Build a fire, pour yourself a drink, put the big cast iron skillet on the grate. The chopped-up ramps cook slowly in a little butter until they're nice and brown, concentrated and sweet. Ramps--wild leeks they're often called--are in the onion family, with all the sweetness inherent to that pungent clan. Cooked long and slow, they become almost a jam.
In the pan is a fistful of ramps, like if you were grabbing a hank of pasta. I put the white and thicker red stem in first, and the greens later, after the first have wilted well. The whole thing can be used, from bottom of bulb to tip of leaf. At right are ramps straight from the ground. A beautiful color scheme, don't you think? Ramps, onions, garlic, leeks--all alliums. Lilies, too, and there are lilies that are poisonous and might somewhat resemble ramps, but the oniony, chivey smell when you crush a bit of leaf tells you you've got the right plant.
Then while the trout are frying in the ramp-y remnants left in the pan (and a little more butter), mix up a sweet mustard vinaigrette. This will get you pretty close:
1 tsp good mustard (grain or dijon, as you prefer)
2 tsp maple syrup or honey
2 tsp vinegar (red or white wine, or sherry, or good cider)
2 Tbsp oil, your choice
salt and freshly ground pepper
Just mix it all up. Add as much of the ramp jam as you like. We saved some out to smear on top of the trout.
Toss the dressing with fresh watercress or other salad greens. A handful of dandelion greens, very abundant now, or lamb's-quarter, or sorrel, add a seasonal touch.
That's a perfect picture of the joys of local, seasonal food, to me. Maybe I should coin a new term: "Watershed eating." Trout, cress, and ramps all from the same stream-scape. Next week we should be able to add fiddlehead ferns to the plate, and a morel or two, if I'm lucky.
Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw