Food

20-Minute, No-Bacon Carbonara

Weeknight Carbonara With Extra Greens

There’s a lot to love about pasta carbonara: it’s silky, rich and always tastes amazing. So, to wrap up our month of easy dinners, we’re sharing a quick twist on the classic recipe, in which greens stand in for bacon. (Don’t worry, it still feels decadent!) Alexandra of Alexandra’s Kitchen shows us how it’s done…

Weeknight Carbonara With Extra Greens
By Alexandra Stafford of Alexandra’s Kitchen

This is one my family’s favorite weeknight dinners. The dish comes together in about 20 minutes. I love the addition of bacon found in classic carbonara recipes, but it’s not missed in this version. And though the heap of greens wilts down to seemingly nothing, I know it’s there, doing all the good things a heap of greens ought to be doing.

Recipe: Weeknight Carbonara With Extra Greens
Serves 4

You’ll need:

Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 lbs greens
3/4 pound pappardelle egg noodles, bucatini or linguini
2 large eggs
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for serving
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Set a large pot of salted water (I use 1 tablespoon kosher salt) to boil. In a large skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the onion, and immediately turn the heat down to medium. Season with a pinch of kosher salt, and sauté stirring occasionally, until soft and just turning to color, about 7 to 10 minutes.

Add a pinch of red pepper flakes to the onions and stir for 30 seconds. Add all of the greens. (Note: If you are using 2 pounds of greens, you may have to add them incrementally to the pan.) Cook over medium to medium-high heat until greens shrink way down. Use tongs to flip the greens around and help them wilt. Season with a pinch of salt. Turn off the heat.

Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup (or more) of the pasta cooking liquid. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, parmesan and lemon juice. Whisk 3/4 cup pasta water into egg mixture.

Drain pasta and immediately add to the pan with the onions and greens. Pour egg mixture into pan and toss with tongs to combine, turning heat to low or medium if greens have cooled way down. Season with salt and pepper. Add more lemon or more of the reserved pasta cooking liquid to taste. Sprinkle pasta with more cheese if desired and serve immediately.

Weeknight Carbonara With Extra Greens

Thank you so much, Alexandra!

P.S. More easy recipes, including a kale, caramelized onions and goat cheese pasta and skillet chicken parm.

(Photos by Alexandra Stafford. Thanks to Stella Blackmon for helping with this series.)

  1. Cait says...

    I’ve literally never had pasta carbonara because I’m vegetarian and it always has bacon – just made this version and thank you thank you thank you! I had no idea what I was missing but this is delicious and easy.

  2. Jenny says...

    I just made this recipe tonight, but used spinach for my greens, because that’s what I thought my 4 year old would enjoy most ?

    It was a hit! I added more spice for my and my husband’s dish, and it was fantastic!

  3. Emily says...

    I made this over the weekend with swiss chard and it was AMAZING! My pasta loving BF loved it too. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Love the idea to substitute bacon with greens :) And it still sounds super creamy and delicious !

  5. Lydia Chan says...

    I halved this recipe and made it with chard today for lunch. A winner!

  6. Sasha says...

    I made this tonight, subbing a shallot for the onion because it’s what I had. It was fantastic! Husband loved it too, and he doesn’t even like spinach.

  7. Jess says...

    I made this seconds after I read the recipe. Yum!!

  8. This looks SO yummy, can’t wait to give it a go this evening. It is going to be so nice for tea, yay – thank you!

    Holly xo

  9. lalibela says...

    I made this with bucatini tonight and it was spectacular and so easy!

  10. Juliette says...

    I made this tonight and it was delicious, I just finished my seconds! My sauce was very thin – I used 1/2 cup of water and think maybe I misunderstood the recipe instructions – how many are you meant to put in/what consistency should the sauce be? It was delicious nonetheless and suuuuuch a good use of our vegbox greens. I used chard, spinach and cavalo nero.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      so glad!!!

    • So happy to hear this, Juliette! The sauce is definitely on the thin side — I think thinner than traditional carbonara sauces — and I see why you are a little confused. There is a teensy mistake in step 3: It should read: Whisk ¼ cup pasta water into egg mixture. I always end up adding an additional 1/4 cup (sometimes more) of the cooking liquid, so using 1/2 cup or even 3/4 cup liquid is about right, but I always start with 1/4 cup. Your vegbox greens mix sounds delicious!

    • Sasha says...

      My sauce was thin too, but when I put it back on pasta, I just cooked it a little bit and it thickened to perfection. I used 3/4 cup water.

  11. I have a couple of large, shallow skillets that are 12 to 13 inches in diameter, and I use them all the time — such a great/versatile size. As Jen said, Le Creuset is pricey, but I, too, often see them at Marshall’s/TJ’s, and if you call the outlet stores, they often have them at 40% off — there’s one outlet about an hour north of me in Lake George, New York, and if you call them, they’ll ship the pan to you for free. You have to sign up to be on their email list, but it takes 5 minutes. (Sorry if this all sounds a little crazy, but I know all of this because I just did this for a friend.) The 5-qt braiser is what you see in the photos, and it’s my absolute favorite all-purpose pan: https://www.lecreuset.com/braiser

  12. Y’all make me really question how dedicated I am to recovering my abs.

  13. Katie says...

    I love you guys and am down with literally almost everything you say and do, but you lost me at “greens stand in for bacon.”

  14. Sophie says...

    YES! This is great ‘cos I really don’t hate bacon! (yes I know, I’m a weirdo…..)

  15. B.B. says...

    Made this and it’s delicious!!! I am giving ALexandras cookbook Bread, Toast, Crumbs to many people for Christmas – it’s a gem.

    • This means the world… thank you!

  16. Molly says...

    I just made this tonight and my husband and I SCARFED IT. Seriously so tasty. We had a mix of spinach and kale and used the lemon pepper pappardelle noodles from Trader Joe’s which added a nice touch!

    Great recipe thank you for sharing!!

  17. Katy says...

    I have all of these things. Buuuut – I might still add a little bacon. Looks delish.

  18. Sasha says...

    Thank you thank you for a vegetarian recipe! ! We’ll try it this weekend :)

  19. Claudia says...

    Can it be carbonara without bacon (actually guanciale)???!!!ok I lived two italian roommates so I guess I joined the “this is how you do REAL carbonara” cult. Actually in France we add crème fraîche to the sauce and we use “lardons” instead of bacon (they were not pleased with our version but trust me it is delicious!!!)

  20. Mmm this looks absolutely delicious! Can’t wait to give it a try!

  21. Audrey F says...

    ooooooo I have all of these ingredients… Making tonight! Thanks for the (meatless) inspiration!!

  22. Heather Allen says...

    Which greens work best? Details please!

    • Cori says...

      I would love to know what greens are used in this photo.

    • Here, I used a mix of spinach and tatsoi from my farm share, but so many different greens could work: Swiss chard, kale, escarole, mustard greens.

  23. Zoe says...

    What greens do you recommend for this? Spinach?

    • Hi Zoe, You can really use anything: spinach, tatsoi, Swiss chard, kale, escarole, mustard greens. Use what you like best.

  24. Emily says...

    Ooooo, delicious!

    This might come across as an odd request, but do you know of any resources that help with figuring out appropriate substitutes for folks with allergies? My boyfriend is allergic to onions and every awesome recipe seems to call for onions. We keep eating the exact same things :( I appreciate any insight, thanks!

    • Sasha says...

      Emily, I very frequently leave out onions when I just don’t have one handy (apparently I’m allergic to grocery shopping ), and just use garlic. I can almost never tell.

  25. Martha says...

    Is it just me, or is anyone else confused by what it means when olive oil shimmers? It’s oil, it already look shimmery to me!

  26. Looks yummy! Does this cook the egg though or not really (I guess carbonara usually doesn’t)? I usually avoid raw eggs for food safety reasons…

    • Hi Kaisa,
      I can’t say for sure, because I’ve never actually tested the carbonara sauce with a thermometer, but the heat of the pasta cooking liquid plus the heat of the pasta + greens, I would imagine would cooks the eggs all the way through. I’ve made variations of this recipe so many times over the years, and I’ve never had a problem. Your concern is valid, however.

  27. Jen says...

    … but you can still add bacon, right?

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Hahaha, definitely!!!

  28. Denise says...

    No bacon! Why bother? I’m kidding, this sounds delicious and easy. But since you suggested it, I’ll probably add just a crumble or three of bacon to all those greens.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Yes, love!!! Thanks, Denise. xo

  29. Claire says...

    This looks delicious. What size skillet do you suggest using for these “large skillet” recipes? I am hoping to get one as a Christmas gift, but I don’t know what size to ask for. Thanks!

    • Jen says...

      I have the 3.75 quart Le Creuset and the size is perfect. I use it when I’m cooking for two as well as for my whole family (6).
      I also have a very similar 5qt Cuisinart one I use mostly for soups that is REALLY good. If someone wasn’t interested in the pricetag of the Le Creuset I’d highly recommend the other brands (I see them at Marshalls/TJs etc a lot)

    • Sasha says...

      Claire, ask for a cast iron with a lid. Will last a life time, and so much healthier than anything coated.