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Posts Tagged ‘Ramps’

Leeks_DSC_6145

The green market is beginning to heat up as more and more veggies make their appearance after winter’s doldrums.  Although leeks usually shine in the fall, I got this beautiful array of baby leeks just the other day – fresh from the ground.  I roasted them to go along with some skate wing – one of the few fish that Steve, my fish-allergy prone husband can eat.  Roasting or braising are the two cooking methods that seem to bring out their inherent sweetness and mellow out any acrid flavor.  This is particularly true for mature, fall-harvested leeks.  For the more mature leeks, you want to slice them, crosswise, before cooking otherwise they can be fibrous.  The baby leeks are not quite so.  All I did was wash them, trim off the dark green part, and toss them with some extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper before roasting them at 375ºF for about 20 minutes.  They were a little brown and crisp around the edges and soft and mellow on the tongue.

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Our wonderful friend Stuart popped in this afternoon with a bag of fresh-from-the-earth ramps he’d picked up at the local ramp festival near his weekend house in Milford, Pennsylvania.  Dinner plans were thrown out the door and ramps went right on the menu – made a great pasta dish featuring the entire plant.  Here’s what I did.

Sauteed about ½ cup of diced pancetta in extra virgin olive oil.  When it started to brown, I added the sliced white bulb of the ramps.  Sautéed until just soft, then I added the sliced ramp greens and a couple of handfuls of fresh garden peas.  Tossed the mix into thin spaghetti which I moistened with just a touch of heavy cream.  When blended, I added about ½ cup of grated parmesan cheese and a good dose of pepper.  Dusted each serving with some toasted bread crumbs and served extra cheese on the side.  Spring had arrived!

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If you’ve followed my rantings for any time, you know how much I appreciate ramps (or wild leeks), those aromatic billboards that announce SPRING in the northeast.  (Check out my post of May 17, 2011 for a full report on digging them.)  We have had and are having a very weird spring – we’ve had 80 degree days followed by freezing so the usual spring veggies have been having a hard time maturing.  We intended to dig ramps this past week – we had seen them in the farmers market although they were quite small – but when I started to lower the fork into the damp earth I could tell that they were just not quite as big as I would like so we took just a few to satisfy our longing for their almost sweet garlicky/shallot flavor and put ramp digging on the agenda for later this month.

Not willing to waste even a part of the small batch we brought home, I chopped up the lot, greens and all, and sautéed them with some button mushrooms I had on hand.  A little salt and pepper, a poached egg on top, and dinner was delicious!

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The first time I had the opportunity to dig ramps I had no idea that I was going to get a cardio work-out.  What’s the big deal about pulling up some wild things, thought I.  Well, pitch fork, rubber gloves, and trowel in hand and hours later, Steve and I had managed to dig up enough to pickle a couple of jars and have a supper of farm eggs scrambled with ramps and bacon.  Not enough to cause celebration but enough to turn us into ramp lovers.  Plus, we really did enjoy the time spent in the woods.  From that point hence, we have looked forward to our annual spring dig.

This year, as last, our best buddy Lynn, along with her canine pal and our best friend in the whole wide world, Lena Mai, or as we affectionately call her “Leaner” (and the photos will tell you how she came to her nickname), ventured out into the woods on a beautiful spring day last week to round out the dinner menu.  Lynn had already mapped the ramp clumps so we didn’t have to go searching for a mass of lily of the valley-like leaves in the awakening spring woods.  We did note, however, that the deer had been there first and had nipped off many of the succulent leaves.

Spring had not yet come to the woods – the trees were still bare and just a few wild flowers had burst through the soil.  But, it turned out to be quite warm, although windy and damp.  We didn’t do a lot of digging, noting that throughout the Northeast ramps are being dug and sold to near extinction.  And those that were very small, we put back into the ground.  We harvest selectively and tell no one of our secret spots so that next year the clusters will return and we will, once again, embrace one of spring’s great tastes.

Although often described as having a strong onion flavor, I find that the smell is far more aggressive than the flavor.  In upstate New York in the old days, I’m told that boys would go out early in the morning and dig ramps so that the smell on their hands and clothes would have the teacher sending them home from school for the day – that’s just how strong the odor can be.  I almost prefer the soft, lightly-garlicky taste of the leaves over the shallot-like taste of the white part of the bulb but both add wonderful character to all kinds of dishes.  This year, my almost-daughter, Anne, who lives in Alexandria, Virginia, pickled her ramps with hard boiled eggs for a great bar snack.  I’m not going to pickle this year; we’re just going to enjoy their fresh spring-taste in as many dishes as I can devise.

For those of you who don’t have the opportunity to experience ramps first-hand, they are available at many farmers markets but do remember that they are wild things and need protection from over-harvesting.

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