You don’t add cream to carbonara.

I’ve been alive for almost three decades, and I’ve only learnt it now. The original Italian way of cooking the dish doesn’t have it and adding cream amounts to sacrilegious. Even Nigella Lawson made that mistake once – so there’s no shame in admitting it now.

I grew up learning pasta sauces as a binary: the creamy, rich white Carbonara vs the texture-driven red Bolognaise.¬†Though, if you had to choose between the two as your last meal, carbonara is what you’d have if you want to die in dripping satisfaction.

The recipe I’m following is Binging with Babish‘s recreation of ‘Master of None’s’ Pasta Carbonara. It’s an awesome YouTube channel that recreates (and innovates a little) on classic dishes that are featured in movies and tv shows.

While original carbonara calls for bacon, as a way to render the fatty and savoury elements of the dish – I’m making a vegetarian replacement. (Shitake) mushrooms are the closest replacement you get to a distinctive meaty taste here. That, and garlic isn’t in the original version. Sorry, Italians!

What you need:

  • Pasta
  • Olive oil
  • (Shitake) Mushrooms
  • Garlic Cloves
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Eggs

What to do:

  1. Slice and dice up (respectively) your mushrooms and garlic cloves.
  2. Coat the pan with a bit of olive oil.
  3. Pan-fry the mushrooms and garlic until reasonably browned.
  4. Turn off the heat, and boil the pasta.
  5. Beat the eggs, then add the grated cheese. Incorporate the two.

This is where it gets super tricky. If you do the next steps incorrectly, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs at worst, and semi-solid yolks at best. Make sure the heat is off for the pan during these next steps.

  1. When the pasta is done cooking, toss in a bit of pasta water into the pan. This will help the sauce incorporate.
  2. Toss in the pasta. It should be steaming hot.
  3. Pour the cheese/egg mix into the pan and incorporate it with the pasta. Work quickly and don’t give the mix a chance to turn solid.

If you did it right, you’d end up with a silky sauce coating the pasta. Brilliance. If necessary, at this point, it’s okay to turn on very low heat if you want to. But only for a while. Oh, don’t forget to top it off with black pepper.

I will admit this: it’s fundamentally transformed this one minute aspect of my life that’s pasta-related. I don’t think I can ever go back to creamy carbonara. Not when the richness and flavourful sauce of both egg and cheese is singing with so much flavour. For the uninitiated, it can come off as strong, yes, but that’s precisely why you don’t drown out its tune with cream.

Why silence the richness? This is a simple, yet heartful dish that’s fed and sustained Italian charcoal miners for generations.¬†Like most pasta meals, this one takes a notoriously short time to prepare and is perfect for lazy dinners. Almost as satisfying and straightforward as Aglio e Olio. Give it a go, you won’t regret it.