It is always a pleasure to make a Vegan Carbonara Pasta dish that reaches new levels. Take Vegan Pancetta, there are a lot of recipes that use tofu, but we have taken it a step, or should I say leap forward. When you take the time to develop layers of flavor, such as cooking the tofu in a brine, then freezing the tofu to alter the cell structure, all of this is topped off by roasting and glazing the tofu to finish the transformation from basic to extraordinary. Putting it simply, this is not just another Vegan Carbonara recipe this is pure magic. The exclusion of mushrooms is no mistake, I did not want to make another vegan carbonara mushroom recipe that uses mushrooms as the pancetta substitute. I do have mushrooms in our carbonara sauce, however. The addition of wood ear mushrooms adds an earthy note to the sauce and lends a gentle meaty note to the sauce. Carbonara requires a high level of fat, we used cashews to achieve that creaminess.
When combining the traditional steps of finishing the pasta in a pan that we so patiently browned each and every cube of tofu pancetta, adding the al dente pasta directly to the hot pan, stirring and moving the pan to allow the starches to emulsify, creating a base sauce to then add our version of vegan carbonara sauce, and continuing to emulsify the sauces together, cooking the pasta to that perfect state of just tender, and finishing with a hearty dash of fresh cracked black pepper. What you have created is a vegan carbonara pasta dish that would stand proud in any restaurant.
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Glazing the Tofu
Tofu Pancetta just out of the oven
Cook all ingredients
Puree, thin if needed
Finishing the Sauce
Cooking the Pasta
Cook the pasta
Just until el dente
Add to pancetta pan
Add Carbonara Sauce
Cook and adjust seasoning to taste
- Place all of the brine ingredients in a pot, slowly heating over low heat, stir to dissolve the salt, sugar, and marmite. Gently place the tofu in the brine, cook for 10 minutes over low heat. Flip the tofu carefully, the tofu will become very soft and can easily break. After cooking for 20 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool. Once the liquid is cool enough to handle, use your hand to remove the tofu, place the tofu in a container that is just larger than the tofu block. Pour the brine over the top covering the tofu, place in the freezer overnight.
- After completely frozen, remove the frozen tofu and allow it to defrost.
- Combine the dry ingredients, whisk to combine, add the wet ingredients and mix to combine.
Cooking Tofu Pancetta
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
- Line a pan with parchment paper and place a wire drain rack on top, place the tofu on a the wire rack. Using a pastry brush, glaze the top of the tofu, flip the tofu so that the glazed side is now on the bottom. Glaze the rest of the tofu and place in the oven. Continue to glaze the tofu every 15 minutes. The tofu is going to cook for about 1 1/2 hours, the tofu will continue to darken and release its liquid, it's important to stay on top of the glazing. The finished tofu pancetta will be a dark walnut color, it will look as if it just came out for the smoker, full of deep dark color and the aroma of caramelized sugars. Allow to cool, then cut into 1/2 inch squares.
Carbonara Sauce Method
- Combine all of the ingredients, except the nutritional yeast, and slurry mixture. Cook over low heat for 35 minutes. The carrots should be soft. Purée the sauce until very smooth, during the pureeing you may need to add extra plant milk to adjust the thickness of the sauce.
- Place the sauce in a pot. For the slurry, combine the potato starch, tapioca starched, and 1/2 cup of plant milk by whisking. Add the slurry to the Carbonara sauce, over medium-low heat, cook the sauce until you see your first bubble in the sauce. Turn the sauce off, add the nutritional yeast. Stir to combine.
Bring it all together
- Pasta carbonara needs to have everything ready and waiting when the pasta is finished cooking, timing is everything.
- The first step is cooking our tofu pancetta, heat pan over medium, and add a generous amount of olive oil. There are a couple of things happening here that are important to know and do correctly. First, the tofu pancetta needs to be cooked until very crisp, this is best done slowly so that we do not burn the tofu or the oil, the goal is to flavor the olive oil with as much of the tofu pancetta as possible. Keep flipping the pancetta so every side gets crisp. Once the tofu pancetta is crisp turn off the heat.
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water seasoned with kosher salt. Important note: 1)The pasta must be al dente. 2) Save 2 cups of pasta water.
- Once the pasta is cooked al dente add the pasta to the sauté pan with the tofu pancetta, turn the heat up to high, start to stir, and cook the pasta with the tofu pancetta, add the black pepper, and a dash of the pasta water. The point of this step is to start releasing the starch in pasta and reducing the pasta water that has starch in it, all of is starch is going to emulsify with the tofu pancetta/olive oil. Next, add the carbonara sauce to the pasta, continue to stir the pasta, continue to emulsify all of the pancetta/olive oil, pasta starch into the sauce, creating a rich sauce that is fully coating the pasta but not too thick or cloying. You may need to add a dash of pasta water to the sauce to get it just right.