Ina Garten’s Twist on Spaghetti Carbonara Is the Ultimate Spring Dinner
I am a bit of a pasta purist. For me, there are certain classic Italian pasta dishes that really shouldn’t be messed with — a perfect Bolognese, for example, or cacio e pepe. Spaghetti carbonara also falls in this camp. There are countless iterations, but I rarely like straying from what’s tried and true: Pasta, eggs, porky bits, salty cheese, and plenty of black pepper. So while I’m firmly on Team Ina, I did have my hesitations when tasked to try her spring riff on carbonara that she posted on Instagram.
Ina describes this recipe, which comes from her newest cookbook, Modern Comfort Food, as a fresh take on decadent carbonara. That’s because in addition to all the usual carbonara suspects, the pasta is speckled with loads of spring veggies like asparagus, snow peas, and English peas. Would this bounty of green hinder the dish’s simple roots? I took to the kitchen to find out.
Get the recipe: Spring Green Spaghetti Carbonara
How to Make Ina Garten’s Spring Green Spaghetti Carbonara
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then toss in dried spaghetti. While it cooks, sauté diced pancetta in a skillet until browned and crispy, then transfer it with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. At the same time, fill a large bowl with hot tap water and set it aside.
When the spaghetti is just shy of al dente, scoop out some pasta water and reserve it, then toss sliced asparagus, julienned snow peas, and shelled fresh English peas (or frozen peas) directly into the pot to blanch and become tender in the boiling pasta water. After two minutes, drain the pasta and vegetables together.
Next, pour out the water in the large bowl and add heavy cream, two eggs, two egg yolks, and some of the reserved pasta water back in. Whisk to combine. Immediately add the hot pasta and vegetables and toss vigorously so that the pasta absorbs the sauce and is well-coated. Toss in grated Parmesan cheese, sliced scallions, minced chives, lemon zest and juice, salt, and pepper, then stir in the crispy pancetta. Serve the pasta with a finishing sprinkle of Parmesan and chives.
My Honest Review of Ina Garten’s Spring Carbonara
We sat outside on a warm spring evening to enjoy this pasta, and it hit all the right notes for the season. It was rich and comforting, just the way spaghetti carbonara should be, but the bounty of green veggies, plus lemon zest and juice, really brightened it up.
My favorite part of the recipe actually ended up being a technique hidden in the instructions. Filling up a large bowl with hot tap water warms it just enough so that when you then drain the water and use the bowl to toss together the pasta and egg sauce, the eggs will be perfectly tempered and won’t risk curdling, which is the biggest hurdle facing perfect carbonara. I loved this trick and I will absolutely be using it to make future bowls of spaghetti carbonara, whether it’s this version or a more traditional one.
I will say the addition of cream, which is not traditional in classic recipes, did diminish the eggy flavor and mouthfeel I expect with carbonara. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing here, because the milkiness worked well with the green vegetables and herbs, but it did make it feel like even more like a diversion from true carbonara. While I’d absolutely make this recipe again to celebrate spring, if it’s the decadence of carbonara I’m after, I might look elsewhere.
Regardless, this pasta absolutely lent some luxury to my dinner table. Wash it down with a glass of cold, crisp rosé — or as Ina suggests in her Instagram post, Chablis — and you’ll have treated yourself well.
If You Make Ina Garten’s Spring Green Spaghetti Carbonara, a Few Tips
- Have all your ingredients ready to go. With all the veggies that go into this pasta, there is a fair amount of chopping to do. Carbonara is a quick-moving process because of the egg sauce — you want to be sure the pasta is hot and ready when it’s tossed in the sauce in order to form a creamy sauce. It helps to have all your ingredients prepped and ready even before bringing the pot of water to a boil.
- Use less snow peas. I found the quantity of snow peas to be pretty disproportionate to the amount of asparagus and English peas. To prevent them from stealing the show, I halved the amount called for and suggest you do the same, unless you really, really love snow peas. Next time, I’d also add a few more stalks of asparagus, because I felt they got a bit lost.
- Feel free to halve the recipe. If you’re not ready to host friends for dinner just yet, as Ina plans to, this recipe is easy to halve. You’ll get two generous or three moderate portions with a half recipe.
- Reduce the salt, but don’t skip the black pepper. The recipe calls for adding a full tablespoon of salt to the sauce, but between the salty pancetta and generous quantity of Parmesan cheese, you definitely won’t need that much — especially if you salt the pasta water well, too. I’d suggest seasoning to taste, as I found myself only needing a generous pinch or two. What I did want more of, though, was freshly ground black pepper, which helps the dish hold true to its carbonara roots. Don’t hold back if you love its bite as much as I do.