino or Parmigiano cheese
- 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Add the peas to the boiling water and cook for 4 minutes. Add the asparagus and continue to cook the vegetables another 3-4 minutes until crisp tender. Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and place them in the ice water. Add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cook according to package directions until al dente.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the Canadian bacon and cook until browned- the bacon is already cooked so you are just trying to get some color and crispiness with this step. Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic. Cook another minute until fragrant. Remove the vegetables from the ice water and add them to the pan along with the pea shoots. Sauté the vegetables until they are heated through and the green start to wilt, 2-3 minutes. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper. When the pasta is done, add it to the pan with the vegetables, and stir to combine all ingredients well. Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water.
Whisk the eggs and cheese together in a bowl. Slowly pour about ¼ cup of the pasta water to the mixture, whisking constantly. Remove the skillet from the heat and pour the egg mixture on top of the pasta and vegetables. Using tongs, stir the sauce into the pasta, swirling it constantly. The residual heat will cook the eggs and it will form a creamy sauce. Add more of the reserved pasta water as needed to form a creamy sauce. Stir in the tarragon and season the pasta with salt and pepper. Garnish with reserved pea shoots. Serve right away.