Last week I brought myself down to the Union Square Greenmarket with the hopes of picking up some final harvest of ramps. If you've never tasted them, I suggest you put it down on your list of must-eats. Ramps are wild leeks, with a soft, almost velvety green body and a scallion-like stem that's slightly more bulbous. They taste like punched-up leeks, made pungent with notes of garlic and onions. And they're delicious. Really delicious. I had ramps for the first time a few years back at Franny's in Brooklyn, sitting at the bar eating small bites with a great glass of red (the best way to eat there, in my opinion). It was a revelation in flavor, and I never forgot it. It was prepared with great reverence, simply sauteed in olive oil with salt, pepper and a perhaps a little lemon. Reverence because with such great-tasting produce, it would be a crime to cook it to death, or cover it up with anything more than just the essentials - oil, seasoning and some acid.
Anyways, the painfully short season for ramps (3-5 weeks) fills me with longing. They appear as one of the first fresh new faces of spring, then quickly disappear as if they arrived just to announce that spring has finally sprung. I was tempted to buy up every single one that I saw at the farmer's market, just fill up on as many ramps as possible for the rest of the year. But instead I would come home with just a few bunches and savor them on their own, with eggs, or my favorite, spaghetti with ramps.
It's prepared in the simplest way, quickly sautéed and simply seasoned, with no other sauce than the oil, salt, pepper, some pasta water and a squirt of lemon. It's one of those dishes that's so simple yet so delicious that you keep looking at your plate, wondering where in the world all the flavors are coming from. Unfortunately you'll have to wait till next spring to try this recipe (no, really can't think of a good substitute for ramps), but isn't there something beautiful about waiting, anticipating what nature will provide, and eating with your head bowed to the seasons?
- To clean the ramps, just fill a large bowl or pan with cold water, let ramps sit undisturbed for 5 minutes, lift them out gently, then repeat a few more times with a new change of water until water runs clean. Be sure to dry well on paper towels or with a salad spinner prior to cooking.
- The bulb is incredibly yummy when caramelized, so make sure to give them time to do so. Tand the greens tend to puff up and wiggle around not unlike a worm once it hits the pan so don't be disturbed to see this.
- I've tried this dish a couple of different times, once with and once without pancetta. It was good either way. If you choose to use it, sautée a slice of rough-chopped pancetta in the pan before adding the minced stems and bulbs.
- I also liked it with a few thin pieces of shaved Parmesan. I wouldn't recommend grating the Parmesan because it'll muddle up the dish with cheesiness rather than rampiness.
- Make sure to reserve some of the cooked pasta water to add to the pan.
- Here, a video of Mario Batali making this dish with Martha Stewart. He's just so fun: Mario on Martha making spaghetti with ramps
Adapted from Mario Batali's recipe
1 pound dry spaghetti or linguini
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces fresh ramps
1-2 tablespoons red chili flakes
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Fresh lemon wedges (optional)
Shaved slices of Parmesan (optional)
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Drain pasta and add it to the sauté pan, reserving some of the pasta water. Toss gently to coat the pasta with the sauce.
4. Divide pasta evenly among four warmed plates. Drizzle olive oil over top and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and, if desired, a squeeze of lemon and some Parmesan.
Makes 4 Servings