Monday, 25 May 2009

WILD GARLIC...Do I smell ramps????

For those of you who worked with me at Olivia or Stella's restaurant, ate at the restaurants, or came over for dinner at my home, you well understand that I am obsessed with ramps.  Ramps you say, what are they?  Some call them wild onions or wild leeks, a southern buddy who cooked at the restaurants once said, "Your cookin with yard onions???"  To me and many others they are simply an amazingly flavourful wild plant, with beautiful garlicky greens that is available in spring time for just a few weeks.  

Living in Northern England has had many pleasures, but after visiting an ex Stella's chef's restaurant in the D.C. area this spring and being sent out amazing appetizers including ramps...i was heart broken.  No ramps for me to cook with this ramp pesto, no pickled ramps in Gibson martini's, no ramp risotto, no grilled ramps over short ribs with ramp infused jus, no three way ramps with a nice piece of seared fish, no, no, no...

I came to appreciate Ramps while working for Dan Barber, at Blue Hill in NYC back in the turn of the 21st century ( I like saying turn of the century, don't you...don't feel old, feel new!!!).  Dan got fresh ramps from foragers who showed up to the restaurant in the morning, and by afternoon we had ramps all over the menu for days to come.  It was amazing to see farm to table eating move all the way from picked to pickled in a matter of moments, from a "weed" in the woods to a green on the plate  of one of the finest restaurants in NYC  within hours.  Of course this is what happens when you work for an amazing whirlwind of a chef (and recently voted the James Beard best chef in the United States)... he rubs off on you like turmeric on your hands, or ramp shoots on your lingers and you end up with the same obsession for fresh, seasonal,simply prepared food!!!

Unfortunately, here in the north east of the UK, I had not met anyone who knew of ramps.  But while enjoying a wonderful bbq the last week, a friend showed me their lone shoot of wild garlic in their yard.  Hmmm...looks a bit like ramps, tastes like ramps, wow...a long lost family member.  I am so happy that they exist ( albeit in a form with lighter leaves, thinner shoots, and more beautiful flowers), but am again saddened that this is the only leaf i may eat this year.  

So sad, what to do, but go on a nice hike to take in the beauty of spring time in Durham.  We walk, we sniff, we look around... wondering where this potent garlic smell is coming from???  We look and see a patch of wild garlic, like manna from Heaven!!!  So we went home, grabbed some bags and scissors, and headed to the forest floor to do some shopping.  

Hopefully  you too may be able to find wild garlic or ramps at your farmers market or food stand, in the woods, or maybe in your veg box/csa box.

Unfortunately I cant give a lone ramp/wild garlic recipe.  There are just to many options, too much green, too much fun and flavour.  So let me give just a few ideas of how one can enjoy the bounty of the season as we did in our restaurants  in years past, and how my partner Lauren and I are doing so with our fresh picked wild garlic this week...


Firstly, if you are going foraging for ramps, wild garlic or any other product, please do your research, take along a guidebook and a  knowledgeable friend.  Don't plunder all the produce of the forest, as their are lots of shoppers besides you ( deer, raccoons, fox's, etc) and try to leave the area as you found it.  

Secondly, make sure to wash everything before you eat it, as you will invariably encounter lots of dirt.

Thirdly, use your imagination and cook seasonally. Ramps/wild garlic is a great example of how you can use one product in 1001 ways.  


Ramp Pesto 
 What better way to use ramps then to blanch the cleaned leaves for 10 seconds in boiling water, refresh in iced water and then puree in a food processor  with evoo, salt, and some toasted almonds ( cheaper then pine nuts)...the ratio should be a couple cups ramps, a pinch of salt, a 1/2 cup almonds, and enough oil to keep the ramps moving in the food processor/blender.  Often times I also squeeze a touch of lemon juice in for a brighter flavour, fold in Parmesan for added body, or mix in arugula or basil for an even deeper balanced taste.
Ramps and eggs 
A nice way to start the day.  Saute some ramp leaves, and serve on some toasty bread smothered with ramp pesto and then slide a couple poached eggs on top.

Roasted potatoes and ramps
I like to roast small pieces of potatoes ( tossed in evoo and a bit of s,p) in the oven till browned and then simply toss in a pan of just lightly sauteed ramps and serve this with a nice hunk of roast anything ( we had roast pork belly with it last night...)

Rhubarb and ramp compote
A perfect topper for the pork belly last night.  Simply cook down a finely chopped large stalk of rhubarb( 1 cup) in a saute pan till soft, but not mushy, add a diced shallot, a splash of white wine, and 1/4 cup sugar and let thicken.  Toss in 1/2 cup fresh diced ramp leaves, fold in and let set off the heat. ( Some people like to add some chili peppers to balance the sweet and sour, your call)

Ramp and potato salad
Boil up some new potatoes and when cooked, toss with your ramp pesto and some fresh diced ramps.

Ramps and rice
Spice up your plain old brown rice or any other grain by tossing in some fine diced ramps just before serving.

Ramp Risotto  
Again simply toss some fresh chopped ramps into your finished risotto( check upcoming blog posts for in depth recipe of how to make risotto) , garnish with wild garlic flowers, and  serve with a nice roasted portabello  mushroom that is glazed with the wonderful wild garlic/ramp pesto.

Grilled Ramps
With your heartiest toughest stalks of ramps ( wild garlic here in the UK seems a bit more spinach like and not hearty enough for this) drizzle with a touch of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and throw on the bbq for a few seconds, turn, and then serve as a side to whatever is coming off the Q.

Wild Garlic Salad
The UK wild garlic is so tasty and delicate one can simply tear up some leaves, toss in some of the flowers, mix with your regular salad greens, a few fresh veggies, a vinaigrette made of ramp pesto thinned out with a bit of lemon juice and thats it.

Scallops wrapped in ramps
Yes simply blanche your ramps/wild garlic and then tie a nice "rope" of a ramp around each scallop, season, sear and serve on top of you guessed it...ramp pesto, ramp mashed potatoes, saute of ramps...or serve with a nice hunk of pork belly for the ultimate take on scallops wrapped in bacon!!!
Tis the season.  Like all seasons, to enjoy what is fresh, local, and abundant.

Yes I could keep going, but I just wanted to give you a taste of simple things to do with your seasonal produce.  Of course, by all means toss the ramp pesto and saute of ramps with your pasta.  By all means slather your burger with ramp pesto, fresh grilled ramp greens and some Parmesan shavings.  By all means pickle the root ends and toss in a martini on a nice hot day. Most importantly, invite some friends over and enjoy the bounty of spring with others!!!

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