“Ramps Asparagus and Morels” oh my! Headlining the weekly newsletter of The Dane County Farmers Market, we enthusiastically searched our garden and woods for sightings of these spring treasures. The garden revealed those pointy headed green spears were just beginning to expose themselves. In the woods, the morels remained elusive but the ramps were abundant and ready for digging. Harvested in the wild, they are unable to be cultivated so if your palate craves this assertive garlicky-onion flavor of the wild leek, you better act fast as their availability is a quick closing window. Not into foraging? Never fear, I have seen them at our natural foods coop and as indicated by the headlines, the local farmers market. I suggest you check around for possible sources in your locale.
How are they used? Although it has a slightly stronger flavor than its cousins the leek, scallion and onion, it makes a suitable substitute–raw or cooked– for most recipes calling for these ingredients. In reverse, the “cousins” can also be a stand-in for recipes calling for ramps.
As soon as there is evidence of the closing of winter and the genesis of spring, my husband begins his search for the season premiere of this feral vegetable. Trust me when I say, this obsession is much more about the creations they will inspire than his love of foraging but it seems like a fair exchange. He is the gatherer of the goods and I am the creator of the meals that nourish and please us both. One favorite I have featured before and always on his list of requests is Roasted Chicken with Ramps and Potatoes. I have made this many times for family and friends and I believe it an understatement to say, it tops the spring eating experience.
That said, the offerings at the farmers market served as inspiration for developing this weeks featured recipe. Since we were not fortunate enough to procure morels, I used cremini mushrooms in their stead and pretended they were the wild relatives. The mind is a wonderful thing.
Here is how it goes down.
GEMELLI PASTA w/ RAMPS and CREMINI MUSHROOMS Serves 6
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
½ lb. ramps, trimmed and cleaned (about 12-14 depending on size)
Zest of one lemon, finely grated
¼ c extra virgin olive oil + enough to coat large skillet for mushrooms
½ t crushed red pepper, more or less to suit your taste
12 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced (also call baby Portobello)
Juice of one lemon
1 lb. gemelli pasta (penne or farfalle would also work well)
2c pasta cooking water
½ c Parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedges and additional Parmesan for garnish.
- Wash ramps thoroughly. Trim roots off and slip off outer skin on bulbs if loose. Blanch ramps in a 6 quart pot of boiling water, generously salted, 2-3 seconds. Transfer to a cutting board with tongs. Save the blanching water for the pasta. Coarsely chop ramps and put in a food processor or blender with zest and oil. Puree until smooth but still a bit a coarse. Set aside.
- Coat skillet (large enough hold pasta) with olive oil. Heat oil over med-high heat, scatter the crushed red pepper into the oil and stir for 15-20 seconds. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, sauté until the liquid is released from the mushrooms and then evaporated, stirring occasionally.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the pureed ramp mixture to the pan along with the lemon juice. Mix thoroughly.
- Meanwhile bring the blanching water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta, stir a few times at the beginning to avoid sticking. Cook until al dente, about 1-2 minutes less than package directions. A few minutes before it is done, ladle out and reserve 2c pasta cooking water.
- Add enough of the reserved pasta water to the ramp mushroom mix to make a smooth loose sauce. Mix in Parmesan cheese (this will thicken the sauce) and additional pasta water if too thick. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Drain the pasta and add it immediately to the sauce. Mix thoroughly, stirring up from the bottom, until the gemelli is well coated. Add additional pasta water to thin if necessary. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Take off the heat and rest for a minute before serving. This will allow the pasta to better absorb the sauce.
- Stir well and serve, topped with additional Parmesan and a wedge of lemon.
Admittedly, if I had morels, they would have been the perfect spring addition but the cremini’s worked well contributing an earthiness that enhanced the overall eating experience. Blanching the ramps mellows their assertive flavor. If you prefer an enhanced garlicky-onion taste then skip this step and adjust accordingly. Personally, though, taking the “edge” off and adding the brightness of the lemon with just a hint of heat from the crushed red pepper provided a prefect balance for my palate.
Don’t let the absence of ramps deter you from trying this recipe. Remember the “cousins” are available in most markets year round. Also keep in mind, the sauce is a take off on pesto which can be made with almost anything. So go wild or stick with what’s in the produce section, but whatever you do, keep spreading the love, one dish at a time. I am excited to report I picked my first asparagus this week so hopefully that will be forthcoming for the next culinary delight. Until then, I send love from the woods, garden and my kitchen. I think there is a little “wildness” in all of us. Do not be afraid to let it out. Jeanne