Spaghetti Squash Carbonara
All the bacon-y joy of traditional carbonara but without the carbs and calories of pasta.
Serves: 2 • Prep Time: N/A • Cook Time: N/A
Spaghetti Squash Carbonara
Ahh, carbonara. Few recipes are as satisfying, or intimidating. A plate of properly prepared spaghetti alla carbonara seems like the kind of thing that would be impossible to make at home, and the incredibly rich, creamy, and almost absurdly decadent sauce is the sort of thing home chefs are often afraid of. The funny thing is, carbonara, a pasta dish said to have originated in Rome around the middle of the past century (think 1950s era), is actually surprisingly simple. The recipe may vary a little depending on where you look, but its core ingredients remain the same: eggs, cheese, guanciale or pancetta, and black pepper. Few ingredients; killer results.
How does Forq’s version differ from what’s available elsewhere on the internet? Well for starters, in this section we’re substituting in spaghetti squash for regular spaghetti. One of the few downsides to spaghetti alla carbonara is that it’s basically tremendously terrible for you. The jury is out on just how bad eggs are on your body, but nobody is trying to argue that Italian bacon, cheese, and pasta are particularly good for your waist line. Carbonara is totally delicious, but healthy – it aint.. Our recipe on the other hand, which uses the versatile spaghetti squash, helps make this a lighter dish (calorie-wise at least). Here we also exclude heavy cream, an unnecessary ingredient that tends to pop up every now and then in carbonara recipes. This carbonara recipe isn’t going to help you in your quest for the perfect beach body, but it’s a lot better for you than any other version you’re likely to find, and it’s still damn tasty.
Now, before you start cooking I think it’s important to have a discussion about selecting ingredients. Years ago, when I lived in Brooklyn, I was a Whole Foods apostle, spreading the Good Word of sprouted grains and vine-ripened tomatoes. One fateful day while grimly surveying the checkout line at Columbus Circle in Midtown I snapped out of my trance and realized that, hey, I don’t have two hundred dollars to spend every time I go to the store, and even a reasonably stocked supermarket will sometimes have some pretty good stuff. I now spread a different message: if you know what your ingredients are supposed to look like, you’ll know when you’ve found a good deal or when your local store is trying to get you to buy something sub-prime.
Few ingredients; killer results.
Traditional carbonara recipes call for guanciale, an Italian cured meat made of pork jowl. If you can find it (and if it won’t break the bank) then absolutely go for it, as it is wonderful and definitely the most authentic choice. However, pancetta (which in layman’s terms is basically Italian bacon) is also delicious and another appropriate choice. For this recipe it’s also completely acceptable to buy it pre-diced, since it’ll save you some trouble and the quality will likely be fine. Your cheeses can certainly be purchased pre-grated, but you’ll want to look at the origin of the products. By definition Parmigiano-Reggiano must come from Italy, as it is a protected-origin designation. If your cheese simply says “parmesan” and the origin is the United States or Canada, or some other place which is decidedly not Italy, you’re being deceived by a knockoff. You can use it, and it’ll probably taste fine (and be cheaper), but it’s not going to be as good as the real stuff ; it’s that simple. Pecorino romano works roughly the same way, but its name is not protected in the same sense, and so it’s a lot harder to find the genuine Italian article. When buying cheeses look for blocks that are crumbly and have character. If it’s a sort of solid, beige wedge, keep moving: that’s cheese for suckers. Also, you’ll likely get a better deal when buying a block versus a grated container, unless you’re at a store where they’ll grate it for you.
Also, for the love of all that is decent, “freshly ground black pepper” means you need to use freshly ground black pepper. Ground black pepper that comes in a bottle or a tin is for rubes, and if that’s what you’ve been using then you need to know that you’ve done wrong. Go take a timeout, stand in the corner for about five minutes to think about what you’ve done, and when you’re feeling appropriately contrite go on Amazon, order yourself a simple pepper grinder and a container of black Tellicherry peppercorns, and prepare for your cooking to be transformed.
Begin your cooking by getting your mise-en-place in order. This largely means separating the egg yolks from the whites (go ahead and reserve the whites for a healthy breakfast), chopping your guanciale or pancetta (if you’ve chosen not to buy it pre-diced), and measuring out your two grated cheeses and freshly ground pepper.
Also note that this recipe requires you to have cooked and drained your spaghetti squash ahead of time. This is important, as once you’ve begun to cook the sauce you must have your spaghetti squash cooked and ready to be added or things will not work out the way you want them to. It’s also very important that you have squeezed out as much excess liquid as possible from the squash. If your spaghetti squash flesh is soggy you’ll find at the end of cooking that instead of a nice creamy sauce you’ll simply have a bowl of nicely seasoned egg yolk water. Squeeze it out nice and tight with cheesecloth (although a thin dishtowel will also do in a pinch) and discard any liquid.
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Once your prep is done, place the egg yolks, parmesan cheese, pecorino romano cheese, a pinch of kosher salt, and black pepper into a medium mixing bowl. Whisk to combine: the ingredients will form a thick paste.
Next, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until it becomes fragrant and begins to shimmer. Add in your guanciale or pancetta and sauté until the pork is firm but not crispy. You’ll know that it’s getting close to being done when the fat begins to render. A telltale sign that this is happening is that the contents of the pan will become very frothy, which is exactly what you want to have happen.
Once your guanciale/pancetta is done cooking, add the cooked spaghetti squash to the pan and stir to coat. Using tongs instead of a spoon will make this process much easier, particularly as squeezing the excess liquid out of the squash will probably have compacted it to some degree.
Once the squash has been evenly coated immediately transfer the entire contents of the pan to a large mixing bowl and cover with a dish towel.
Next,stir in the egg yolk mixture. Traditional carbonara recipes call for the mixing bowl to be heated (typically over the pot used to cook the pasta). The basic idea is that you want to heat the sauce gently, as cooking it directly in the pan will cause the eggs to seize, leaving you with spaghetti scrambled eggs instead of a nice creamy bowl of pasta. In our version the spaghetti squash (now reheated in the pan with the pork and olive oil) will be hot enough to heat the sauce, but not so hot that it will cook the egg, so you don’t have to worry about heating up the bowl itself.
Take the dish towel off of the bowl and quickly add in the egg yolk mixture. Stir until evenly mixed and then immediately plate using tongs. Garnish with chopped parsley.
Here’s how to make this delicious recipe
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, Parmesan, pecorino romano, a pinch of kosher salt, and black pepper.
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add pork and sauté until firm but not crispy, about five minutes. The pan will bubble when the fat renders, signifying that it is almost done cooking.
Adding the pork to the saucepan
Add the cooked spaghetti squash flesh to the sauté pan and stir to coat. Immediately transfer to a large mixing bowl and add the egg and cheese mixture. Stir until evenly mixed and plate using tongs. Garnish with chopped parsley.
Adding the cooked spaghetti squash to the sauté pan
- 6 large egg yolks room temperature
- 1/2 packed cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 packed cup shredded pecorino romano cheese
- 1 Pinch of kosher salt
- 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces guanciale or pancetta finely diced
- Cooked flesh of 1 medium spaghetti squash squeezed of excess liquid using a dish towel or cheesecloth
- Chopped parsley for garnish
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Who’s Cooking Today
Jacob Dean is a freelance food and travel writer, recipe tester, and culinary product reviewer based in Washington, D.C. He is a regular contributor to The Cook’s Cook Magazine, DCist, Industree, has freelanced as a recipe tester for the New York Times, and has been published by the Washington Post. Jacob has tried over twelve hundred unique beers (he keeps count).
You can find him online at jacobdeanwrites.com, on Twitter as @SchadenJake, and on Facebook as Jacob Dean Writes.
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