As you know, growing up, one of the family’s favorite dishes was Dad’s carbonara (or Nigel’s Cardiac Carbonara as Mom once called it!). It’s hard to resist creamy spaghetti peppered with salty bacon bits and the hint of dry white wine. Nevertheless, I haven’t made Dad’s recipe since I abandoned cow dairy and meat… and I’ve missed it. I promised myself that one day I would veganize his carbonara, and ladies, that day has come.
I’ve been working on perfecting this recipe for some time, the trickiest part was finding an adequate bacon substitute. In the end, I found that tempeh does a fine job. This pasta doesn’t taste exactly like the original (how could it?) but it has most of the same taste markers. I confess to having a Proustian moment when I ate my first bite.
For readers who didn’t have the pleasure of growing up with my Dad’s carbo, you may find that this recipe doesn’t mimic the carbonara that you’ve had. I still encourage you to try it, the Man (who never tasted the original recipe) gave the meal a 9 out of 10. High praise, believe me.
Makes 2 – 4 servings (depending on your hunger and whether or not you’re having a starter)
For the tempeh bacon
- 125 grams / 8 ounces tempeh (soy or chickpea)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/8 teaspoon onion powder
- A big pinch of smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (for frying)
For the pasta and sauce
- 250 grams / half a pound wholewheat spaghetti
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine (plus extra for the cook!)
- 1 cup cashew cream
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- Water (to thin sauce)
- Salt & pepper
Start by making the tempeh bacon bits. Steam the tempeh for 40 minutes (I use a steamer basket over pot of boiling water, but you can choose to simmer the tempeh if you prefer). Remove and let cool.
Once the tempeh is cool enough to handle, cut it into slices about 1 cm wide (a little less than half an inch). Then, cut again widthwise to make the bacon bits.
In a bowl, mix all of the other tempeh bacon ingredients, except the olive oil. Add the tempeh and mix well. Cover and let marinate in the fridge for at least 15 minutes (but leave it for a couple of hours if you have the time).
Once the tempeh has finished marinating, warm a pan on medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil has heated up, use a slotted spoon to add the tempeh (you don’t want to pour the leftover marinade in the pan).
Fry until very golden. My Dad always cooked the bacon until it was almost charred, giving it a crunchy texture and concentrating the saltiness. That’s what I’ve replicated here but feel free to fry to your desired texture.
Set bacon bits aside on paper towel.
Now, get the pasta going. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. When ready, add the spaghetti and cook according to package instructions.
In the meantime, start preparing the cream sauce. Put a large pan on medium heat and add the oil. Then add the garlic and cook until fragrant (this should be pretty quick about 1 minute or two). Do not let the garlic brown, this makes it bitter.
Add the white wine, stir and let warm for a minute.
Turn down the heat to medium-low, add the cashew cream and nutritional yeast, and mix well. Salt to taste.
Now, this is the tricky part. You want to avoid the cream sauce getting too thick. You know you have the right consistency when the sauce coats the back of a spoon and is a little denser than pouring cream. To achieve this, you can add water to the sauce. I suggest you add it little by little, stirring after each addition, until you get the desired result. Note that you may not need water at all, it really depends on how thick your cashew cream was to begin with. Do not let the cream sauce simmer.
When the pasta is cooked, strain and return immediately to the pot. Add in the cream sauce and mix well.
Throw in most of the bacon bits (keep a handful for decoration) and add some fresh ground pepper before mixing again.
Divide carbonara between plates, sprinkle with remaining bacon bits and add a couple grinds of fresh black pepper. Serve immediately.