Spicy Mama Lil’s Spaghetti alla Carbonara – Recipe

Vegetarian Spaghetti Carbonara with Mama Lil's Spicy Peppers
Spicy Mama Lil’s Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Spaghetti alla carbonara is one of those great Italian dishes that comes with multiple-choice apocryphal explanations for the name. Possibly it is in the style favored by a group of charcoal makers, or coal miners, or maybe it was named after the charcoal burner it was cooked on. In any case, the traditional version is made by frying some pig bits with garlic and chili flakes, tossing your mostly cooked pasta through that pan, and then into a bowl with beaten eggs, cheese and black pepper. The hot pasta lightly cooks the egg, turning it into a rich and creamy sauce.

I’ve made slapdash vegetarian versions of carbonara for years. The other night I happened to have a jar of Mama Lil’s spicy peppers open and added them in, and a whole new vista opened up for me. The kick from those pickled peppers took the dish to a whole new level.

I’ve since made it again, elaborating with some toasted pine nuts for crunch, and a shower of parsley for an herbal top note. I’m seriously obsessed… it is pretty much killing me not to jump up and make a bowl for myself right now.

If you haven’t had Mama Lil’s before, you are missing out big time. They are made here in Seattle and therefore widely available, but outside of Seattle you may be able to find them at Whole Foods, or you can pick them up on Amazon. The version I linked to is the mildly spicy version, which is actually quite hot when cooked. They also make a “kick butt” version that is more than I could personally handle in this dish.

The critical move in making creamy carbonara comes when you dump the pasta into the eggs. You must be ready with your tongs and really go at the mixing, otherwise the eggs will scramble. There is no need to be scared of this step, it is easy to do right as long as you have everything prepared.

Spicy Mama Lil’s Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Serves 2 as a hearty entree
15 minutes active time

  • 2/3 pound spaghetti
  • 1/2 cup Mama Lil’s peppers (including the oil from the jar)
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  1. Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil. Put your serving bowls aside to warm. When the water is at a rolling boil, add the pasta. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the Mama Lil’s peppers including at least a couple of tablespoons of the oil they are packed in. When the oil is shimmering, add the garlic and reduce the heat to low.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cheese, several generous grinds of black pepper, and a pinch of Kosher salt (you don’t need much because the peppers and cheese are already salty). When the pasta is al dente (or even just slightly shy of al dente), drain it, add to the skillet and raise the heat to medium high. Using tongs, toss the pasta with the peppers for about 1 minute.
  3. Pour the entire contents of the skillet into the egg mixture, and working quickly and aggressively with your tongs to prevent the eggs from scrambling, toss the pasta for about 1 minute. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  4. Divide the pasta among the serving bowls, garnish with the toasted pine nuts and parsley and serve immediately.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, November 28th, 2011 in Main Courses, Recipes.

15 Responses to “Spicy Mama Lil’s Spaghetti alla Carbonara – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    November 28, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    looks delicious. I am pretty sure we don’t have Mama Lil’s here in Jerusalem…. any thoughts on a substitution? The blog looks really nice!

    • Reply
      November 28, 2011 at 9:53 am #

      I bet you could make a great version using harissa! You’d have to experiment to find the right amount to use, and probably add more olive oil and maybe a splash of vinegar or lemon juice. Let me know if you try it.

  2. Reply
    November 28, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    Interesting idea … Mama lils is great on pizza, so pasta makes sense. Sounds pretty good now that you’ve mentioned it 😉 Ariella – I bet you can find it online and have it shipped. It’s worth it.

  3. Reply
    Mike & Reg
    November 28, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    We just made this tonight for dinner, Michael. Loved it! Spicy and satisfying on a chilly evening. We used whole wheat pasta and it was a great match for this recipe.

    • Reply
      November 28, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

      In-house beta testing, can’t beat it! (Mike works right down the hall from me, we used to be on the same team.)

  4. Reply
    November 29, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    this looks deliciously fresh.

  5. Reply
    November 29, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    This looks gorgeous. Just telling you I’m having pasta for dinner!. Thanks!

  6. Reply
    December 3, 2011 at 6:41 am #

    I like your carbonara. Add the pine nuts is a very smart idea!

  7. Reply
    December 4, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    I made this few days ago! so delicious indeed! thanks for the great recipes!

  8. Reply
    December 8, 2011 at 8:06 am #

    Thanks for the recipe. Carbonara is my favorite!

  9. Reply
    December 11, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Michael, thank you for this recipe! I usually have most of the ingredients on hand, so this is a perfect pantry-staple weeknight dinner. I often use Mama Lil’s to garnish kale salad, and my boyfriend likes to fry them up with field roast sausage to punch up basic spaghetti with tomato sauce.

    I made your carbonara this week … I only had about 1/4 cup of the mild peppers on hand, so I made up the other 1/4 cup with the kick-butt variety. The dish ended up quite spicy, as you predicted, but I was actually surprised how much the creaminess of the eggs and cheese cut through the spice. Will definitely be making this one again.

    • Reply
      December 11, 2011 at 7:14 pm #

      Hey Cristin – I’m glad you liked it! Sounds like you and your guy are true Mama Lil’s fans. (Oh, and in that case, check out this panini: link to herbivoracious.com)

  10. Reply
    April 15, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    I love carbonara but i cant do it well, After seeing this blog I realize that it is just easy to do.

  11. Reply
    August 18, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    Hi Michael, I made this today using peppadews instead of Mama Lil’s. It was terrific comfort food. One thing I noted is that the Amazon link to the peppers is broken.

    • Reply
      August 18, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

      Glad you liked it, and thanks for the heads up on the link – I’ve fixed it now!

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