This is the first in a weekly column exploring what is fresh in the city’s markets. For the next few months you can expect the focus to be on the various Greenmarkets around town. Who knows what will happen when the dark days of storage root vegetables arrive.
For some people the emergence of cherry blossoms or planning Easter festivities signal the beginning of spring, for Gothamist Ramps serve as our harbinger. Little known just a few years ago, every spring excited Chefs and home cooks await the first ramps of the season. Ramps, a wild leek that often grow on the steep hillsides near rivers, have a thin white bulb similar to a green onion at the bottom, and open up to a flat green leaf the width of a golf ball. While sometimes available from high-end food stores, we get ours on Saturday’s and Wednesday’s at the Union Square Greenmarket from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, who in turn forage them out of the Catskill Mountains. The have a funky taste that is just unlike any other members of their vegetable family. The two parts can be cooked together or separately (our preference), and are friendly with any food that would do well paired with garlic and leeks. While we like them any-which-way we can get’em, we generally prefer simple preparations that allow them to shine - sautéed with scrambled eggs, scallops or shrimp, flavoring big bowls of pasta, and oven roasted (toss in at the end) with fellow springtime pals morels and asparagus. Whatever you decide to do, please cook them gently and you will be rewarded.
Below we will provide a couple of recipes for Ramps. Firstly, Pasta with Ramps and Cured Pork, something we make over and over again during the short 3-5 week season for these beauties. The second one, Pickled Ramps, which along with freezing them chopped into a compound butter, allows us to extend this short season by storing Ramps for later use.
Pasta with Ramps and Cured Pork
2-4 bunches Ramps – depending on budget and inclination
1 pound box pasta – spaghetti or linguini, Barilla, De Cecco, your pasta or choice
¼ - ½ pound speck, prosciutto, or cooked bacon – all sliced thicker than normal
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Fresh ground pepper
Regianno-Parmasan or Pecorino Romano for grating
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Reserved pasta water
1) Trim off the root ends of the ramps, and clean them by removing the outermost layer of the white bulb. Be careful to wipe off any remaining dirt or slime. Wash them and spin or towel dry.
2) Fill your largest pot with water, salt it (2 tablespoon per gallon), and bring to a rapid boil - a large pot promotes better cooking.
3) Cook pasta till al dente, scooping out a cup of pasta cooking water near the end once the starch from the pasta has leached into it.
4) While the pasta is cooking, separate the white bulb from the green leaf of each ramp and chop the white bulb finely. Stack the green leaves and slice in half lengthwise. Julienne the cured pork into slices, ½ inch if you are using speck or prosciutto, ¼ inch if you use bacon.
5) Using a large sauté pan or saucier, cook the chopped whites in oil, salting with sea salt for 2 minutes over medium high. Add in the cured pork and cook for 1 minute more. Add the butter in and then the Ramp greens, cook until they are just wilted adding a bit of sea salt and black pepper along the way.
6) Remove from the heat and wait for the pasta to finish cooking, don’t forget to reserve some of the cooking water.
7) Drain pasta and add 2/3 of it back to the cooking pot, which will still retain some heat. Stir in the Ramp mixture, grate in ½ cup of cheese (more or less to taste)
8) Add the eggs and toss quickly to distribute evenly. Pour 2 tablespoons of the pasta water in and add the rest of the pasta. Stir and evaluate. If it seems stiff add a bit more pasta water, and if it needs pepper, salt or cheese put it in.
9) Serve with extra grated cheese, sea salt and a pepper mill for tableside addition
Pickled Ramps – adapted over the years from a Tom Collichio recipe given away at the Greenmarket
3 bunches of Ramps, white parts only
1 cup white wine vinegar – try Four Monks, Maille or Colavita
1 cup bottled water
½ cup sugar
¼ cup honey
1 tablespoon coriander seed, mustard seed, black peppercorns, fennel seed
1 dried hot chile pepper – de arbol, cayenne or other
1) Clean Ramps and separate white from green as described above, reserving greens for another use – Gothamist suggests using them as you would spinach and serve grilled shrimp or firm white fish on top.
2) Prepare brine bringing vinegar, water, sugar and wine to a boil for 1 minute.
3) Add dried spices and remove from the heat after 1 minute
4) Blanch Ramp bottoms in heavily salted water (should taste salty like sea water) for 1-2 minutes, till just after (15 seconds) the remaining greens on the Ramp bottoms turn very bright green.
5) Drain and cool quickly using ice and running cold water.
6) Pour brine over Ramps and let sit for 3-5 days, after which you should use them or prepare them for storing. We vacuum seal 3-5 at a time so that they are portioned out for future use till next Ramp season
Pickled Ramp suggested uses: