Cauli-Powered Carbonara

Happy September!  I adore the month of September.  Not only is my birthday in this wonderful month, but it is the transition from summer to fall, a glorious period of the weather changing, leaves starting to turn, and getting in the last of the summer harvest.  Also…apple season!! Ah, it’s a wonderful time.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  It’s still 90 + degrees outside and a bit too early to start sharing pumpkin spice recipes.  I’m all about garden-fresh recipes that are light yet filling to help beat the heat (because nobody wants to be weighted down after a meal when it’s 95 degrees outside).  Are you thinking I’m crazy for sharing a carbonara recipe after saying all that?  You’d be correct if this was your average cream-butter-and heaping of cheese sauce.  I have a few tricks up my sleeve to keep this dish packed with all the rich flavor of traditional carbonara sauce only much lower in calories and higher in veggie power.  
If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know my obsession with cauliflower and zucchini.  These two veggies are staples for swapping bread-y, carb loaded dishes with delicious alternatives that are just as good as the original.  Here we have a combination of using pureed cauliflower as the creamy base for the sauce while zoodles (or zucchini noodles) replace wheat pasta. One bite is all you need to understand that this is not nasty diet food, but five star worthy culinary cuisine!
The secret to the sauce is simmering the cauliflower in chicken stock before blending to infuse flavor and create a solid, creamy and bold base.  Fresh garlic and parsley bring it up a notch, while just a touch of pecorino romano cheese takes it to the next level. Of course I added crispy bacon and bacon-infused mushrooms to really punch up the flavor along with some sweet peas.  This is the prefect transition meal from summer to fall because it has a warm, hearty element of “pasta” and a fall-crop cauliflower while also extremely light and using summer peas and zucchini.  So get your pasta on…vegetable style!
Cauli-Powered Carbonara  
1 small head cauliflower, stems removed and chopped into florets
4 cups chicken stock (or veggie stock)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup pecorino romano
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2/3 lb thick cut raw bacon, diced
1 lb portobello mushrooms, cut in half and sliced
1 yellow onion, diced
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup sweet peas, frozen or fresh
1/2 tsp lemon zest
6 cups zoodles (from about 6 small zucchini)*
*I have found the best way to make zucchini noodles is to peel and spiralize the zucchini in the morning, then salt them and allow them to drain in a colander all day.  The salt removes the water and tenderizes the noodles so by dinner time you have the perfect fuss-free al-dente pasta.
Place the cauliflower florets and chicken broth in a pot and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down and add the minced garlic.  Simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the florets are very tender and starting to fall apart.  Puree the cauliflower with an immersion blender or in a food processor until a smooth, creamy texture is achieved.  Stir in the cheese and fresh chopped parsley.
While the cauliflower is simmering,  add the diced bacon, mushrooms, and onion to a large pan and saute for about 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are cooked.  Add the mixture to a parchment-lined baking pan and broil for 5 minutes, or until everything is crispy.
Add the pureed cauliflower sauce to the empty bacon and mushroom pan and heat on low, scraping the bottom to get all that bacon-goodness into the sauce.  Add the peas, cooking just until they are heated through.  Stir in the lemon zest. 
Pour the sauce over the zoodles and top with the crispy bacon and mushrooms.  Top with additional pecorino romano cheese and fresh chopped parsley, as desired.
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