How Ina Garten Gives Carbonara A Fresher, Lighter Twist

Spaghetti carbonara is creamy and delicious, but between the eggs, cheese, pancetta, and butter, it can quickly turn into a very rich dish. If you're looking to enjoy those same tasty flavors but with a lighter touch for spring and summer, Ina Garten has the perfect way to do so. In her 2020 cookbook, "Modern Comfort Food: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook," the bestselling author and Emmy-award-winning chef details her version of Spring Green Spaghetti Carbonara.

Garten's recipe, seen on her Barefoot Contessa website, still includes eggs, Italian Parmesan cheese, and pancetta — but it also has snow peas, shelled fresh peas, asparagus, scallions, and chives. To keep the veggies light and fresh, Garten juliennes the snow peas, slices the scallions diagonally, and cuts the asparagus into two-inch pieces. And, rather than using butter, she substitutes for "good olive oil," and instead of using a full cup of heavy cream, she scales back to half a cup. 

As Garten told NPR, traditional carbonara is tasty, but makes "you want to take a nap afterwards." Her version, on the other hand, is full of crisp spring flavors to balance out an otherwise heavy pasta dish.

Other tips for a lighter carbonara

As delicious as the Barefoot Contessa's spring spaghetti recipe is, it's not the only way to lighten up carbonara. If you're looking to stay away from pancetta (or bacon, a common substitute), try replacing it with turkey bacon, Canadian bacon, or tempeh bacon. If you're vegetarian or vegan, you can even play with adding olives or mushrooms — they're not an exact replica, but they can provide a salty or umami element to your pasta that is usually supplied by pancetta.

It's even possible to omit the heavy cream completely, as long as you're okay with a slightly thinner dish. Instead, scoop out a cup of pasta water while your noodles are cooking, and use that to create a sauce by mixing it with the eggs and cheese. Garten does this by combining pasta water, eggs, egg yolks, and cream in her carbonara sauce — but try replacing the cream with the same amount of water and adding in a little parm for a lighter version. As an alternative, sub out the heavy cream for something lighter like half and half, whole milk, or a mixture of Greek yogurt and milk. Immediately after the ingredients are combined, toss the mixture with the pasta and add in your protein.