Ramps. Ramps. Ramps. The best thing about spring is ramps. Because I grew up in the Southwest, I had never even heard of ramps. But, my first spring in NYC, all I saw at the Union Square farmer’s market were stacks and stacks of ramps. So I bought a small bunch and I was hooked from the first taste.
Ramps are hyper-seasonal and are sometimes called wild leeks or spring onions. While they do belong to the same family (Allium) they are neither leek nor onion. Ramps are foraged as opposed to cultivated. As far as I know, attempts to farm ramps have failed and they only grow in the wild. Here’s an article from Eater if you want to learn more about ramps.
Ramps have a mild garlic flavor with a hint of leeks. They taste amazing sautéed in butter or bacon grease. I’ve made them with eggs and even added them raw to a salad. Chefs and cooks also like to pickle the stems to preserve them beyond early spring.
Because of the garlic notes, I thought they would be great with pasta. Pasta carbonara is pretty easy to make and a favorite at my house. Traditionally, pasta carbonara is made with peas. I decided to substitute the peas in the recipe for the ramp greens and use the ramp stems in place of the garlic.
This has become, hands down, my favorite way to eat ramps and my favorite way to make pasta carbonara. The mild yet wild taste of the ramps works perfectly with the bacon and creamy egg sauce.
Prepare the egg sauce before the pasta is cooking to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready when the sauce is added; it is very important that the pasta is hot when adding the egg mixture so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs in the sauce.
Don’t forget to reserve the pasta water. In the heat of the moment, I often forget to reserve some pasta water when I drain the pasta. You will need to add some of the pasta water as the egg & cheese sauce is setting to make it creamier. The starchy pasta water works way better for this than just plain water.
Pasta Carbonara with Ramps
- 1 lb dry spaghetti
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 oz pancetta or slab bacon, cubed or sliced into small strips
- 1 bunch ramps (8-12 stalks)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Beat the eggs and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Cut stems from ramps where the white meets the green. Chop stems and cut greens about one inch wide.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm (as they say in Italian 'al dente'). Drain the pasta well, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce if it gets too dry.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and sauté until the bacon is crisp and the fat is rendered. Toss the ramp stems into the fat and sauté for less than 1 minute to soften.
- Add ramp greens and the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands in the bacon fat and wilt the greens.
- Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta, stirring quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble (this is done off the heat to prevent this from happening). Thin out the sauce with a little bit of the reserved pasta water at a time until it reaches desired consistency. Season the carbonara with several turns of freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. Mound the spaghetti carbonara into warm plates or bowls and sprinkle a little more cheese over the top.