Pasta alla Carbonara with Ramps
It seems that trendy restaurants are constantly "re-discovering" new ingredients that are actually very old traditional foods. Hog jowl (guanciale in Italian), a bacon-like cured pork, is one such "hot" ingredient. Old timers have never forgotten about them and have relished their rich layers of flavor and texture for generations. It's only fitting that we pair them up with ramps, another old-time country food, in this updated version of the Italian classic, Pasta alla Carbonara.
As with most Italian pasta dishes, there is relatively little sauce. The eggs are added to the sauce raw, and cook with the heat of the pasta itself, forming a coating on the noodles, with chewy nuggets of hog jowl scattered among them.
Trim the roots from the ramps with a paring knife. Wash and drain the ramps well. Place on a cutting board and slice the bulbs and greens as you would green onions.
Cut the hog jowl into ¼ inch thick slices. Then stacking them together, cut them again into ¼ inch wide strips - you should end up with fat 'batons'.
Bring a big pot of water to a boil, adding a generous pinch of salt. Cook the spaghetti until it is al dente and drain it, reserving a little of the pasta water.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over a medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the hog jowl and cook for about 10 minutes over a low flame until most of the fat has rendered but is still chewy and barely browned. Remove the hog jowl from the skillet and drain on paper towels.
Pour off all of the oil except for 3 tablespoons. Add the ramps and sauté for 4 - 5 minutes or until the bulbs have softened and become translucent. Add a little of the pasta water to the pan, reduce heat to low and cover, cooking another minute or two.
Remove the lid and transfer the pasta and hog jowl immediately to the pan and toss all ingredients together. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the beaten eggs over the top, tossing everything together until the eggs thicken and coat the pasta, but do not scramble (the heat of the pasta and other ingredients will cook the eggs). Add the cheese and black pepper and toss again.
Taste the pasta and add salt and additional black pepper, if necessary. Heap into bowls and serve immediately.