Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ramps are Up

We are all familiar with a family of plants called alliums – we just are probably not so formal as to refer to by their botanical classification. They are so common, you’ll go of course: onions, garlic, lilies, leeks, chives, and shallots…these are just some of the edible ones. However, I am waiting and hungry for the ramp or wild onion. This cross between garlic, onion and spring onion has a short, elusive window of opportunity is found throughout the eastern corridor of North America-- truly, a sign of spring’s plate.

It has a broad green leaf very reminiscent of Lily of the Valley (its toxic cousin) and a root base just like spring onion. Ah, but its nose tends to reek like very pungent garlic. What a combination.

They need to be well washed as they usually are caked with dirt, and the root hairs trimmed away. After that, the ramp is 100% edible. Use the green leaves raw in salads, or anywhere scallions or chives maybe called for. Try grilling the entire ramps, for a minute or two, then dressing it with a mustard dressing. For a few short weeks the ramp replaces most onions, chives or shallots in my recipes, and why not I don’t get to enjoy them for too long.

Sautéed Ramps- serves 6
24 ramps
1/2-cup olive oil
1/2 cup Champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
Salt and pepper

To clean the ramps cut off the root base and under running water wash to dislodge any dirt – particularly where all the leaves gather toward the bottom.

Heat a 12 inch sauté pan to very hot, and add a tablespoon of oil. Place the ramps in the pan in a single layer and sauté to lightly color. Reduce the heat to a medium low. Pour over the Champagne vinegar and 1/4 cup of water, and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer the ramps to a platter. In the sauté pan whisk in the mustard, salt and pepper, and then remove the pan from the heat whisking in the remaining oil. Then drizzle the warm sauce over the ramps. Serve either hot or room temperature.

Cockles with Wild Ramps - yields 6 to 8 servings
70 cockle clams - washed to discard any sand clinging to the shells
12 ramps (or substitute with young leeks or scallions)
1-cup white wine
1/8-teaspoon chili flakes
2-tablespoons olive oil
2-tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper tot taste

Trim the root base from the ramps and wash them well as there tends to be a fair amount of dirt clinging to the base. Cut the green top from the white base. Roughly chop both, but keep them separate.

In a high-sided 10-inch pan large enough to comfortably accommodate all the clams, and still have a lid snugly fit, place the white wine, ramps whites and chili flakes. Cover the pan and simmer on a low flame for 15 minutes. Add the steamers, ramp greens, oil, butter, salt and black pepper. Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes, or until the clams have opened. Serve immediately with crusty peasant bread slices for dipping in the cooking liquid.

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