Vegetarian Carbonara 

Guido Pedrelli
Guido Pedrelli
Italian Cuisine Expert and Food Blogger
Guido Pedrelli
Guido Pedrelli, the mastermind behind Nonna Box, has honed his culinary expertise for decades, inspired by family feasts in Emilia-Romagna. Mentored by his restaurateur nonna, he mastered Italian classics and furthered his skills with professional culinary studies in desserts and gelato making from Mec3. Today, he shares this rich legacy and authentic recipes through Nonna Box.
Expertise: Italian cuisine, Pasta, Pizza, Pastry, Dessert

This incredibly delicious Vegetarian Carbonara recipe is the perfect twist on an Italian classic for those seeking a meat-free option that doesn’t compromise on taste! Made with just 8 simple ingredients including perfectly cooked spaghetti, rich egg yolks, Romano cheese, and fresh zucchini, this mouthwatering dish comes together in just 20 minutes!

Vegetarian carbonara served on a plate

Vegetarian Carbonara Recipe

When it comes to Italian comfort food, carbonara reigns supreme with its creamy and savory goodness! Traditionally made with guanciale or bacon, egg yolks, Pecorino Romano cheese, and black pepper, pasta carbonara is sooo good and a true indulgence!

However, if you follow a vegetarian diet or simply prefer a meatless option, this vegetarian carbonara recipe is an unbelievably tasty twist that still captures the essence of the original dish.

In this vegetarian version, the recipe remains faithful to its rich and creamy roots. However, the guanciale is replaced with fresh zucchini, which complements the sauce and adds a bit of crunch. As a result, the dish not only preserves its distinctive flavor but also gains an additional layer of texture.

This vegetarian carbonara truly showcases the versatility of Italian cuisine and proves that vegetarian recipes can be just as satisfying. Each bite of this pasta dish is rich, creamy, and absolutely delicious!

What is the difference between creamy pasta and carbonara?

One notable difference between my vegetarian carbonara recipe and others that you’ll find is the absence of heavy cream. Many people mistakenly associate creamy pasta dishes with bacon as classic carbonara, but the traditional preparation does not call for cream.

Instead, the velvety texture of the sauce comes from a combination of egg yolks, cheese, and starchy pasta water. Together the mixture creates a creamy consistency that easily clings to the strands of spaghetti. 

What do you need to make this recipe?


  • Large Pot – Used to boil the spaghetti.
  • Colander – Needed to drain the pasta.
  • Large Saute Pan – Used to cook the zucchini and complete the dish. It needs to be large enough to comfortably hold all the cooked pasta.
  • Whisk – Needed to whisk the yolks, cheese, and black pepper together.
  • Small bowl – You’ll need a small bowl to whisk the egg yolk mixture.
  • Grater – Needed to finely grate the Pecorino Romano cheese. 


  • Prep – 5 minutes
  • Cook – 15 minutes

What ingredients do you need to make this recipe?

Ingredients for vegetarian carbonara: egg-yolks, spaghetti, pecorino romano, garlic clove, zucchini, extra-virgin olive oil, salt and black pepper.
  • 0.35 lb | 160 grams Spaghetti – Traditionally carbonara is made using spaghetti, but rigatoni is another popular choice. Yet, you can use any type of dried pasta you like. 
  • 1 Zucchini – Adds a delightful crunch and mild sweetness to the pasta dish. Yellow squash is another option. For a more savory taste, you can add some mushrooms.
  • 1 Garlic Clove – Adding garlic when sautéing the zucchini gives the vegetarian carbonara just a subtle hint of garlicky flavor.
  • 1 teaspoon Extra-Virgin Olive Oil –  Needed to sauté the zucchini and garlic. You can also use vegetable oil.
  • 2 Egg Yolks – The eggs play a crucial role in creating the creamy carbonara sauce. You don’t need the whole eggs, but make sure the yolks are at room temperature for optimal results.
  • 0.25 cup | 25 grams Pecorino Romano – A key ingredient in this vegetarian carbonara recipe that adds to its distinct flavor and texture. Parmesan cheese can also be used as an alternative. 
  • Pasta Cooking Water – The starchy water is essential for making carbonara a smooth and creamy consistency. 
  • Black Pepper – Adds the perfect little kick of spice. Use freshly ground for the best taste. 
  • Salt – Used as needed to season the pasta cooking water and the dish as needed.

How to make this recipe step by step

1. Saute the zucchini

Begin by adding 1 teaspoon of olive oil to a large sauté pan followed by the sliced zucchini and garlic clove photo 1-2.

Vegetarian carbonara procedure: 1 teaspoon of olive oil is added to a large sauté pan followed by the sliced zucchini and garlic clove.

Next, place the pan over medium heat and sauté the zucchini for approximately 3 minutes or until it becomes slightly soft yet retains its crunch photo 3-4.

Vegetarian carbonara procedure: the zucchini are sautéd for approximately 3 minutes.

Then remove the garlic clove, season the fried zucchini with a pinch of salt and pepper, and set the pan aside for a later step.

2. Cook the spaghetti

Bring a large pot of water with a generous amount of salt to a boil. Then add the pasta to the boiling water and cook it according to the package directions or just until it reaches al dente.

When the spaghetti is done, reserve 1 cup of your pasta cooking water and then drain the noodles in a colander photo 5-6.

Vegetarian carbonara procedure: the pasta is boiled until it reaches al dente. 1 cup of pasta cooking water is reserved and then 
the noodles are drained in a colander.

3. Make the base of the sauce

First, reserve 1 tablespoon of the grated cheese photo 7-8.

Vegetarian carbonara procedure: 1 tablespoon of the grated cheese is reserved.

Then whisk the egg yolks, the rest of the grated cheese, and a good amount of black pepper together in a small bowl. Next, whisk 1 tablespoon of pasta water into the egg mixture until smooth photo 9-10.

Vegetarian carbonara procedure: the egg yolks are whisked as welll as the rest of the grated cheese, and a good amount of black pepper together in a small bowl. Second photo, 1 tablespoon of pasta water is whisked into the egg mixture until smooth.

4. Add the pasta

Once the pasta is done cooking, add the noodles to the large saute pan with cooked zucchini. Then add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water and saute the ingredients together over high heat for just 1 minute photo 11-12

Vegetarian carbonara procedure: the noodles are added to the pan with cooked zucchini. Then, 2 to 3 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water are added and the ingredients together are sauted.

5. Create the sauce

Before you start, turn off the heat and remove the frying pan from the stove. Then slowly begin pouring the egg mixture over the spaghetti while stirring constantly for about 30 seconds. Next, stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of grated cheese and 1 to 2 more tablespoons of pasta water to create a smooth and creamy consistency photo 13-14

Vegetarian carbonara procedure: the egg mixture is poured. Vegetarian carbonara procedure: the egg mixture is poured. Next, the remaining grated cheese is stirred with some pasta water.

6. Complete the vegetarian carbonara recipe

To finish your creamy vegetarian carbonara dish, give it a final toss to make sure all the noodles are fully coated in the carbonara cream. Then serve immediately on individual plates or family style.

Vegetarian carbonara procedure: the final dish is garnished with Pecorino Romano.

For an added touch, you can garnish the pasta with a sprinkle of freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese and a dash more of ground black pepper photo 15-16.

Vegetarian carbonara on a serving dish next to some pecorino romano.

Expert Tips

  • For the most authentic vegetarian carbonara, use high-quality eggs, Pecorino Romano cheese, and freshly ground black pepper. 
  • Cook the spaghetti just until it is al dente, meaning still slightly firm to the bite. This helps to prevent the pasta from becoming mushy when it is cooked together with the sauce.
  • Make sure to reserve some of the starchy pasta cooking water. It’s an important ingredient that is used to achieve the proper consistency of the dish.  
  • Allow the egg yolks to come to room temperature before whisking them together with the cheese and pepper. This ensures a smoother mixture and helps to prevent the sauce from turning into scrambled eggs.
  • When incorporating the egg yolk mixture into the pasta, be sure to stir constantly and remove the pan from the heat to prevent the yolks from coagulating. 
  • Remember to add salt with care. Season the pasta water generously with salt before cooking, the zucchini during sautéing, and the overall dish at the very end and only if needed.

Here are some other vegetarian pasta recipes to try it out:


This tasty vegetarian carbonara is a wonderful canvas for culinary creativity! My recipe is just a starting point. You can pretty much add anything you like to this vegetarian dish!

What vegetables go well with carbonara?

The possibilities are truly endless. In addition to zucchini, both mushrooms, and asparagus are fantastic options. Mushrooms add a lovely meaty flavor. You could even top the finished dish with some roasted tomatoes or stir in some peas or baby spinach at the very end.

What is a good substitute for bacon in carbonara?

If you don’t like the idea of zucchini carbonara with no umami bacon or guanciale flavors, not a problem! Tempeh bacon, plant-based sausage, extra firm smoked tofu, and seitan are all good alternatives to make vegetarian carbonara. You just have to decide which one you want to try first!


It’s best to enjoy carbonara immediately, but you can store leftovers in the fridge in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days. Then to reheat the pasta, gently warm it over low heat on the stovetop or in the microwave. If needed, adding a splash of water or milk can help restore some of its creaminess.

Why does carbonara need eggs?

Egg yolks are a very effective emulsifier that helps to bind the fat in the dish together with pasta water to create a smooth and creamy sauce. 

Which ingredients should never be used in traditional carbonara?

In most traditional carbonara, ingredients such as cream, onions, and garlic are never used. Most importantly the absence of heavy cream allows the dish to achieve its characteristic creamy texture through the emulsification of eggs and cheese with pasta water.

What is a vegetarian substitute for pecorino?

You can use nutritional yeast on its own to substitute Parmesan or Pecorino cheese. You could also use a plant-based parmesan cheese without animal rennet. Keep in mind, your dish may result in a different final texture.

Why is my carbonara sauce not creamy?

If your carbonara sauce lacks creaminess, it may be due to overcooking the eggs or not adding enough pasta cooking water. This is why it’s very important to remove the pan from the heat before adding the egg mixture. Additionally, you may just need to add a little more pasta water to achieve the desired right consistency.

Vegetarian carbonara in a pan

Vegetarian carbonara

5 from 1 vote
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Course: Pasta
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 2
Calories: 426kcal


  • 160 grams (0.35 lb) spaghetti or rigatoni
  • 1 (1) medium zucchini sliced
  • 1 (1) garlic clove
  • 1 tsp (1 tsp) olive oil
  • 2 (2) large yolks room temperature
  • 25 grams (0.25 cups) Pecorino Romano grated
  • Pasta cooking water
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste


  • 1 Large pot
  • 1 Colander
  • 1 Large Saute Pan
  • 1 Whisk
  • 1 Small bowl
  • 1 Grater


  • Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil to a large saute pan along with the sliced zucchini and clove of garlic. Now, saute the zucchini over medium heat for about 3 minutes or just until it’s slightly soft but still crunchy. Then remove the garlic clove, season the zucchini with a bit of salt and pepper, and set the pan aside for now.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Then add the spaghetti and cook it according to the package instructions until al dente. When done, reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.
  • Set aside about 1 tablespoon of the grated cheese. Then whisk the egg yolks, black pepper, and the rest of the cheese together in a small bowl. Now, whisk 1 tablespoon of the pasta cooking water into the egg yolk mixture until it’s creamy.
  • Add the cooked pasta to the pan with the zucchini. Then add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water and saute everything together for 1 minute over high heat.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and turn off the stove. Now, pour the egg yolk mixture over the spaghetti while stirring for about 30 seconds. Then mix in the remaining 1 tablespoon of grated cheese along with 1 to 2 more tablespoons of the pasta water to make the dish nice and creamy.
  • Finally, serve your vegetarian carbonara with some more freshly ground black pepper and grated Romano cheese if you like!
Serving: 100g | Calories: 426kcal | Carbohydrates: 64g | Protein: 19g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 207mg | Sodium: 210mg | Potassium: 472mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 517IU | Vitamin C: 18mg | Calcium: 193mg | Iron: 2mg
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