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If you have never made carbonara before, IT IS TIME! I always thought carbonara was a really fancy dish until I learned how to make it. It’s sosososososoooo easy and comes together in the time it takes to boil water & make pasta. Classic carbonara originates in Italy. Traditionally, it’s pasta tossed with a sauce made of egg yolks and hard cheese with chunks of cured pork, like this one from NYT Cooking. And GOD it is good. But we are going to make a little bit of a different, lighter version of that today: an Easy Vegetarian Carbonara with Broccoli & Lemon. (Though if you want to add guanciale/pancetta/bacon I will NOT stop you.) I love this dish because it is EXTREMELY quick and easy to come together, I usually have all of the ingredients on hand, and it satisfies cravings for pasta while also being sorta healthy.
Our easy vegetarian carbonara is made with full eggs instead of yolks because ain’t nobody got time for separating eggs. And we add 2 cups of delicious broccoli for health, lemon zest & juice to brighten it all up, and pine nuts for a good nutty flave. I also crave a touch of heat in this dish so I like to add red pepper flakes, but that’s up to you. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to call this carbonara… the comments section in that NYT recipe is full of crazy people who are very insistent on the definition of “carbonara” but I don’t know what else to call it so, carbonara it is.
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Pasta + pasta water: Traditionally, spaghetti noodles are used, but I think any pasta will work so I used rigatoni. Make sure to save some pasta water! That salty, starchy water will help the sauce come together.
- Eggs: The sauce is made with eggs! We use full eggs instead of just yolks in our recipe to make it easier and add more protein from the egg white. If you prefer to go the traditional route, feel free to use yolks instead or replace one or two full eggs with yolk.
- Parmesan cheese: I highly recommend grating your own high quality parmesan (or Pecorino Romano) for this recipe. It’s a major flavor and you want it to be the best! Pre-grated parmesan can sometimes have weird ingredients to prevent it from clumping and may not melt as well (but will still work in a pinch). And please, for the love of God, skip that sawdust stuff!!
- Garlic: I love garlic, so I use it in this recipe. Feel free to use it, or not!
- Lemon juice & zest: Here’s where we start deviating more from the OG. Lemon gives our carbonara a bright & zippy flavor. (I love my citrus squeezer and microplane for this part of the recipe!)
- Pine nuts: These nuts add a rich, earthy flavor. But, they are expensive. You could replace with walnuts or cashews, or omit altogether.
- Broccoli: Broccoli makes this recipe “healthy pasta”… right? It’s always nice to squeeze some greens in! If you don’t like broccoli, you could use cauliflower, asparagus, kale, spinach, or any other veggie you prefer. Be sure to adjust the time the veggie will need to boil—a leafy green will only need a minute or two, while dense cauliflower may need 4 minutes.
- Salt, pepper, & red pepper flakes: I like a nice kick to my pasta so I make sure to add copious grinds of pepper and a good sprinkle of red pepper flakes, but if you don’t like spice you may want to skip the red pepper flakes. And of course, salt is necessary to heavily salt your pasta water, and also to season to taste afterwards!
How to Make Easy Vegetarian Carbonara (in 20 minutes!)
- Prep. Begin boiling water (salted heavily—it should be as salty as the ocean!), toast pine nuts, and mix up the egg “sauce.”
- Cook pasta & broccoli. Cook the pasta to al dente, but in the last 3 minutes of cooking, add the broccoli so that it can cook in that delicious salty boiling water as well. Two birds, one stone!
- Sauce it up! Once pasta & broccoli are drained and returned to the pot, we pour the egg & cheese mixture over the hot noodles. This may sound weird, but I promise you won’t be eating gross raw eggs here. The heat from the hot noodles & reserved pasta water will cook the eggs! Keep stirring and adding pasta water until noodles are looking glossy and saucy and luscious.
- Final touches. Squeeze half a lemon into the pasta and add pine nuts & red pepper flakes, seasoning with salt & pepper to taste. Serve with extra parmesan on top!
I would say no. It wouldn’t be carbonara if it didn’t have eggs in it, and I can’t think of anything that would be a true substitute. If you’re afraid of the egg sauce (no judgement!), maybe you could try a similar sauce but with butter or cream instead.
It is not likely, as the heat from the pasta & scalding pasta water should cook the eggs. You could use pasteurized eggs to be extra safe, or continue to heat the pasta over low heat for a few minutes, though your sauce may get a bit clumpy.
Leftover carbonara will keep for about 4 days in the refrigerator, though it will have the best texture right after cooking. You can reheat in the microwave but it may be a bit drier.
More tasty noodle recipes…
- Simple & Spicy Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower This one is also super simple! Kinda like a dressed up buttered pasta.
- Creamed Corn, Tomato & Pepperoni Lasagna Heavenly with fresh summer tomatoes. Lots of work but soooo worth it.
- Harissa, Chicken & Chickpea Baked Feta Pasta Remember when this TikTok recipe went wild?? This is a super tasty riff on that.
This Easy Vegetarian Carbonara comes together in just 20 minutes! It’s a super simple, lighter version than the traditional with added broccoli, whole eggs, pine nuts, and lemon for zip!
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 3 eggs
- 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 lemon, zest & juice
- 16 oz box pasta, your choice
- 2 cups broccoli, chopped into bite-size pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- salt & pepper
- Start bringing a pot of heavily salted water to boil for the pasta.
- While water is coming to a boil, toast pine nuts in a small sauté pan with no oil over medium heat, stirring frequently until browned, about 3–5 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
- In a small bowl, beat eggs, parmesan, garlic, lemon zest, and several grinds of pepper.
- When water is boiling, cook pasta al dente according to box directions. In the last 3 minutes, add broccoli to pot.
- Drain pasta and broccoli, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
- Return pasta & broccoli to cooking pot and immediately pour egg mixture over, stirring to combine. Add pasta water as necessary. The pasta will soak up more liquid as it cools so you want to err on the wetter side.
- Squeeze juice of ½ lemon over pasta and add pine nuts and red pepper flakes. Season with salt & pepper to taste.
- Serve with extra parm & pepper.
Keywords: pasta, carbonara, broccoli, healthy, lemon