Since it’s not acceptable to eat penne alla vodka every week, I’m changing it up and going with ramp carbonara! It’s a classic, silky, bacony carbonara with the quintessential Spring flavor of RAMPS! If you know anything about ramps, you know chefs and a few home cooks go berzerk over these yummy little alliums. They’re the perfect addition to a classic carbonara. You may only get to have this ramp carbonara once this year, so hurry and get those ramps!
What Are Ramps?
There are people who consider ramps the real beginning of Spring, because we all know it definitely doesn’t feel like Spring in March. These cute little plants start popping up in April in sloped, wooded, high altitude areas. Just long enough for you to spread the word and then -poof!- they’re gone. Their season is a short 2-4 weeks. Ramps have flat leaves and thin stalky white bulbs. They’re foraged which means they’re pretty darn scarce. And this has something to do with why they’re so popular and pricey. Yes, the flavor is delicious but it’s also the thrill of foraging and even snagging your crop of ramps at the farmer’s market before everyone else.
What Do Ramps Taste Like?
Describing the flavor of ramps is tricky because they’re so unique, but here goes: leeky, garlicky, oniony. Hope that helps. Just imagine anything that has onions, garlic, or leeks, you can substitute with ramps. Pizza, pasta, vinaigrette, soup, pesto, etc. Many people pickle ramps so they can savor their flavor throughout the summer months. I’ve heard you can eat them raw, but I’d rather not.
Where Can I Find Ramps?
I’d be shocked if you find them in a grocery store. Maybe Whole Foods. My suggestion is, if you’re reading this mid-April, hurry up and grab some ramps at your local farmer’s market while there’s still a few weeks left! What you’re looking for is bright green, flat leaves. You don’t want ramps that look old and wilted.
One concern surrounding ramps is their sustainability. Due to their popularity, there’s fear of over-harvesting which can lead to a supply problem. There are a few articles written on how to deal with this. To read more about it click here.
How To Prepare Ramps
Hate to break it to ya but ramps are dirty. They’re usually pulled straight from the ground and sent straight to the farmer’s market. For someone who prefers a simple rinse-and-go, this could potentially be soul-crushing. But don’t get creeped out and quit like I almost did. It’s not as much effort as you think and it doesn’t take THAT much time.
Here’s how I prep ramps for carbonara:
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- Remove the outer layer of the bulb (just like you would an onion). I hate touching dirty things so I scrape it with a knife until it’s mostly off.
- Cut off the very tip of the bulb where the stringy parts come out.
- Separate the bulb from the leaves by cutting where the leaves start to branch out.
- Plop the bulbs and leaves in separate bowls of water and swish them around (scrub off dirt with my fingers, and sometimes fingernails) to remove any excess dirt.
- Drain and repeat with fresh water. Repeat again, if necessary.
- Lay bulbs and leaves on paper towels to air dry.
- Mince bulbs and set aside.
- Stack leaves on top of each other and cut into 2-inch sections. Set aside.
What is Carbonara?
In a nutshell, carbonara is one of the easiest Italian pasta dishes you can make. Here’s the extremely brief ingredient list:
- spaghetti noodles
It’s meals like this I can get behind. These ingredients are always at the ready at my house. The real MVP of this pasta dish is the sauce. Oh my gosh, the sauce. Super silky texture and smoky bacon flavor. Crazy flavorful and rich without going overboard. While carbonara is one of the easiest pastas you can make, the sauce can be tricky if you don’t have the right technique. You’ll soon read why. But put the right techniques in place and you’re golden.
How To Make Ramp Carbonara
It’s a simple weeknight meal. Just make sure you do your prep before you get started. I’m so bad at this I have to remind myself every time I cook to prepare everything ahead of time. This means all your cutting, measuring ingredients, etc. So here’s the simple procedure once all your ingredients are ready to party.
- ramp leaves get baked
- bacon gets cooked
- eggs, parmesan, salt, pepper get mixed together
- Noodles get cooked
- While noodles are cooking, minced ramps get tossed into bacon
- Noodles get a tossy-toss in the bacon and ramps
- Literally throw everything (pasta, ramp leaves, egg mixture, and half a ladle of pasta water) in a large bowl and TOSS, TOSS, TOSS
If you read closely, eggs are in the sauce. And you don’t cook them in the pan. They’re cooked with residual heat from piping hot pasta and pasta water. What?! Raw eggs?! Well, no. They’re actually cooked despite all your instincts tell you they’re not. Don’t panic, just hear me out.
When I made this the other day I was scooter pootin’ along and poured the egg pasta sauce right into my hot pan. I’m sure you can guess what happened next: scrambled egg pasta. It was so barf-like I tossed all my hard work and hopes into the trash. I had to rethink the situation. In order to make silky smooth carbonara the hot pan had to go. So I transferred the pasta from the hot pan to a bowl, added the sauce, and tossed until everything looked creamy and magical. The eggs were completely cooked; however, there was no trace of a scramble. It was so perfect. Removing the hot pan from the situation truly is the fool-proof method to the silkiest carbonara of your dreams. And the eggs are cooked, people. Promise!
Carbonara Should Be Classic & Easy
There are always variations of recipes which is great, but there are some pretty crazy people out there pretending they know how to cook. Don’t trust anyone who publishes a carbonara recipe with heavy cream just so they can get a “creamy” sauce. That’s not real carbonara. Don’t be tempted to add cream to get a creamy effect. You can get plenty of silky, smooth creamy sauce by following the techniques in this article. You just gotta have a little faith!
Substitutions and Timing
Ramps are the secret ingredient that send this dish over the top. It’s heavenly and fleeting. And in no way does it distract from the classic carbonara flavors; it complements. If you don’t have ramps, you could always substitute green onions instead. Trust me, it won’t taste the same, and that’s heartbreaking, but it will still work. If you want to forego ramps and green onions altogether, you’ll still have a rockin’ carbonara dish. You do you.
Some say the timing of this dish has to be perfect. I say not really. It’s supposed to be stress-free and you can totally make it work. I recommend letting the pasta finish last. Everything else can sit over low heat while the pasta is finishing up. This is a super easy dish to throw together so don’t stress yourself out about timing everything just right. Just make sure the pasta is last.
If “easy” and “filling” is a requirement for your weeknight meals, this should definitely earn a spot on your dinner rotation. Without further ado, here’s how to make ramp carbonara. And don’t forget to read the recipe notes at the bottom. Enjoy, friends!
Ramp Carbonara Recipe
3-4 bunches ramps; washed, bulbs minced, leaves cut into 2-inch sections
3 Tbsp Olive oil
1 lb spaghetti
3 large eggs
2 c freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
2 tsp salt, plus more if needed
¾ tsp black pepper
½ lb bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay ramp leaves on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with a few pinches of salt. Bake 15 minutes, checking on them after 10 minutes, until they begin to brown and are crispy. Be careful not to burn them.
While ramp leaves are baking, start the bacon. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until crispy (but not too crisp). Transfer bacon to a paper towel lined plate and set aside. Pour out all but 3 Tablespoons of grease.
While the bacon is cooking, prepare the sauce ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk together parmesan, eggs, salt, and pepper and set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 3 Tbsp or more of salt. The water should taste like the ocean. Once boiling, add spaghetti noodles and cook until al dente. This means don’t cook it all the way. Usually, it’s a few minutes less than the package directions. Pull out a noodle to test it.
While the pasta is cooking, add minced ramp bulbs to bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft (2-3 minutes). If the pasta isn’t done at this time, just keep the bacon and ramps over low heat.
Once the pasta is al dente, add them to the bacon and ramps. Toss until coated. Transfer all the pasta, bacon & minced ramps, and baked ramp leaves to a large bowl and pour the egg mixture over everything. Add half a ladle (or more if needed) of pasta water. Toss, toss, toss. Season with salt and pepper to taste and you’re done!
*Don’t throw out your pasta water. Save a cup of it so you can rewarm the leftovers the next day. I always rewarm the pasta in a skillet and add enough pasta water to get the same consistency as the night before. It tastes the same the next day if you do this!
*Alternatively, you can cook ramp leaves in a skillet with 1/4 inch of olive oil. They won’t be as crisp but they’ll taste very similar.
*Benton’s Bacon is the best bacon you’ll ever have. It’s smokey and perfect. They ship inside and outside of the US. Just check their website to see if they ship to your country.
*You want your pasta to be hot and cooked perfectly, so go ahead and have everything else cooked and sitting over low heat while you’re waiting for the pasta to finish.