Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Zucchini a la Carbonara

One of Rome's signature dishes is spaghetti a la carbonara. I'm sure you know it. Everyone knows it. It's one of the three pasta variations Italian restaurants all over the world serve--the other two being bolognese and aglio olio. But I recently had my best carbonara experience in Rome. Being a bit of a geek when it comes to food, I did some research. Authentic carbonara is made only with bacon (or to be more authentic, guanciale, cured pork cheek), cheese (hard Italian cheese, parmesan or pecorino romano), and eggs. Yup that's it, no cream at all. The creaminess comes purely from the egg and cheese mixture, which coats the hot pasta perfectly with a delicious but not cloyingly-rich sauce.

Authentic Pasta a la Carbonara
Ingredients (serves 2)
200g dried spaghetti, or more/less according to your appetite (I used fresh pasta before, see below, but I think dried works better in this recipe, because you want the wheat-y flavour and texture of dried durum wheat semolina pasta.)
2 slices of guanciale/ pancetta/ bacon (in order of preference; in reverse order of accessibility)
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
about 3/4 cup grated pecorino romano(or parmigiano reggiano cheese. Rick Stein says only pecorino, but I think it's ok.)
lots of freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp evoo

1. Bring a pot of water to boil, add a pinch of salt, and throw in the spaghetti to cook.
2. In a hot pan, saute the bacon pieces in the olive oil with lots of black pepper until slightly crispy, then add about a ladle-ful of pasta water which should quickly sizzle upon hitting the pan.
3. Meanwhile, mix the grated cheese with the beaten egg, with a few grinds of pepper.
4. The spaghetti should be cooked to an al-dente stage (about 10 min). Drain the spaghetti (not fully well as the pasta water will help the sauce the cling onto the strands), add to the pan and toss with the bacon.
5. Remove from heat and pour the egg-cheese mixture over the pasta, tossing and stirring quickly to emulsify the sauce (or you'll end up get scrambled eggs for your pasta sauce instead). Don't worry, the residual heat from the hot pasta will cook the eggs!
6. Top with more grated cheese to serve.

This was with fresh homemade spelt sourdough pasta that I did a long time ago.

Don't be surprised by the drier-than-normal (normal being your "Italian" restaurant chain) outcome, the sauce is clinging to the pasta, just enough to coat each strand perfectly. Look at this great video by Chef John from foodwishes for a clearer idea. He's possibly the funniest chef on youtube, and I love and trust 90 percent of his recipes just from seeing the way he cooks (and eats). Or a more chef-y version by Gary Rhodes.

Anyway, yes, zucchini a la carbonara. I was inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe which added zucchini (or courgettes in the UK) to the usual pasta carbonara. And then I saw some blogs shredding these courgettes into ribbons to make noodles, and decided I would make a vegetable dish instead of a pasta one, but with the same delicious carbonara sauce.

Zucchini a la Carbonara
3 medium-large courgettes
2 slices of guanciale/pancetta/bacon (or pancetta. Or just bacon, like I did.)
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
about 3/4 cup grated pecorino romano
lots of freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp evoo

1. Using a vegetable peeler, press down firmly onto the courgettes and peel to get fat courgette ribbons, and then julienne to get noodle-y strands.

2. Bring a pot of water to the boil and blanch quickly, like 15 seconds in the hot water. Drain, not fully well again and toss with the bacon, this time omit the extra ladle of cooking water, because the courgette is quite wet.

3. Follow as per above, Serve immediately with some good crusty bread (I had a rye sourdough loaf) to mop up any leftover sauce and make it a full meal.

I love how elegantly simple and satisfying this dish was. The delicious bacon-y creamy sauce is not overly rich, and in fact, more-ish. I could have this everyday. You don't even have to worry about getting the seaasoning perfectly right because the cheese and bacon do the work for you. Ah the Italian mamas will pooh pooh this, but I'd love to try this on other vegetables too, maybe a potato or leek a la carbonara instead of cream sauce?

This is part of Full Plate Thursday, Hearth and Soul Blog Hop, This Chick Cooks and Tasty Tuesdays.


  1. Clever zucchini idea! Love it! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Yummy! Would love to have you share at Turning the Table Thursday...stop by every Thursday to link up!

    Around My Family Table

  3. Hmmm... It's true an Italian mum will cry with titanic drama.
    It's also true that Zucchini is lovely in omelet, so I don't see why can't this be great!

  4. Hi Shu Hun,
    Your presentation of this dish is excellent. We have a large Zucchini harvest right now and I would love to try your recipe. I know that we will enjoy it. Thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday and I look forward to seeing you again real soon. Hope you have a great week end!
    Miz Helen

  5. Shu Hun! I am SO going to try this ribboning of the zucchini! What a great way to have your carbonara and not have quite so many calories! Awesome idea! The other thing here is that I have a brother who has diabetes ... he could get away with this take on a rich Italian classic! Brilliant!

  6. I'm glad that you got to dine on the Real carbonara. Cream ruins it! I love your version with the zucchini--there's an heirloom squash I have found called "zephyr"---which is a dense, nut-like summer squash that makes beautiful ribbons too. thanks for the inspiration!

  7. thank you!

    susan, i'm glad your brother can enjoy this!

    nancy, i would love to try zephyr.. going to google it now, haha.

  8. That recipe sounds really tasty. I love zucchini! I wanted to invite you to come over and share your recipe at These Chicks Cooked Recipe Spotlight. Have a great day :)

  9. Zucchini carbonara sounds delicious, love to try them. Thanks for sharing with Hearth and soul hop.

  10. You're right! The zucchini is a fun idea, though I agree, the dried pasta is really where the comfort and decadence lies :)

  11. Sounds great, I would never have thought of that combination, can't wait to try it!!!

    1. Yay thanks! I hope you try it! It's a great way to get your veggies and your pasta fix at once ;)

  12. I would love it if you would join me in linking up at my weekly Clever Chicks Blog Hop:

    I hope you can make it!
    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

  13. That looks so delicious. you've made a perfect carbonara, one of my favorite dishes.
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  14. I made this tonight for dinner. It is a must try for all. I added peas and a little finely chopped ham I had on hand. Tasty and very fast and easy to make. Good flavor.