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.
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.
- 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
- Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Toward the end of cooking, scoop out 1/2 cup of pasta cooking liquid and whisk it into the egg and cheese mixture.
- 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.
- 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.
- Stir in the cooked ramps and asparagus, the reserved ramp ribbons, and the chopped parsley. Serve immediately.