One of the things that can be really dispiriting about the mere idea of going on a diet, and which often acts as a demotivator to a good start, is the thought of having to give up certain things "forever". You're always being told by the boffins that, if you want to shed the weight and keep it off, you need to "change your lifestyle" and "acquire new eating habits". Of course, if your current eating habits weren't so damned enjoyable, you wouldn't need to diet in the first place - but that is a paradox one rarely sees addressed in the official propaganda.

When I was on the Weight Watchers diet last year, I did a lot of work to come up with food I could really enjoy - that I could enjoy as much as the stuff I wasn't allowing myself to eat, in fact. In many cases this meant creative cooking, using new ingredients, more vegetables, different grains etc., and "giving up" some of the old lardy stuff; I'm normally not a fan of "substitutes" in general, preferring to always eat the Real Thing or not at all. However, with the best willpower in the world, sometimes you come across something that you just can't give up completely no matter how steely your resolve, and Spaghetti Carbonara was one of those things for me.

Below is my solution to the "how the hell do you diet-adapt something that's 80% double cream and 10% bacon fat??" problem.

To make dinner for 2, you’ll need:

  • 200gr spaghetti, cooked al-dente, rinsed with hot water and drained
  • 1 cup skimmed milk
  • About ½ a pack Philadelphia Extra Light cream cheese
  • 6-8 rashers low fat bacon, chopped or cubed
  • 1 shallot or ¼ of a white onion, finely minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  •  A tiny splash of white wine vinegar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Optional – about a tablespoon of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Now, do this:  

  1. Fry the onion off in a little low-fat cooking spray in a large, deep pan on a medium heat; when it becomes glassy, add the garlic and continue to fry for about 2 minutes
  2. Add the bacon and cook until it begins to brown, stirring occasionally to make sure it’s not sticking  
  3. Meanwhile, whisk together the milk and cream cheese to get a smooth, cream-like liquid; add a little more milk if it’s too thick, and in general experiment with the consistency until it looks appetizingly creamy (I end up never doing this exactly the same way twice, for some reason)  
  4. After approx. 8 minutes or when the bacon seems cooked through, pour the milk mixture into the pan and mix well  
  5. Add the tiniest splash of vinegar, stir again and taste to adjust the seasoning; it should need very little salt, because of the bacon, but some freshly milled pepper would be good, and a few grates of fresh nutmeg will definitely give it that extra special something  
  6. When the sauce is bubbling, tip the spaghetti into the pan and mix well  
  7. Heat for 1 minute, then dish up, decorating each portion with an egg yolk to be stirred in (it adds to the creaminess and richness of the sauce, so even if you think it’s yucky don’t skip this stage!).  

If you have some decent Parmesan around - doesn’t have to be the poncy “authentic” stuff, there’s perfectly good Parmesan being made right here in England – that’s got a nice strong mature flavour, you can grate a little of that into the sauce during stage 5. It will definitely improve the taste of the final dish, but obviously at the cost of a significant calorie gain (cheese is oh so naughty, alas).

Now that I'm no longer eactively dieting, I still cook this version for preference, as the "real", cream-laden recipe is just too rich for me to enjoy anymore - I get to feeling ever so slightly green around the gills from so much fat these days. I also use the cream cheese & milk concoction as a cream substitute in a lot of other recipes, such as baked fish, other creamy pasta sauces etc.


Edit: I revised down the quantity of pasta to suit people who are not in the habit of cooking like they're feeding a battalion.

I'm also informed by lpm & DEB that this recipe works well with mushrooms and salmon, respectively; which is good news for any non-bacon-eaters out there. Add some chopped fresh dill if you're making the mushroom version, mind.

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