Pasta Carbonara with Leftover Ham and Spring Vegetables
If you didn’t experiment with cooking rabbit or gather around a splendid haunch of lamb this Easter, you probably invoked that most classic and welcome dinner guest, the glazed holiday ham.
Salty and magenta-hued, this magnificent bastion of porky resplendence is beloved not just for its initial holiday debut, but especially for the days and days of leftovers to follow.
This is a glorious and celebratory time, a time Jason and I exuberantly declare to be HAMFEST.
Hamfest is a weeklong (sometimes more, if you freeze a few layers) celebration of leftover ham, given to ham-related bacchanalia and the understanding that literally every meal will involve some serving of ham until the grand culmination of Hamfest – the ham bone soup.
HAMFEST!!! LET IT BEGIN…
After first kicking off this festival of pork with an honorary offering of ham to the family pug, as is proper and dictated by tradition, you are free to use your wit and whims to create delicious ham fare day after day. The more unlike ham sandwiches your creations, the better – Hamfest honors the brave.
Past creations include ham with spicy pineapple chutney, and Belgian waffles with chopped ham and sharp cheddar cheese in the batter- crisped and golden with the added bonus of breakfast for dinner. A particular favorite in our household is simple and versatile hampockets, which must be announced every time in the same intonation and manner of the Hotpockets jingle* (recipe later this week!)
*Wow. Just realized I was referencing a commercial from 1994, thanks for aging me, YouTube.
Wait, that might not be the embarrassing part of this post.
Guys, this is my real life – I wish I was making up this level of detail and enthusiasm for a made-up, meat-related holiday.
But I’m not, so let’s get crackin’! This quick pasta carbonara riff is one of my go-to recipes. The “sauce” base is generally the same – for 2-3 people, always 3 yolks, a splash of cream, a LOT of cracked pepper and either parmigiano reggiano (classic, salty background cheese) or pecorino romano (a smidge tangier, more noticeable due to being a sheep’s milk cheese – usually my preference) mixed together and gently warmed with a splash of pasta water and the heat of the noodles. The cheese and heat thicken the mixture to a luscious, noodle-coating consistency that is downright delicious on its own or even better topped with a sprinkling of crisped thick-cut bacon (or guanciale, if we’re in a fancy mood).
I love the tender, chewy bite of fresh pasta noodles, and highly recommend using them for this dish if you can find/make them (I use this recipe from Giada for making fresh pasta at home using my KitchenAid Mixer attachments). They are slightly eggy and toothsome in the best possible way, and the carbonara sauce clings to them so nicely!
Homey and hearty, and comes together in around 30 minutes.
Here’s where it gets interesting – if you want to add a bit more nutritional value to your carbs and fat (psh, I guess), it’s fun to play with whatever vegetable leftovers you have in the fridge. During the fall, I often make this with a generous portion of thyme-roasted brussels sprouts and butternut squash. Sauteed cabbage and sausage are excellent additions, too.
But with the birds chirping and trees sprouting, I’m inclined to go full throttle into spring veggitude. ALL the spring vegetables. We’re going to up the health factor of this pasta by making roughly half your plate filled with things that are yummy, green and good for you.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO GIVE UP EVERYTHING FATTY AND DELICIOUS TO BE HEALTHY – JUST REDUCE THE PORTION SIZE AND FILL THE REMAINDER OF THE DISH WITH VEGETABLES AND NUTRITIOUS FOODS!
See what spring things you have in your produce section – classics are spring onions, ramps, leeks, artichokes, carrots and fresh peas. Any combination of these will work well together, but I was a bit carrotted out after eating these addictive and complex charred carrots for Easter, so this dish sticks with the greens. Saute all these lovelies together while your pasta water boils, add the ham at the end to reheat, then toss your cooked noodles in the sauce and mix in the vegetables.
To plate your ode to spring prettily, pull out a grip of noodles with your tongs. Holding the tongs still, dangle them over your serving plate, then rotate the plate as you slowly lower the tongs so the noodles tangle and stack neatly on the plate. Garnish with a spoonful of ham and vegetables from the mixing bowl, and a few thin slices of radish.
Voila, a mouthful of spring, and you’ve just used up 15% of your remaining ham!
THUS, HAMFEST CONTINUES…
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 oz pecorino romano*, finely shredded
- 1-2 tsp fresh cracked pepper
- 3 oz chopped ham
- 3 thick asparagus spears, sliced into 1/2-1 inch long pieces
- 1 leek, white/light part only, sliced
- 1/4 cup fresh/frozen peas
- Leaves from 3 large stalks of red kale
- 1/2 cup chopped artichoke hearts, frozen or canned**
- 2 Tbsp roughly chopped parsley
- sliced radish for garnish (optional)
- 1 lb fresh pasta (fettuccine or pappardelle)
- Put your yolks in a mixing bowl large enough to hold pasta with vegetables. Add cream, a pinch of salt, the pepper and half of the shredded cheese. Stir to combine and set near the stovetop with reserved cheese nearby.
- Add water to a pot to cook your pasta, then throw in a generous pinch or two of salt. Begin boiling water for pasta.
- Preheat a pan over medium high heat. Drizzle with oil and heat until rippling.
- When heated, add leeks and kale and saute for 2 minutes. Add the peas, artichoke hearts and asparagus and cook for another 1-2 minutes, until asparagus is still crisp but nearly cooked through. Add in the ham and heat for another minute or so until the ham is warm. Take off burner and set aside.
- When your pasta water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until pasta floats to the top, 2-3 minutes (or as your package instructs). Turn the burner off, then take two large spoonfuls of pasta water and pour into your egg mixture, whisking vigorously with the other hand.
- Drain your noodles or pull them out of the water using tongs, shaking excess water off. Add the noodles to the egg mixture, stirring vigorously to coat. Continue stirring for about a minute - this is important, as the stirring distributes the heat evenly to slowly cook the yolks a bit without curdling them into cooked chunks!
- After a minute of stirring, sprinkle in remaining cheese and the chopped parsley and stir to combine. Add in your vegetable/ham mixture and toss to distribute evenly.
- To serve, use your tongs to grasp and pull out the noodles along with the vegetables (you may have to scoop any remainders into the bowl with a spoon). Pro-tip: hold the tongs with the noodles still, dangling them over your serving plate. Rotate the plate as you lower the tongs so the noodles tangle and stack prettily on the plate!
- *parmigiano reggiano can substitute
- **rinse or soak to remove some of the brine, if canned