Of all the pork dishes I imagine my vegetarian self eating in some alternative universe, I dream not of porchetta or ragu, carnitas or banh mi—but of spaghetti carbonara, where the meat is more like the punctuation marks of a sentence than the letters themselves.
A salty, yolk-rich sauce clinging to long noodles, hiding crispy bits of something savory and smoky? Surely I could approximate that without the guanciale.
In this vegetarian recipe, the smokiness comes not from cured meat but from finely grated smoked mozzarella that gets whisked with the egg yolks, then softened with hot pasta water. The mozzarella won’t melt completely, which means you’ll get some strands of cheese in your final bowl of pasta. As long as those clumps aren’t pieces of scrambled egg, all is well (at least in my book).
As for the crispy bits (the "guanciale"), you'll sauté mushrooms with garlic and chile flakes in a separate pan as the pasta boils. When I first made this recipe, I used somewhat-elusive black trumpet mushrooms, which are particularly smoky, but any type of wild mushroom (or even white button mushrooms) will do the trick. You'll add the mushrooms—and the spicy oil they've cooked them in—to the pasta once it's been coated in the eggy, cheesy sauce. —Sarah Jampel
(1 small handful) wild mushrooms, preferably black trumpet, cleaned with woody stems removed
large egg + 2 large egg yolks
Salt and pepper
(4 1/2 ounces) finely grated smoked mozzarella
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously, then cook the pasta to al dente (a couple of minutes less than specified in the recipe instructions).
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and chile flakes in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, then sauté until the mushrooms are cooked through and starting to crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until toasted and fragrant, 1 minute more. Set aside.
Now whisk the egg, yolks, cheese, and a generous amount of salt and pepper in a large bowl that can fit over the pot you're using to boil the pasta.
When the pasta is nearly done, reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water in a liquid measuring glass. Use about 3 tablespoons (a bit less than 1/4 cup) to temper the egg mixture—pour it slowly into the eggs while you constantly whisk. This should also begin to melt the cheese. Then use tongs to transfer the pasta to the bowl (but don't drain the water from the pot). Set the bowl back over the pot of boiling water—like a double boiler!—and use tongs to coat the pasta in the egg-cheese mixture, until eggs thicken and leave a trail in their wake. Add a bit more pasta water by the tablespoon if you need to. The cheese will stay a bit clumpy—don't worry. Add the mushrooms and their oil and toss to combine.
Serve immediately, topped with Parmesan cheese. Season with additional salt and pepper.
A (former) student of English, a lover of raisins, a user of comma splices. My spirit animal is an eggplant. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream. For that, I'm sorry.