Monday, May 24, 2010

Wrapping Up the Ramps

We're coming to the end of the ramps season. I won't promise not to mention them again till next spring, but I'm eager to move on to asparagus, salads, and more summery things. It's probably true that ramps are a little over-hyped, and, in the stores, a little overpriced. For a wild foods enthusiast, though, they are also a genuine reason to celebrate--the first of the year's seasonal wild foods, delicious, abundant, versatile. I'll jump on that bandwagon.

In an "average" year we would probably be picking ramps into early June, but an extremely warm April got the ramps up and going, and now that the plants are sending up flower stalks the greens start to die back. You can still dig up the bulbs through the summer and fall, if you know how to find them, but I feel they're definitely best as a ritual of spring.

I unearthed a nice sackful of ramps last week for a last blast rampage. The greens weren't much good, but the bulbs were nice and plump. My main project for the season's last ramps was to try pickling a couple pounds of them. I should know by now that small-batch pickling is as easy as making a pot of soup, but still for some reason I find the prospect daunting. In fact, for these ramps pickled more or less following David (Momofuku) Chang's recipe, the hardest part was cleaning and trimming the ramps. This brine is lovely; it's a near-perfect balance of sweet, sour, and salt. Chang's recipe calls for rice wine vinegar, but to give it that Bide-A-Wee twist I used some of our own apple cider vinegar. Good quality unpasteurized cider vinegar is available in bulk at many co-ops.

2 cups water
1 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
scant 2 Tbsp salt
2 small dried red chilies, seeds removed (or leave them in if you want more heat)
1 tsp black peppercorns

Cleaned ramp bulbs with a couple inches of the stem left on

I had a pound and a half of cleaned ramp bulbs, which filled two tightly packed pints with quite a bit of brine left over. Two pounds of ramps would make three pints without being compulsive about packing efficiency. Leftover brine can be used to pickle something else.

Combine all the ingredients in a non-reactive saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for a minute or two. Line up the ramps prettily in the jar. Make sure each jar gets a bit of chili and a few peppercorns. Pour brine over the ramps to cover. Refrigerate.

Having never made these before, I'm not sure how long it will take for the ramps to become fully pickled. A couple of weeks at least, I'm sure. Refrigerated, they should keep for a few months.

I didn't wait to use mine. The very night I made them they went into two preparations. The first was a dangerously appealing "ramp-a-tini," a couple ounces of gin, capful of dry vermouth, twist of lemon, and around a teaspoon of the pickled ramps brine. Finish off with a garnish of a pickled ramp.

I sipped one of those while we put together a simple but delicious dinner of grilled pork steaks served over baby garden greens tossed with a creamy pickled ramp dressing.* To wit:

2 Tbsp heavy cream
2 Tbsp sour cream
1 Tbsp pickled ramp brine
1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 pickled ramp bulbs, chopped fairly fine
2 tsp oil (something neutral like canola or sunflower)
salt and pepper to taste

Just mix it all together well and toss it with some hearty young greens. Our salad bowl this night contained frisée, red kale, baby turnip and red mustard greens, arugula, some lettuce. You don't want to do this very delicate lettuces. Here's what ours looked like:

Topped with your simply grilled pork steak, it should look like this:

And finally, the formula for the maple-ramp glaze I mentioned last post. In a small saucepan combine:

1/2 cup real maple syrup
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup chopped ramps--you can use the whole thing, whites and greens, if the greens are still nice; and, I haven't made it with pickled ramps, but I don't see why that wouldn't be good

Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Use it to glaze grilled chicken or pork toward the end of the cooking time. For the chicken pictured below, I added about a teaspoon of chili paste (sambal) to the glaze.


This dressing was also inspired by a Momofuku recipe, for a buttermilk ranch dressing with pickled ramps, but the first time I made it I just used raw ramps. To make it that way, omit the brine, of course, and increase the vinegar to 2 teaspoons rather than 1 1/2; also add a couple of good pinches of sugar, or to taste.

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw


Emily said...

yum on the maple and ramp glaze. momofuku is next in line on my cookbook wish list!

Teresa Marrone said...

Hey Brett--

Read in Abundantly Wild about pickling ramps... it might give you a bit more clarity about "what comes next" (and if your ramps turn blue, which happens when I make them, you won't be surprised or, heaven forfend, toss them out fearing they've gone bad!). Hope you enjoy them as much as I do; I think pickled ramps are the cat's meow.


Trout Caviar said...

Hi Emily: The Momofuku book is great fun, and many of the recipes (and photos) are extremely appetizing, but for some reason I tend to use them as a jumping-off point, rather than following them verbatim. But you know, I think that's actually very much in the Momofuku spirit--many of their dishes are recraftings of street food or noodle shop classics. They show a real awareness of how fluid the world of food is now, that it is a whole wide world of food, with influences from all over the globe, and from every level from the Michelin-starred to those noodle shops and street carts.

Do try the maple-ramp glaze. It's a keeper.

Cheers~ Brett

Trout Caviar said...

Teresa, I WAS reading about pickled ramps in your book, just last night, while sipping yet another ramp-a-tini out at Bide-A-Wee, and I had it on my list to email you! I see you simmer and soak yours in a brine, and I wondered about the Momofuku recipe, which had no cooking. My ramp bulbs were a good size, so I added a little simmering time in my version, too. I may just try your recipe for comparison.

Mine haven't turned blue, that I've noticed. I used filtered water, though I don't know if that makes a difference.

Hope to see you soon~ Brett

Sylvie in Rappahannock said...

Brett - I have been reading your adventures with wild foods over the last few weeks with great interest.

Ramps are over here in the Virginia hills - and asparagus not far from over. I am still picking though, but only for a few more weeks.

But I know what you mean about the first spring taste of the wild, one craves for fresh green things to pick from the garden or the woods or the meadows... I still lust have morels (a very poor season this year for us)

and - on a side note - me think that the pickling brine would be good for other alliums too.

Trout Caviar said...

Hi Sylvie: I always think of Appalachia when I think of ramps. They're quite abundant here now, but it wasn't always that way. When I started fishing for trout, about 20 years ago, I would only see them rarely. I'd step on something that gave up that ramp-y smell, and I'd wonder what on earth that was! Now I find places where in early spring the forest floor is a sea of ramps. But if they are "exotic" here, they don't seem to be invasive. They seem to cohabit nicely with the bluebells and trout lilies, then the tops die back and you don't even know they're there!

I'm going to do some fiddleheads in the leftover brine today, with a few ramps for contrast and flavor.

Salut~ Brett

Gloria Goodwin Raheja said...

I followed your directions for pickled ramps today. Had to sample before putting them in the jars...delectable. And now I'm about to fix us some ramp-a-tinis too.


Trout Caviar said...

Here's lookin' at you, Gloria. Cheers~ Brett