Bucatini with Ramps, Olive Oil and Parmigiano Reggiano to Celebrate the Wildest Food of Spring

Some say that an article I wrote many years ago in Saveur about the ramp festival in Helvetia, West Virginia helped ignite the passion for ramps — pungent wild leeks — that sweeps across the country every spring was.  A farmer at the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC read it and realized that he had ramps growing on his property in the Catskills. He started selling them, and eventually organized a ramp festival at the market, spreading the hunger for them like wild fire.

I would love to think it is true but more likely ramps’ popularity is due to the kind of spontaneous combustion that happens periodically in the food world, where cooks in different places simultaneously discover a new flavor, technique or ingredient.

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Being a truly wild food that seems to defy cultivation of any scale, ramps are a rare thing in today’s commodified world.  They are truly delicious and have the effect of rooting whoever eats them powerfully in the season. Though the ramps suppers in West Virginia are over, ramps will be available into the end of May in many markets. They are even available by mail order from Etsy.

(Like any wild food, ramps should be bought should be bought from a vendor that harvests them in a sustainable manner, always leaving some undug in the patch to keep them propagating, and rotating the harvest spot.

Although I’ve cooked ramps in all sorts of ways, I especially love them braised in olive oil and tossed with bucatini or spaghetti and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Sally Schneider

I cook the ramps in a simple two-stage process: first I sweat the bulbs in extra virgin olive oil (or bacon or pancetta fat) with a pinch of peperoncino until they are tender. Then I add their leaves, cooking them covered until they are tender. This results are a mellow garlicky-oniony green that is delicious in endless ways: as a side dish, or topping for bruschetta, to fill an omelet, or layer into a potato gratin…I love them as is with shavings of sheep’s milk cheese.  And of course, they make a sublime pasta per the recipe below.

Sally Schneider

 

Recipe: Bucatini with Ramps, Olive Oil and Parmigiano

Use this method of braising  ramps in extra-virgin olive oil as a base for any number of improvisations:  as a side dish, or topping for bruschetta, to fill an omelet, or layer into a potato gratin…I love them as is with shavings of sheep’s milk cheese.

Here the braised ramps are tossed with pasta and Parmigiano Reggiano, a wild play on the classic Italian pasta with garlic, pepperoncino and greens.

The ramps are also delicious cooked with pancetta or bacon instead of the olive oil. Dice the pancetta and  cooked covered until crisp and the fat is rendered; then proceed as directed.

4 servings

Ramps Cooked with Olive Oil (or Bacon)

1 1/4 -to 1 1/2 pounds fresh ramps
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil or half oil and half butter OR rendered bacon or pancetta fat
1/8-1/4 teaspoon crushed dried Italian red pepper (peperoncino) or red pepper flakes
Salt

3/4-1 pound dry pasta such as bucatini, penne, linguine or orecchiette
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 – 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino cheese

 

For the Ramps Cooked in Olive Oil (or Bacon): Trim off the roots with a paring knife and slip off any discolored or dead skin the clings to the bulbs. If they are dirty, wash the ramps in several changes of water and drain well. (As you clean the ramps, stack into loose bundles, so the bulbs and leaves are lined up; this will make them easier to cut). Place on a cutting board and cut off the bulbs; cut the leaves in half crosswise. Reserve both bulbs and leaves.

In a large nonstick skillet set over low heat, combine the the ramp bulbs, olive oil and 1/3 cup water;  cover and cook until the bulbs are soft about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the peperoncino, and cook, tossing frequently, about 1 minute.

Add the ramp greens to the pan along with 1/2 teaspoon salt and about 3 tablespoons water.

Cover and cook over moderately high heat, tossing frequently until the greens are tender and the water has completely evaporated about 5 minutes (if the water evaporates before the greens are cooked, add tablespoon or two more to the pan. If too much water is left in the pan once the vegetables are cooked through, uncover, increase the heat to high and boil it off). Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally,  until the bulbs are very tender and the greens are no longer stringy.  Turn off the heat.

 

Meanwhile, put a large pot of water on to boil; salt the boiling water well. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still slightly firm to the bite. Using a measuring cup, scoop out about 1/4 cup of the cooking water and reserve.  Drain the pasta well.

Add the pasta and cooking water to the pasta pot and stir in the cooked ramps, using a rubber spatula to get every bit of the delicious oil.  Bring to a boil for 30 seconds. Toss to coat the pasta well , seasoning with salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper.  Divide the pasta among four warm shallow soup bowls. Serve at once passing the cheese on the side.

 

Click here to read more of Sally’s writing about Helvetia (originally published in Saveur).

lauriesmithphoto.com

 

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