Sunday, May 15, 2005

okay, so butch isn't the only sign of spring

the ramps are at the farmer's market, and they are AWESOME. yeah, i'm breaking out the capitals—they're that good.

[ggggaaaaaahhh! i just put my foot in the cat puke that has evidently been lurking under the desk chair the whole time i've been sitting here. ew ew double ew. have to go clean that up and hose off my flip-flop and toes. be right back.]

okay. as i was saying: ramps. i've read about them for years, but never bought them before. but then there they were at my farmers' market last week, at my favorite stand, the one run by the sweet little old man who told me that i should give wile horseradish root to teethe on. i bought two bunches, and then went back this week and bought two more bunches.

ramps, if you don't know, are wild leeks. they don't look at all like leeks, though—they look like wild onions, with scallion-sized bulbs, reddish stems, and these gorgeous silky green leaves. what's mostly written about them is how pungent they are, like the uberonion. and yes, my eyes teared when i tried one raw. and our house smelled pretty ramptastic after i cooked with them. but when they're sauteed, the thing that really came through to me was how sweet they were—but not cloyingly sweet the way leeks can get sometimes, because the sweetness is balanced out by the bite. and the texture of the leaves is amazing—totally pliable and soft but with enough resistance to your bite to not be at all slimy.

so the first time i got them i made spaghetti with ramps from a mario batali recipe i found on the babbo website. mario has never failed me before, and i had all the ingredients, so it seemed like the way to go. it was fanfreakintastic. there's really only one change i would make to the recipe: leaving the greens whole made them a little hard to eat—too much in a bite. but it was nice having them long so that they rolled up with the spaghetti when you twirl it. so i think i would cut them vertically, into narrow strips. we put a little romano on at the table, and it was good. oh and i guess mario leaves the bulbs whole, but i sliced mine vertically, which i liked—they were distributed more evenly than they would be if they were whole, and they got a kinda frizzled texture. but i'll try it with them whole next time, just to compare.

then with this weeks' bunch we made ramps with bacon. it was a recipe that i remembered from an old issue of saveur, but all of my saveurs are still in a box in the basement b/c we're still in post-renovation disarray, so i had to hope that it was out there on the internets. thankfully, there it was. it was just as good as it sounded. ah, bacon. making everything that much better. you cook the ramps in the bacon fat and water and they get all carmelized-y.... one change: the bulbs didn't have enough bite for me a the end, they seemed a little overcooked; i'd use a little under 1/2 cup of water, and keep an eye on them, and add the greens and bacon as soon as the water is absorbed rather than waiting the 15 minutes that the recipe says.

i'm going to put the recipes here because the mario one is a recipe-of-the-month and is going to disappear sometime soon, and the other one might too, you never know:

spaghetti with ramps
by mario batali

1 pound dry spaghetti or linguini
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces fresh ramps
1-2 tablespoons red chili flakes
kosher salt
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs

bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt. add the spaghetti to the pot and cook according to the package direction, until tender but still al dente.
heat olive oil in a 12-14 inch sauté pan over medium high heat. separate ramps by the white root ends and the leafy green top. add root ends to the pan and sauté until tender. add salt and chilli flakes. at the very end, add the greens and sauté until wilted. drain pasta and add it to the sauté pan. toss gently to coat the pasta with the sauce.
divide pasta evenly among four warmed plates. drizzle olive oil over top and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.

sally's ramps with bacon
from saveur cooks authentic american, by saveur magazine.

2 lbs ramps
1/2 lb sliced bacon [*or you might want to cook a little extra since you cook it first and then set it aside, which means you have a plate of cooked bacon sitting there the whole time you're cooking the ramps and maybe you can resist picking from it but i sure the hell can't]
freshly ground black pepper

to clean ramps, peel off the outer skin, then trim off and discard roots. wash under cold running water to rinse away any dirt and grit clinging to the bulbs or leaves. cut bulbs from the leaves and reserve both.

fry bacon in a large skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until crisp and golden brown, about 15 minutes. remove bacon from skillet, drain on paper towels, and set aside. pour off all but about 2 tbsp bacon grease from pan. [*or have husband remove excess bacon grease from pan with toast for his pre-dinner snack. thanks, honey!]

add ramp bulbs and 1/2 cup water to same skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until bulbs are soft, about 15 minutes.[*see note above] coarsely chop leaves, add to skillet, and cook until wilted. crumble in bacon and cook until ramps are soft and all liquid has been absorbed. season to taste with salt and pepper.

yield: serves 4 to 6

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