health(ier) spaghetti carbonara

Okay, so the only time I’ve ever had pasta carbonara is at my desk in the form of a lean cuisine. I think it’s because I always quickly wipe the drool off any menu that describes a dish as “creamy” and use all the will in my power pocket to get something that I supposedly think is healthier – like a burger and fries (?). If my power pocket is particularly full, I get a burger and salad – but only after I make hubby get something with fries, and ensure he understands that I stake my claim on several of them.

But the day after I made my pizza, I was feeling all chef-y in mah head and thus decided to make another something from scratch. I had whole wheat pasta, broccolini, milk, parmesan, and still a good amount of leftover basil and juicy little tomatoes from the farmers market. I also had some spring mix lettuce, that I figured I could pair with a creamy pasta dish. With that, I decided to make a different kind of pasta from my usual.

Now, anytime I see “cream” in a recipe, I die a little inside. I do want to use it, but there’s a part of me that just won’t allow it to make its creamy way down my gullet. As much as I like to eat rich foods, I simply don’t cook with butter or cream (unless it’s the holidays). I don’t know how I managed to turn that switch off in my head. But I did. And I like it that way. So hmph.

Because I really have no idea what pasta carbonara is (besides delicious), I had to use some inspiration. I luckily found it in the form of a spaghetti alla carbonara recipe at, which, if you’ve noticed, is a go-to site for me.

Surprisingly, I made very few changes. I really only substituted milk and boullion for the broth. Oh, and I also added shrimp. Below is my adapted recipe.

6 servings, 1 cup each (which we managed to turn into 4 servings)
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup smoked bacon, diced with the fat trimmed off
  • 3 lb raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (we all know I used 4 or 5 cloves)
  • As many pinches of crushed red pepper (to taste – one for mild, two for medium, and so on…)
  • 3 large eggs (pasteurized, if desired)
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • quarter cube of chicken boullion
  • 3/4-1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  • 12 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti, or linguine
  • 8 ounces broccolini, stem ends trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Kosher salt, to taste


  1. Put a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Also bring about 1 inch of water to a gentle simmer in the bottom of a double boiler, or go real fancy like me and just put a pyrex bowl over a smaller saucepan.
  2. Heat oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring often, until heated through, about 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and crushed red pepper; cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Remove the bacon from the pan, putting it on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
  3. To the pan, add your shrimp and a tiny pinch of salt. (I find that adding little layers of salt to each ingredient while it’s cooking tends to make the dish taste better than when you add it all in the end.)
  4. While the shrimp is cooking, whisk eggs, milk, boullion, a couple small pinches of kosher salt and pepper in the top of the double boiler to combine. (I also added the cheese little by little to this step, hoping it would melt.) Set over the simmering water in the bottom of the double boiler and cook, whisking constantly in a slow, steady, figure-eight motion, until the sauce steams and thickens enough to coat a metal spoon, 5 to 7 minutes. The sauce may have a few small curdles, and it will look like it even more so if you put the cheese in. Remove the top pan from the heat and whisk the sauce rapidly so it does not continue to curdle. Make sure you’re keeping an eye on the shrimp and turning them as needed. If you’re temperature on the double boiler is right (read: not too high), you’ll have a few seconds to tend to the shrimp without overcooking the egg mixture. Simply take the shrimp off the heat when it’s done, which will most likely be before your egg mixture is done.
  5. Meanwhile, add pasta, kosher salt and a little tiny bit of olive oil to the boiling water. (Rachel Ray says to add the salt when you add the pasta, instead of adding salt when you start boiling your water. I don’t know why. But now I’m curious and plan on researching it.) Cook pasta in the boiling water, stirring often, for 9-11 minutes (or one or two minutes less than the package says). Drop in broccolini and cook until the pasta is tender but firm, 1 to 2 minutes more. Drain well and place in a large bowl. Add the egg sauce, the prosciutto (or bacon) mixture and cheese; toss to coat well. Season with salt after tasting, if desired.

One thought on “health(ier) spaghetti carbonara

  1. Pingback: Healthier Carbonara (No Cream!) « pattytmitchell

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