Who loves secret ingredients?! *Raises hand* Ooo me! I do! I do!
Back when I was a baby blogger, I had a pretty specific image of what kinda foodie I wanted to be.
I wanted to be the type of chef that brings an awesome dish to a party… one of those dishes that everyone passes around and says “ohhh emmm geee…. you gotta try this!” Of course, everyone would ask me for the recipe and when they did, I’d give ’em the intimate details, followed by a pause and a semi-obnoxious “…and my secret ingredient.” I’d be one of those people, bound and determined to take my best recipes to the grave with me…
But I digress… I’m a terrible culinary secret keeper. Like, really, really bad. Like, if Harry Potter had entrusted me to be his secret keeper for his prize-winning pumpkin juice recipe… well, Voldemort would have certainly found it looooong ago…
What can I say? I’m a giver…tastiness was meant to share!
But last week, for the first time, my dream came true! I was asked for a recipe and got to get on my culinary high horse and say to someone, “shoo, buckeroo! This dish has my very own secret ingredients.”
Which is kind of pointless in retrospect, because I’m about to tell the whole food blog world about it…
Last week we had some friends visiting from out-o’-town. They are all meat eaters and we are all poor post-grads who would — let’s face it — rather spend our hard earned cash on alcohol than food. So one night this week, before an evening of heavy bar hoppin’, I made everyone dinner and chose a recipe that I thought would have enough meaty elements to impress our guests.
I made spaghetti carbonara, which, for those of you who don’t know, is a pasta dish comprised of bacon, peas, garlic, olive oil, egg and cheese. It is very hearty and very smokey.
Now, there are some vegetarian meat substitutes that live up to, if not surpass, their meat counterparts. Veggie bacon is NOT one of them. The texture is all wrong, the flavor is all wrong, the color is…frankly, bizarre…and it’s completely missing the smokey smell and taste. Overall, a crude attempt at a carnivore’s delight. LAME-O!
But it just so happens that I found another ingredient that fills in all of fakin’ bacon’s gaps…
It is God’s gift to fake bacon. It helps the texture, the color, the smell…and OH BOY, does it help the flavor… I’d say on a scale of one to smokey, that shizzz is burnin’ down the house!
In at least a handful of dishes now, I’ve used smoked cheese in place of, or in addition to, fake bacon, and the results have far surpassed my guest’s meaty expectations. Even le boyfriend asked, “is there meat in this?” last time I made my vegetarian pasta carbonara. A kitchen win on all counts!
This dish, though, was a big hit all around and proves that being a vegetarian doesn’t mean you have to compromise on your favorite meaty foods. In fact, I highly recommend this dish to carnivores…the flavor far surpasses what I remember of pasta carbonara with real bacon…
Vegetarian Pasta Carbonara
- 1 pound dry spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 10 strips of fakin’ bacon
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
- Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup or more of frozen peas
- 1 cup of shredded, smoked cheese (I use a bagged mix from Trader Joe’s)
- Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready when the sauce is finished; it is very important that the pasta is hot when adding the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs in the sauce.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm (as they say in Italian “al dente.”). About two to three minutes before the pasta is ready, throw the frozen peas into the boiling water with the pasta. Drain well, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce if you wish.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium flame. Add the fake bacon for about 3 minutes, being careful not to overcook (the bacon gets hard and crispy this way). Remove the bacon from the heat and cut into small pieces.
- Using the leftover bacon-y olive oil still in the pan, heat up the garlic and sauté until fragrant.
- Add the hot, drained spaghetti and peas to the pan and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands. Toss in the fake bacon and the smoked cheese, mix well.
- Beat the eggs and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta, whisking quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble (this is done off the heat to ensure this does not happen.) Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches desired consistency.
- Season the carbonara with several turns of freshly ground black pepper and taste for salt. Mound the spaghetti carbonara into warm serving bowls. Pass more cheese around the table.