Chef Mike Lata’s Recipe for Root-Vegetable Pasta Carbonara
A luscious purée of parsnip and celery root both lightens up and boosts the flavor of this pasta carbonara—a quick and satisfying winter weeknight recipe—from chef Mike Lata of Charleston’s FIG and the Ordinary
By Kitty Greenwald in the Wall Street Journal
The Chef: Mike Lata
His restaurants: FIG and the Ordinary, both in Charleston, S.C.
What he is known for: Seasonal, straightforward cooking that helped make Charleston a destination food town. Trumpeting the Low Country’s bounty and prolific coastline.
IT’S HARD TO imagine that anyone counting carbs or cholesterol would opt for pasta alla carbonara, the unapologetically rich Roman dish that marries noodles with eggs, bacon and plenty of Parmesan cheese. Some stateside versions also include cream, which helps the sauce maintain its luscious consistency from kitchen to table. A glorious calorie bomb, carbonara appeals to the hedonist in all of us. The mere idea of lightening it seems laughable.
But what if it were possible to do so without sacrificing flavor? That’s what chef Mike Lata is offering with this riff on the classic, his third Slow Food Fast contribution. The secret: a silky purée of parsnip and celery root worked into the eggs and cheese. Simmered until soft, then processed until smooth as cream, the vegetables stretch the sauce so it completely cloaks the noodles. The endorphin rush the dish delivers is in no way diminished.
“A purist would say this is a bastardized version,” Mr. Lata said. “But this sauce won’t seize up once it cools, which happens with regular pasta carbonara. You are creating a consistency you can’t achieve otherwise.” Plus, he added, the flavor is more complex here: “Parsnips are very sweet, and celery root has an aromatic quality that adds savoriness.”
Once pancetta and more Parmesan garnish the heap of pasta, it’s hard to argue that this dish is diet fare, but it is healthier than the original. “The idea came from my wife and me cooking for our baby at home and having tons of puréed vegetables around,” Mr. Lata said. “Like everyone else, we try to eat light at home.” And that’s always easier to do when you walk away from the table feeling satisfied.
Root-Vegetable Pasta Carbonara
Total Time: 30 minutes Serves: 4-6
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons peeled and finely diced celery root
- 2 tablespoons peeled and finely diced parsnip
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons water, plus more for cooking pasta
- ½ cup finely diced pancetta or bacon
- 1 pound bucatini or penne pasta
- 3 eggs plus 3 yolks, beaten
- ½ cup finely grated Parmesan or pecorino, plus more for garnish
1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. In a small pot over medium heat, simmer celery root, parsnips, cream, a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons water until vegetables are fork tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer cooked vegetables and cooking liquid to a blender. Purée until completely smooth. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan over low heat, cook pancetta until browned on all sides but still tender, about 4 minutes. Set aside.
3. Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain cooked pasta, reserving 2 cups pasta cooking water.
4. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine eggs, yolks, ½ cup grated cheese and ¼ cup vegetable purée. Toss in cooked pasta until evenly coated with sauce. Stir in extra cheese, vegetable purée or reserved pasta water as needed to coat noodles thoroughly. Stir in reserved pancetta. To serve, garnish each helping with grated cheese and pepper.