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Ramping It Up This Spring

(photo from Eater)

Despite contrasting weather reports, spring is slowly beginning to emerge in Philadelphia. Each week brings brighter, longer days and sweet moments under the ephemerally blooming cherry blossoms. An exciting array of farmers’ markets accompany the warmer months throughout the city featuring a seasonal array of juicy fruits, crunchy vegetables and vibrant greens. Ramps are some of the first edible greens to hit markets and, to many, one of the first signs of spring. Chefs, Home Cooks and food enthusiasts alike jump with excitement at the first sighting of ramps, one of the pioneering spring vegetables to emerge from the defrosting soil, indicates that the long and cruel winter is finally over.

Ramps, Allium tricoccum, or “spring onions” are wild leeks native to the forests of eastern North America and one of the first edible plants to break through the ground within the introductory weeks of the spring season. Foraged from woody and shaded areas, ramps are comparable to scallions in appearance but smaller and size with two broad and flat leaves, like a prettier cousin of the onion. They grow naturally under a forest canopy of beech, sugar maple, birch or maybe even poplar while also sometimes under forest trees such as hickory, oak and buckeye. The ramp’s flavor is characterized as a pungent combination of garlic and onion; stronger than a leek but more pervasively garlicky than a scallion. For more information regarding the cultivation of ramps, check it out here. Ramps may be found growing in patches of rich and moist soil within the deciduous bottoms of forests from regions as far north as Canada, west to Minnesota and Missouri and south to Tennessee and North Carolina, While these greens were always consumed as the first greens of the season, they were traditionally considered a tonic that provided necessary vitamins and minerals following the brutal winter months devoid of fresh vegetables. Celebratory traditions formed around the annual preparation and gathering of the ramp including festivals that have evolved into large tourist attractions.

So, what’s this ramp fuss all about? Not only is the season so short, but quantities are limited. They’re typically foraged (like truffles) giving them an aura of adventure, exclusivity and popularity, While its scarce wild plants grow ever-so slowly, taking up to four years to flower and reproduce, the ramp is a hallmark of spring cooking, as its enthusiasts savor every moment of the fleeting harvest by showcasing the flavors in colorful and exciting ways.

During the upcoming spring onion harvest, you’ll be excited to rotate your produce to make way for new seasonal dishes after being nourished during the harsh winter conditions with hearty root vegetable dishes and warming soups, ramps offer wonderful versatility in served raw in salads, lightly sautéed in sauces or rather grilled and finished off on top of a pizza. According to Eater, ramps run, from about $20 per pound or $5 for a small bunch (depending on the current season’s yield). You’ll have the best luck find them at a local farmers’ market, Whole Foods or a produce market. Some great ways to use them include (but are not limited to) are with eggs, as an earthy, aromatic twice in pesto (in place of the garlic and herbs), pickled, roasted or grilled- it won’t take long, just throw them on top of anything! Below are some delectable recipes featuring the most popular vegetable of the season:

Pizza With Ramps, Morels, And Eggs

Ramp pizza

From Saveur Magazine | Serves 2 | Time: 1 Hour

Ingredients

  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • ½ tsp. Sugar
  • 1 ¾ cups flour, plus more for dusting
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. Unsalted butter
  • 1 oz. ramps (about 5), trimmed, stems diced and leaves cut into 2” pieces
  • ⅛ oz. morels (about 10)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 oz. mozzarella cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Grated Parmesan, for serving

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a hook, combine yeast, sugar, and ¾ cups water heated to 115°; let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add flour and salt and mix on medium speed until dough forms. Increase speed to medium-high and knead until dough is smooth, about 5 minutes. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise 30 minutes.
  2. Heat oven to 450°. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium-high; cook ramp stems and morels until ramps are soft, 2 minutes, and set aside. Divide dough into 2 balls. On a lightly floured surface and working with one ball of dough at a time, roll dough into an 8″ circle about ¾” thick. Place onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Divide oil between dough, then top with cheese, ramp stems, morels, and ramp leaves. Bake 15 minutes, rotating pans halfway through; remove from oven and top each with an egg. Cook 5 minutes more, or until egg is lightly set. Finish with black pepper and Parmesan and serve immediately.

Ramp Pesto Spaghetti

ramp-pesto-spaghetti

From Bon Appétit | Serves 4 |

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces ramps, greens separated
  • Kosher salt
  • 12 ounces spaghetti
  • ¼ cup walnuts, toasted
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino, plus more for serving
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

Instructions

  1. Blanch ramp greens in a large pot of boiling salted water until wilted, about 10 seconds. Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer greens to a bowl of ice water; drain and squeeze out liquid.
  2. Bring same water in pot to a boil again and cook spaghetti, stirring occasionally, until al dente; drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
  3. Meanwhile, coarsely chop ramp bulbs and stalks (save or pickle the rest) and walnuts in a food processor.
  4. Add ramp greens, olive oil, and 2 Tbsp. Pecorino; process to a coarse paste. Season with salt.
  5. Toss spaghetti and ½ cup cooking liquid with pesto, adding more cooking liquid as needed until pesto coats pasta. Serve topped with more Pecorino with lemon wedges.

 

Isabella Mauro

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