When you need a dish that impresses, make this dairy-free spaghetti carbonara. It’s one of those pasta dishes that takes minutes to make, especially with practice, and tastes like it’s straight from an Italian restaurant kitchen. It’s rich, flavorful, and has that umami that so many of us crave.
Dairy-Free Spaghetti Carbonara inspired by the Traditional Recipe
When searching for dairy-free pasta carbonara, I came across a couple odd things. They included vegan versions (sans egg or bacon) and recipes using lemon. While these could produce good results, depending on the recipe, they aren’t even close to traditional spaghetti carbonara. This recipe is meant to give you more of that classic taste and richness. Here’s how:
- I used my dairy-free parmesan recipe as a base, but then modified it to be saltier like the classic romano cheese used in spaghetti carbonara. I also use cashews, instead of almonds, for more creaminess in the sauce.
- The egg amounts range in carbonara recipes, but I use the higher amount to provide the most richness, since we don’t have the fat from the cheese.
- I also leave a little of the cooked fat in the pan to help with the richness and saltiness of this dish. But don’t worry, it isn’t too rich or salty!
This dairy-free spaghetti carbonara is perfect as is, in my opinion. But I’ve addressed more options and questions below, followed by some special diet suggestions before the recipe.
What Vegetables Go with this Dairy-Free Pasta Carbonara?
My favorites are broccoli, asparagus, or baby spinach. But bell peppers and peas or a simple green salad also go nicely. Really anything green! In fact, you can also garnish it with fresh chopped parsley for a touch of fresh contrast. None of these are “traditional” but I think adding some greenery is a complementary way to lighten up this rich dish.
Can I Add Garlic to Spaghetti Carbonara?
You can cook a couple of minced garlic cloves, but I don’t recommend it. People love adding garlic to pasta carbonara for some reason, but it isn’t traditional. And I think it tends to mask the natural flavor of this simple, delicious dish. The first several times I tested dairy-free carbonara, I used garlic, and the dish just wasn’t quite right. Once I simplified the recipe, we had a winner! Also, please skip the onions!
Do I Cook the Eggs? Are They Eaten Raw?
The eggs “cook” when you temper them with the pasta water and when you toss them with the hot pasta in the hot pan. This technique does essentially cook the eggs without scrambling them. Instead, they add richness, thickness, and flavor to the sauce.
Help! My Eggs Scrambled! What Did I Do Wrong?
First, make sure you prepare the cashew-egg mixture first. This allows the egg to warm to room temperature while you prepare the rest. Then, it’s essential that you slowly pour the fresh pasta water (hot) into the egg-cashew mixture while whisking vigorously. It must be done with a gradual, consistent pour and constant agitation to help the egg warm without scrambling it. Make sure your pan with the meat and pasta is off the heat. Then, as you pour the sauce over the pasta or immediately after you pour it on, begin stirring and tossing it. If your sauce was properly tempered with hot water, there is little risk of scrambling, but it still helps to keep things moving quickly in the last step.
Is There a Substitute for the Nutritional Yeast?
I don’t have a good one to recommend in this recipe. With some experimentation, I think miso could be used, but this would involve using a smaller amount and less salt. Some experiments would need to be done. The nutritional yeast adds the umami cheesy vibe to this recipe. I’ve seen some people use dried mushrooms, like porcini, in place of nutritional yeast. That could be delicious. Or you can use lemon, like some of the other dairy-free recipes, but then it is really a lemon-bacon pasta, not carbonara.
Can I Use Different Nuts?
You can, but I do think cashews go best in this recipe for their creamy texture and relatively clean taste (no bitterness). Pine nuts can be a good substitute. They tend to work very well in sauces. In a pinch, you can use blanched almonds, which won’t be quite as creamy, have a slightly pronounced flavor and might leave more nut bits. Macadamia nuts might also work, but I’m not sure if the flavor would pair well.
What is Guanciale?
It’s the type of Italian cured pork that’s traditionally used in pasta carbonara. It’s a little saltier than bacon and isn’t smoked, similar to pancetta, but it’s fattier than pancetta, like bacon. I typically use bacon because it’s easiest to find, the least expensive, and still tastes great. But you can step things up with pancetta or guanciale, if you can find it.
Can I Use Other Noodles?
Definitely! This dairy-free pasta carbonara uses spaghetti to allow the most sauce to cling to the noodles. But linguine or fettuccine will also work great. Short pasta can be used, but doesn’t allow the sauce to cling as nicely. I would avoid angel hair pasta. I find that angel hair thickens and softens too much in dishes like this, resulting in a less than stellar texture.
Should I Add any Dairy-Free Milk or Cream Alternative?
No! Traditional spaghetti carbonara does not use any milk or cream. The richness from the eggs and meat is all that is needed. The only time I would consider any alternatives, is if making a nut-free version, as outlined in the special diet section below.
Special Diet Notes: Dairy-Free Spaghetti Carbonara
By ingredients, this recipe is dairy-free / non-dairy, peanut-free, and soy-free. If you confuse eggs with dairy, you’re not alone! See this post: Are Eggs Dairy?
For gluten-free dairy-free spaghetti carbonara, you can substitute your favorite gluten-free pasta. Just keep in mind that the thickening power of the pasta and pasta water might vary.
For nut-free dairy-free spaghetti carbonara, you can optionally use sunflower seed kernels instead of cashews or omit the nuts altogether. It will be a little less creamy, but still rich from the eggs and bacon. You could alternatively omit the nuts but add a splash of store-bought dairy-free heavy cream, instead of extra pasta water (but still temper with the initial hot pasta water).
- ¼ cup raw cashews (see post above for nut-free options)
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 4 large eggs
- 16 ounces dry spaghetti (see note above about gluten-free)
- 12 ounces bacon OR 8 ounces pancetta or guanciale, sliced or diced
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Bring a large pot of water to boil.
- In a spice grinder, food processor, or blender (preferably a smaller blender cup if you have one), grind the cashews, nutritional yeast, and salt until powdered.
- Add the eggs and ground cashew mixture to a medium bowl, and whisk until smooth. (You can optionally sift the cashew mixture into the bowl through a fine mesh sieve to remove any nut bits.)
- Cook the diced or sliced meat in a large skillet until it begins to crisp. Drain off all but about 2 tablespoons of the grease and turn the heat off.
- While the meat cooks, and the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Once ready, reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water, and then drain the pasta. Do not rinse it.
- While whisking vigorously, slowly pour about ⅓ cup of the hot reserved pasta water into the egg-cashew mixture to temper it.
- Add the pasta to the meat in your skillet, pour on the egg-cashew mixture, and immediately begin tossing to coat. It's important that you act quickly with this step.
- Add more pasta water, as needed, to keep the pasta moist as the sauce thickens.
- Season with freshly ground black pepper.