It’s been a relatively cool spring, almost an extension of winter these past four weeks, but I can finally say that we’re in the throes of the season here in New York City. One of the things that have started appearing on menus with some regularity are ramps. What are they? They’re wild leeks (otherwise known as Allium tricoccum for the botanically inclined).
You won’t be able to obtain them west of the Mississippi. That’s because they’re found throughout the eastern seaboard of the United States, from as far south as Georgia, all the way up the coast and into the Canadian province of Ontario.
Furthermore, the season in which they appear is quite short. This year, they weren’t available at our farmer’s market until the first week of April. They’ll be around for roughly four to six weeks. By the time Memorial Day rolls around, that’ll be the last of them until next year.
But how do they taste, you ask? They’re like onions on steroids, multiplied by a factor of twenty. The greens are somewhat milder compared to the bulb or root end. You can sometimes substitute the root end for minced onion, and halve the quantity called for in any given recipe.
If you’ve been following this food blog thingy for some time, you’ll notice that I’ve featured them in a number of ways, such as:
I find that ramps work best when paired with eggs and cheese. They’re sublime in a quiche or in an omelette. I haven’t had the pleasure of using them yet in that quintessential New York snack, the fried egg sandwich — which can be as simple as a toasted kaiser roll slathered with creamy, sweet butter, an egg fried in either butter or olive oil and some sautéed ramps. I’m sure that would be marvelous as well.
Lately, I’ve been on a ramps kick — paired with smoked bacon, with roasted cod, in a risotto or as a simple appetizer. Here are two recipes that you may find worth your while.
Remember your elementary school Latin — carpe diem! Because if you blink, you’ll miss ‘em.
Poached Farm Egg, Ramps and Pecorino Crotonese Cheese
If you don’t have pecorino Crotonese (a mild sheep’s milk cheese from Sardinia, Italy), you can substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano instead.
5 ramps, cleaned, trimmed and sliced in 1/2″ pieces
extra-virgin olive oil
freshly milled black pepper
shaved pecorino Crotonese cheese
Place ramps in a small bowl. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and add a small pinch of salt. Season lightly with black pepper. Toss to ensure that the ramps are well-coated. Transfer to a Pyrex baking dish or roasting pan and roast at 350 F for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
To view a demo on how to poach an egg, click here.
To assemble: Spoon ramps onto a salad plate. Lay the poached egg atop or alongside the ramps. Shave cheese atop the ramps; spoon a little olive oil atop the egg and around the plate. Sprinkle a little chopped parsley atop the ramps and egg. Serve immediately.
Time: About 25 minutes, including prep.
This recipe is sized for one person.
Fava Bean, Ramp and Chickweed Risotto
Once you master making a basic risotto, the sky’s the limit as far as what you can include. If you don’t have access to ramps or chickweed, you can use leeks or peas instead.
6 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bunch ramps, cleaned and trimmed
1/2 bunch chickweed, trimmed and finely chopped
1/2 lb. fava beans
1/4 cup light cream
freshly milled pepper
freshly grated Parmigianno-Reggiano cheese
Have the stock simmering on the stove over low heat.
Separate ramp leaves from the stalks and bulbs. Slice the leaves into a chiffonade and set aside. Slice the stems and chop the bulbs finely.
Prepare the fava beans, first by shelling the beans, then by removing each bean’s endocoat. Click here for a walkthrough of that process.
Gently melt butter in a wide, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the ramp stalks and bulbs. Cook over for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently. You’ll want to watch the ramp stalks carefully, since if they brown too much, that will affect the color of the finished risotto. Add the rice, stir to coat the grains well and cook for 1 minute. Add the wine to the pot and simmer until the liquid is absorbed. I’m not going to provide a time estimation since all stoves are different. You’ll know it’s the right stage when the liquid in the pot goes from “soupy/mostly liquid” to “slightly on the edge of dry”. Wine lends risotto an acid note that perks up flavors.
Add the stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring constantly until each addition has been absorbed before adding the next. This process will take some time, about 18 to 20 minutes of near-constant stirring. You’ll want to taste the rice every so often, particularly towards the end. When the rice is almost on the edge of being al dente (you’ll know it’s about right once it no longer has that “hard” center in the kernel), stir in the fava beans, ramp leaves, chickweed and light cream; cook for 3-4 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper. Spoon into individual serving bowls, along with a dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and some minced chives sprinkled on top.
Time: About 90 minutes, including prep.
This recipe is sized for up to 4 appetizer servings or 2 main-course servings.