Spaghetti alla Carbonada. Well, practically nada.

A small step: Meatless Mondays. It couldn’t be easier, except when the former lawyer in me rears her ugly (did I mention ugly?) head and starts splitting hairs about a little spoonful of bacon fat.

spaghetti carbonadaEntirely too much of my early life revolved around taking authority without a grain of salt. It doesn’t take a lot of cooking experience to know that a little bit of salt goes a long way toward smoothing edges and deepening allegiances. It doesn’t take a lot of cooking experience, but for some of us, it does take plenty of hard-earned life experience. There is, of course, such a thing as too much rule following. But I, for one, took my sweet (albeit unsalted) time figuring out that rule.

The problem with having followed rules to the dotted i and crossed t for years is that I have officially used up every ounce of my lifetime’s supply of rule following. I’d done it by the tender age of 27, which put me approximately halfway through law school. Do you know what it’s like to be a lawyer with an overactive immune response to rules? Let’s just say Claritin does not make a ready-tab for that particular allergy.

Food-wise, rules aversion means, among other things, that I could never be a full-fledged vegetarian. Tell me I can’t eat meat and I’ll fixate on nothing but short ribs and guanciale until the end of my sad, deprived, meatless days. It’s not the meat itself, although I do love a good burger from an agreeably raised cow from time to time. I’d feel the same way about broccoli, or beans, or quinoa. It’s the mere prohibition. I simply won’t stand for it anymore. Would you please pass the salt?

Still, it’s beyond clear that most of the meat sold in this country is nothing more than a giant, shrink-wrapped environmental and healthcare externality, and for years I’ve had no interest in eating it. As I’ve mentioned before, we get what meat we eat at home from here and here, and these day’s we don’t eat all that much of it, period.

So when I started to see Meatless Monday cropping up more and more in my favorite newspaper food sections, on my favorite food blogs, and even in my favorite restaurants, it seemed like low-hanging fruit (and vegetables and grains, oh my!) to add Meatless Monday to my own small steps toward sustainability. We already eat meatless or meat-light many days of the week, and I liked the idea of joining forces with a group that makes a little weekly party of it all. So here we are, official members. Might you consider becoming one too?

This pasta with spring vegetables is a vegetarian riff on the classic Roman dish Spaghetti alla Carbonara, albeit one to which I added a spoonful of bacon fat I’d rendered several weeks ago from a pound of salty, meaty goodness we’d gotten from our CSA. I swear I did it unwittingly, if somewhat proudly, thinking what a great “vegetarian” way to impart a subtle bacony flavor to a meatless dish. I told you I have trouble following rules! Also, sometimes I just do stupid things by mistake. But I’m not really sorry. You can easily substitute a little more olive oil for the bacon fat, if you’re that type of friend.

Oh! And just a reminder that there’s still time to visit last week’s post on small steps toward sustainability and leave a comment for a chance to win Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. If you haven’t yet read the book or checked out the other resources listed in that post, please do!

Spaghetti Carbonada

-Inspired by Saveur. Serves 6.-


  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • About 20 ramps, or 2 leeks, roots trimmed
  • 1 bunch thick-stalked asparagus, ends trimmed and peeled if woody
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (or 3 Tablespoons olive oil and 1 Tablespoon rendered bacon fat)
  • 1 egg plus 3 egg yolks (only the freshest local beauties, since they won’t be fully cooked)
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus extra for passing at the table
  • 1 big handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper


1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, thinly slice the ramps and (or the white and light green parts of the leeks) and the asparagus crosswise from stem end to tip end. You’ll end up with lots and lots of tiny little disks plus, if you’re using ramps, plenty of thin little ribbons of the green leaves. Put the ribbons aside for a moment.

2. Heat the oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced ramps* and asparagus along with a goodly pinch of salt and some pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes, until tender but not limp. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. (*Note: if you’re substituting leeks, they will need to cook for a bit longer than the asparagus, so add them to the pan a few minutes before.)

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, yolks and grated cheese, along with another nice pinch of salt and some pepper. Cook the pasta until al dente in the boiling, salted water. Drain the pasta and pour it immediately into the bowl with the eggs and cheese. Add the cooked ramps and asparagus, the reserved ramp leaves and the chopped parsley. Toss to coat everything with the egg mixture, which will thicken into a nice, silky sauce-like coating. Serve immediately.

  • Meatless Mondays are a wonderful idea, if I can just get past “Don’t tell me what day to be meatless!” :) The concept is sound, however, and I find myself not only being very picky about the meat I eat, but also eating much less of it. The pasta looks divine. Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • @The Rowdy Chowgirl Not surprisingly I share your feeling on the day-of-the-week bossiness, but I’m trying to be mature about it. :) Also, it’s for a great reason. They figured out that people are more likely to stick to a well-intentioned goal early in the week. Not that we needed scientific proof of that, but it’s pretty cool.ReplyCancel

  • […] Spaghetti alla Carbonada […]ReplyCancel

  • Carolyn-
    That bit about being more likely to stick to a goal early in the week–I’d never thought about it, but of course it’s true. It’s so much easier to be virtuous when one is rested, the week is fresh, there are ironed clothes hanging in the closet, and the refrigerator is still full of options. Plenty of time for Taco Bell lapses by Thursday!ReplyCancel

  • Daphne

    Mark brought home most of the ingredients for the is recipe from the farmers market yesterday – so I guess I was meant to make this recipe!ReplyCancel

  • Yum! Love the pic. I have been playing with this too, looking for some sort of umami substitute for the bacon. So far I have tried capers, anchovies, and smoked salmon, with some luck. But it is not the same. Must try you recipe soon.ReplyCancel

  • Sounds fantastic… & looks BEAUTIFUL!
    and thinking it prob won’t be too hard to add Meatless Monday’s to the Wiley household. With one that is Meatless Always… and two that rarely eat it… It might be a goal I can actually stick to! haha.ReplyCancel

  • I love this carbonara recipe! Seriously, pasta with eggs is just so good. Especially when they are farm fresh eggs. Great post!ReplyCancel

  • That is beautiful! Can’t wait to try it.ReplyCancel

  • I get given eggs all the time via a friend from work – now I know what to do with them.

    How did you get the pasta so beautifully presented on the plate?ReplyCancel

  • Simple and Divine. A little lemon zest would be delish too. I second Wills question, how did you maneuver the noodles so beautifully?

  • Hi Will and Kelsey, thanks! It’s a lot easier than you’d think to make the pasta look like that—I’m definitely not a hairspray and tweezers type. I just twirled it around a big serving fork and put it in the bowl. For me, a big key to styling is to plate a little (or sometimes a lot) less food than you might otherwise. Good luck!ReplyCancel

  • Inspired by this awesome recipe, I did a little twist on it where I skipped the bacon, plated the dish on a flat plate and around the edges I put little demitasse scoops of asparagus pesto (made with lower parts of stalks, scapes, pinoli, olive oil) and also harissa, then garnished w the asparagus spears as well. The harissa added a little smokiness and both helped in terms of. . .wait for it. . . umami. Might do a write up w pics on blog soon.ReplyCancel

    • Sounds fabulous, Peter. Do you have a food blog too, or might this make it into the company of horses?ReplyCancel

  • Peter Thomas Fornatale

    A good question. I think I’m just going to be self-indulgent this summer and put some more food posts right alongside the racing stuff. I honestly don’t know what I like more about Saratoga, the track or that amazing farmer’s market! And by the way, I’m very serious about your doing a memoir (if you’re not working on one already). When I’m not being a degenerate gambler or in the kitchen, I’m a writer/editor. . .feel free to contact me privately if you ever want to discuss.ReplyCancel

  • […] few asparagus recipes from the Umami Girl archives: Kid Crack Asparagus, Spaghetti alla “Carbonada” (which, P.S., I named before realizing that carbonada is a real thing. Word to the wise and […]ReplyCancel

  • Sounds fantastic.Simple and Divine.Thank you sor share.ReplyCancel

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  • Great info. Lucky me I ran across your website by accident (stumbleupon).
    I’ve book-marked it for later!ReplyCancel

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