Pasta Carbonara just got even better.
Sure, there are the usual signs of spring: cherry blossoms! Tulips! Birds! April showers! Pollen! All that good stuff. And then there is an even better sign of spring: Ramps. These ephemeral spring beauties, found at farmers markets and smaller indie produce markets right about now, are worth seeking out. Buy a couple of bunches, then make the absolute best of this special season by turning them into a silky, fresh pasta carbonara with ramps and chives.
But first: What are ramps?
Ramps are a wild spring onion with a delicate taste somewhere at the nexus of leeks, chives, and maybe a hint of garlic. Sometimes called wild leeks, ramps have a very short growing season (just a few weeks) and usually are foraged and harvested in the wild. This makes them a little bit elusive — and very exciting to get a hold of while they last.
What if you can’t get a hold of ramps? That is ok, too. Just toss in a full half cup of minced chives instead of two tablespoons. This will give the dish a similar delicate onion flavor.
Making Pasta Carbonara With Ramps and Chives
Pasta Carbonara is traditionally made with spaghetti, which gets folded into a silky, rich sauce made from egg yolks, cheese, and guanciale or pancetta — though a non-smoky bacon will work fine.
A note on the cheeses: I call for two cheeses here, equal portions of salty pecorino-Romano and sharp aged Parmigiano-Reggiano. But do not sweat it if you only have one. Your carbonara will still taste great. No need to make things complicated.
Because pasta carbonara only has a few ingredients, the dish lives or dies by proper technique. The most common technique mistake is overcooking the eggs in the pasta, which happens by dumping the egg and cheese mixture into the hot pan with the pasta, pancetta, ramps, and chives. This results in spaghetti coated with a thousand tiny bits of grainy scrambled egg. It will still taste ok, but does not look appetizing.
You might also like: Broccoli Rabe Pasta With Sausage and Classic Italian Meatballs
To make a pasta carbonara with a silky smooth sauce:
- Cook the pasta until barely al dente,
- Transfer the pasta into the pan with the cooked bacon and ramps, and give it all a good toss with a bit of pasta water, then,
- Transfer all of that into a large mixing bowl with the eggs and cheese, and stir until the dish comes together and is coated in the sauce.
Temper the eggs by whisking in a tablespoon of hot pasta water before adding the spaghetti. Just a few good ingredients and a few steps are all you need to make the best pasta you’ll have all spring.
Ramps are delicate. Want to store them so they stay bright and green and don’t go all wilted or slimy? Check out How to Store Fresh Ramps.
Spring Pasta Carbonara With Ramps and Chives
- 3 ounces diced pancetta
- 3 eggs: 2 yolks and one whole egg
- 2 bunches fresh ramps
- 1/4 cup freshly-grated pecorino-Romano cheese
- 1/4 cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 tablespoon good olive oil
- 2 tablespoons minced chives, plus more to garnish
- 12 ounces (about 3/4 box) spaghetti or other pasta
- salt and freshly-cracked black pepper
- Rinse the ramps and pat them dry. Roughly chop the leaves into large pieces, then thinly slice the red stems and the white bulbs, discarding the root tips. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add the pasta.
- While the water is heating, in a large mixing bowl, combine the two cheeses, minced chives, egg yolks, egg, and big pinch of kosher salt and fresh pepper. Whisk it together with a fork until well combined.
- In a large sautée pan, cook the pancetta over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the fat starts to render. (The pasta may be cooking by now.) Add the ramp stems and bulbs and continue to cook for two to three minutes more, until the pancetta is cooked through and just browned, and the ramp bulbs are translucent. Add the ramp leaves and sautée for one minute more, until they are wilted and cooked through. Remove from heat but keep very warm. (You may have to turn the burner back on and reheat it just before the spaghetti is added.)
- Cook the spaghetti until just under al dente. Remove from heat. Do not drain. Using a set of tongs, drag the spaghetti into the bacon/ramp pan, bringing a little pasta water with it. Add a few big spoonfuls of pasta water to the pan. Cook the spaghetti with the pancetta and ramps, stirring frequently with the tongs, until the water is absorbed, and the spaghetti is al dente and coated with the bacon and ramps.
- Optional: whisk a tablespoon of hot pasta water into the egg mixture to temper it.
- Now transfer the spaghetti, pancetta, and ramps into the mixing bowl with the egg, cheese, and chives. Stir vigorously for a minute or two, until it all comes together in a silky pasta dish and the sauce evenly coats the spaghetti. Taste for seasoning.
- Serve hot, garnished with a little extra cheese, pepper, and fresh chives.