Wednesday, April 29, 2009

All Ramped Up

This weekend I was overjoyed to find that what was just recently a barren wasteland of leftover winter tubers and cabbages had been magically transformed into a wonderland of color, hope and joy (at least for me). Spring had officially arrived, at least at the farmer's market here in NYC. It was a beautiful 85 degrees when I got there and the whole place was abuzz with springtime energy. Each stall overflowed with produce, some even providing a preview of what was to come in the summer months (tomatoes and bell peppers!). I woke up bright and early in hopes of getting the much sought after (and often mocked) springtime treat known as ramps. The last few years I'd missed my chance, with each delicious bunch bought-out by area restaurants (I hear the guys from Craft get there particularly early) and other early birds. Well, it was my turn to get the worm and this Saturday, I did. I'm not sure if my showing up downtown at 9 am versus my usual post noon shopping time made all the difference, but it seemed every other stand had a basket full of ramps (the asparagus, sadly, had all been sold out, AGAIN).

For those that are unfamiliar with them, ramps have grown exponentially in popularity in recent years, thanks to an increase in seasonal and local minded chefs. They are often called wild leaks, although they actually resemble a green onion/spinach hybrid. The bottom is a white bulb (like a green onion) that leads to a long, green, leaf-like top. They taste and smell of onion, and many people mistake them for onion grass, which smells exactly the same. If you live in the Northeast or mid-Atlantic you've probably seen them growing wild along the side of the road, if not smelled them when you rolled down the car window during a road trip. I find that they're quite versatile since you can actually split ramps into their two parts and cook them separately or use each piece in one dish. I like doing the latter, with the bulbs acting as the aromatic in place of onions, and the tops acting as greens. I knew that whatever dish I used these ramps in would have to be tasty and restrained so I could actually savor their much sought after flavor.

Ramps are most commonly used in three applications: eggs, pasta and pesto. I didn't really want eggs for dinner, or yet another pasta dish (my eternal easy way out), and I wanted to see and feel their texture before I pureed them to a pulp in a pesto. So in the end I decided to do a simple saute with some fellow springtime ingredients. What resulted was an odd but delicious festival of spring, and the only thing missing was the kitchen sink and a big fat artichoke. I ended up adding some super tasty and fresh fava beans, which only need a two minutes blanch in salted water, along with a few sliced shiitake mushrooms. I sauteed everything in good old extra virgin olive oil with the ramp bulbs acting as the aromatic instead of using onions or shallots. I didn't even bother with garlic since the ramps were so strongly flavored. I used younger, smaller ramps because I find those to be significantly more tender and more subtly flavored. I quickly wilted them (seriously, less than 5 minutes total) before adding in the blanched fava beans at the last minute. It all came together super fast, and was a really delicious taste of spring. I served mine with a nice piece of glazed salmon that I'll be posting about later in the week. In the mean time, get out there and enjoy all of the fresh spring produce we've all been waiting for!

Ramps With Shiitake Mushrooms And Fresh Fava Beans

1 lb ramps, well rinsed with roots trimmed
6-7 shiitake mushrooms, sliced, stems removed
1 cup fresh shelled fava beans
extra virgin olive oil

1. Bring a small pot of salted water to a rolling boil.

2. Meanwhile, cut white bulbs from ramps and finely chop, setting aside the greens for later. Add chopped bulbs and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a non-stick skillet and cook over medium heat. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, then add mushrooms. When the mushrooms start to wilt, add ramp leaves and cook until slightly wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. While waiting for ramps to cook, add
fava beans to boiling water and cook until tender, but not mushy, about 2 minutes.

4. Remove fava beans from water with a slotted spoon and add to skillet with ramps and mushrooms. Toss to combine and plate. Enjoy!


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