Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ramping it up with Ramps

Ramps: what on earth are they? Certainly not a mainstream ingredient, that's for sure.

My first introduction to ramps was in the kitchen of Tarry Lodge. One Spring day Andy Nusser returned from a morning of "foraging" with an armload of these delicate beauties, and after a good wash got to work creating with them. In my little corner of the Tarry Lodge world of antipasti they appeared in the faro dish and I was hooked.
Ramps are from the onion family. They are delicate and beautiful with broad, smooth, bright green leaves, often with deep purple or burgundy tints on the lower stems. They make their appearance in late Spring when the last of the snow melts. Their bulbs are a bit scallion-like rooted just beneath the surface of the soil. Ramps have a strong and distinctive onion scent and taste a little like garlic. They even are a source of Vitamins A and C. Since ramps can be eaten raw or cooked I thought it might be fun to use them two ways in this week's post.

Every now and then I like to make egg salad. I'm not a big fan of mayo - except maybe on a ham and cheese sandwich - so I like using Greek yogurt, and so does my husband. I use it frequently as a sub for mayo or even sour cream. After a quick check of the 'fridge I found several ingredients to add to my ramp-egg salad.

Let me take a minute to share a little tip for making perfect hard boiled eggs and it's simple! Place your eggs in a pot with cold water, covered about 2 inches. Bring to a boil.

Then take off the heat, cover the pot and let them sit for 12 minutes. Run them under cool water and peel.

While the eggs are cooking you can get your ingredients sliced and diced. Once you have it all done, give everything a gentle mix and serve on a soft bun with some delicate greens.
For my second version I decided to grill the ramps and make a nice pesto. I love grilling veggies - I pretty much do it all year round. Since it was raining the day I was creating this recipe I decided to grill right on the stove top. I got a really nice char on them which adds a smoky flavor. 

After a quick check of the 'fridge this time I had some spinach, a meyer lemon and a piece of Sparkenhoe cheese. Just to round out the flavors I toasted some blanched almonds I had handy.

I know these ingredients sound a bit "out there" but that is what I was going for. It's perfectly acceptable to go that typical route of pine nuts, basil and parmesan, but I did not want to mask the sublime flavor of the grilled ramps.

I needed some extra body and the spinach provided it, without competing with the flavor of the ramps. Just for good measure I sautéed the spinach right in the ramp pan.

After I got the pesto together I took a look at the tomatoes and decided to grill them as well. (Why not?)  I simply dropped them into the same pan that I used to cook the ramps and spinach with a little more oil and some salt and pepper. Not only were the gorgeous, but they provided the perfect acidic bite my finished dish needed. 

If you've never tasted a ramp now is the time. They won't be around for much longer. Look for them this weekend at your local farmers markets. If you are out and about come and find me at the Chappaqua Farmers Market, this coming Saturday. I'll be there doing a cooking demo from 11:00-1:00.
Buon appetito! 

Egg Salad
Serves 2
4 eggs
1/4 cup breakfast radish, fine dice
2 ramps, white and green parts sliced thin
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Place the eggs in a small pot and cover 2 inches above with cold water. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and cover. Let the eggs sit for 12 minutes. Remove from pot and run under cold water. Peel and chop.
Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and taste for additional seasoning.

Ramp Pesto
Makes about 1 cup
12 ramps, about 2 bunches
3 cups packed baby spinach
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 meyer lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons Red Sparkenhoe cheese, grated, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted, divided
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 
kosher salt
black pepper
Freshly toasted breadcrumbs, optional for garmish
Toss the ramps with a little extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in a hot grill pan and cook until the white parts wilt and the leaves char slightly. About 3 minutes. Remove from pan and place in the bowl of a food processor. Place spinach directly into the pan and season with a sprinkle of salt. Cook until the leaves wilt slightly and begin to give off their liquid. About 2-3 minutes. Remove and add to the food processor.
Add the lemon, zest, cheese and 2 tablespoons of almonds to the processor. Pulse until chopped slightly. Add the oil and pulse until the pesto comes together but is still chunky.
Toss with your favorite pasta and garnish with tomatoes, cheese, reserved almonds and fresh breadcrumbs.

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