Vegetarian Spaghetti Carbonara Recipe

This wonderfully flavorful vegetarian carbonara recipe uses the traditional Italian carbonara sauce technique but substitutes thinly sliced ramps and asparagus for the pork. In that brilliant Italian way, it feels special but only takes 20 minutes to make.

Tip

Carbonara is truly quick and easy. The only trick is making sure you don't end up with pasta and scrambled eggs instead of an emulsified sauce. See tips below.

Carbonara recipe tips

You probably don't need us to tell you that Italians are absolute geniuses with sauce. One of the best traditional Italian sauce tricks is incorporating a bit of hot, starchy pasta cooking water into a sauce to bring a dish together.

In many cases, like with cacio e pepe, Alfredo, and tomato-based sauces, you can actually finish cooking the pasta in a skillet with the sauce and a ladle of pasta water, but with carbonara, the direct heat would risk scrambling the eggs.

Sometimes the residual heat from the pasta is enough to thicken Carbonara sauce on its own. But we find it's not totally predictable.

So here's a great trick: if your sauce needs a little help thickening, set the bowl over the pot of hot water in which you just cooked the spaghetti, tossing constantly with tongs until the sauce becomes silky and dreamy and clings just so to the spaghetti. It takes but a moment.

Vegetarian Carbonara Recipe with Spaghetti

This wonderfully flavorful vegetarian carbonara recipe uses the traditional Italian carbonara sauce technique but substitutes thinly sliced ramps and asparagus for the bacon. In that brilliant Italian way, it feels special but only takes 20 minutes to make.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • About 20 ramps, or 2 leeks, roots trimmed
  • 1 bunch thick-stalked asparagus, ends trimmed and peeled if woody
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons good salted, cultured butter, such as Kerrygold
  • 1 egg plus 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus extra for passing at the table
  • 1 big handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.
  2. 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.
  3. Heat the oil and butter in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced ramps and asparagus along with a big 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.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, yolks and grated cheese, along with another nice pinch of salt and some pepper.
  5. Cook the pasta until al dente in the boiling, salted water.
  6. Toward the end of cooking, scoop out 1/2 cup of pasta cooking liquid and whisk it into the egg and cheese mixture.
  7. When pasta is al dente, use tongs to transfer it to the bowl with the egg mixture. Don't dump the hot cooking water just yet.
  8. Toss well to coat pasta with the eggs. The mixture may thicken on its own to a nice silky sauce-like coating from the residual heat of the pasta, but if it needs a little help, set the bowl over the pot of hot cooking water and continue tossing just until the sauce thickens.
  9. Stir in the cooked ramps and asparagus, the reserved ramp ribbons, and the chopped parsley. Serve immediately.

Nutrition Information

Amount Per Serving:

Calories:: 503 Total Fat:: 18g Carbohydrates:: 64.2g Fiber:: 4.4g Protein:: 21.1g

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

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  3. Pasta Processing Machine

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

  4. 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.

  5. Peter Thomas Fornatale

    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.

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

  6. 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!

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

  8. Will

    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?

  9. Joanna

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

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

  11. Jill

    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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

  15. @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.

  16. 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!