Sunday, June 9, 2013

RAMPS! Ramps and Tilefish Crudo, Ramp Pesto, and Ramps Ice Cream

Ramps are my favorite vegetable.  I love the slightly sweet, slightly garlicky, slightly oniony bulbs.  I love the peppery garlicky leaves raw.  And I love the mellow, sweet, leeky flavor of the leaves when they're wilted.  I especially like how ramps are the first wild green vegetable that is generally available during the year - in NYC, they are in season for just a few short weeks in April and early May.

And it seems that I am not the only one.

Ramps (and some spring garlic too)

Over the past few years, I have explored new ways of using ramps in my cooking.  My standby dish has been to make Roast Chicken, Ramps, and Potatoes.  Last year, I made Pickled Ramps Momofuku-style.  The bulbs and chopped leaves were always great sauteed in an egg scramble with bacon, and the leaves always added a surprisingly large amount of body to soups and stocks, even Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup whenever I caught an early spring cold.

This year, I decided to get more creative, and used ramps in:

  • a tilefish crudo with meyer lemon;
  • a simple pesto;
  • ice cream;
  • a vichyssoise with bacon and sour cream;
  • a semmen knodel (German bread dumpling).
The first three items are covered by this post.  The next two will follow in a separate post.


Ramps and Tilefish Crudo with Meyer Lemon

I'm not sure why I thought of making this dish.  I think that I was reading the crudo recipe in my copy of Mario Batali Italian Grill and thought, why not ramps?

I found a couple of references to raw fish crudo using ramps, mostly pureed or pickled, on Google, but no recipes.  So I decided to revert to basics - a neutral white fish, salt, and citrus to go with the ramps.  I figured that the peppery flavor of raw ramp leaves would stand in for the hot peppers often used in a crudo/ceviche. I also thought that Meyer Lemon zest would accent the sweetness of the fish, and that a simple Meyer Lemon and extra virgin olive oil drizzle would be sufficient to complete the plate.  I also added some flash pickled ramps for presentation and as a vinegary contrast to the sweet, rich crudo.

I think that fluke would have been the best fish to use, but the fish stand only had fresh tilefish that day.  The fishmonger worried that tilefish would be too tough of a flesh for crudo, but when sliced thinly, it worked fine.

Here's the recipe:

1 medium tilefish fillet - about 1/3 lb.
6-8 ramp leaves, washed and sliced in half horizontally (so 12-16 pieces)
Zest of 1 Meyer Lemon
Squeeze of Meyer Lemon juice - maybe 1-2 tbsp?
1 or 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (same amount as the Meyer Lemon juice)
Kosher or sea salt
6 pickled ramp bulbs (optional) (used white vinegar, salt, sugar, cumin, mustard seed)

Remove pin bones from fish with tweezers or fingers.  Wrap in plastic wrap and place in freezer for about 30-40 minutes before using.

Get out a large plate/serving platter.  Arrange sliced half ramp leaves on plate.  Remove tilefish from freezer, and, using a very sharp knife, cut the filet into thin slices no more than 1/4 inch thick and about 2 inches long.  Place each piece of fish on a ramp leaf, and sprinkle a bit of lemon zest and a few crystals of salt on top of each piece of crudo.

Mix the Meyer Lemon juice and olive oil in a separate container and drizzle on top of the crudo pieces.



Ramp Pesto

No recipe here - just make a basic pesto, except substituting raw ramp leaves for basil leaves.  Note:  I toasted the pine nuts before adding them.  I think that walnuts or even sunflower seeds could work in the pesto if you don't have pine nuts handy.

The pesto is quite strong and packed with a peppery, garlic flavor.  It also has an amazing bright green color that reminds one of spring.

How to use it?  

I enjoyed it:
  • spread on fresh mozzarella cheese and served with tomatoes and balsamic vinegar in a replacement caprese salad;
  • as a crust for fish either sauteed in brown butter or baked in the oven (works especially well on skate);
  • as a sauce for some grilled squid marinated in lemon zest, olive oil, and dried oregano.

Be creative!


Ramps Ice Cream

I had bought a Cuisinart ice cream machine a couple of months ago using a gift card sent to me as a replacement Christmas present (thanks Dan and Sab!).  Since then, I've been trying to think of somewhat unconventional ice creams to make, hopefully using seasonal ingredients.

Well, I like savory ice creams and sorbets,,,as well as ramps...and ramps and eggs are a classic pairing...and ice cream has maybe ramps could be used for ice cream???

Recipe (makes 1 pint):

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup buttermilk (can also use whatever other kind of milk you want - I figured buttermilk would help reduce the richness of the ramps and egg yolks)
1/3 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
20-30 ramps (bulb and white part only - save the leaves for pesto!) diced.

1) in saucepan, add 1/2 cup cream, buttermilk, salt, and sugar. Bring sweetened milk to verge of boil at medium heat and add ramp bulbs, turn off heat and steep for 15 minutes. Repeat this process once more. 

2) in small bowl, add and beat the egg yolks. 

3) in larger bowl (Bowl #2), add rest of cream, and place Bowl #2 in an ice water bath (Note: this is probably optional - you can probably add the cream to the saucepan at the beginning - keeping the extra cream in an ice water bath is intended to help stop the hot custard from continuing to cook).

4) Bring mixture in saucepan to verge of boiling again. Add some of mixture to bowl containing egg yolks, while beating the egg yolks to prevent cooking. Add a bit more and beat a bit more. Pour contents of the egg yolk bowl back into the saucepan with the remaining sweetened dairy/ramp mixture. Bring to light simmer on medium-low heat and stir for a few minutes until custard begins to thicken (passes back of the spoon test).

5) Pour custard into Bowl #2 containing the chilled cream and stir together. (This step can be omitted - see Step 3 above). 

6) Let sit in ice bath until ice cream base reaches room temperature, then put in freezer for about 1 hour, or just stick it in the freezer. 

7) Process the cooled ice cream base in your ice cream maker.  Stick completed ice cream back in freezer overnight - the flavors come together this way - it tastes better after sitting than if you eat it fresh.

How does it taste?

Like ramps!  It's actually a pretty strong flavor - I left the chopped (and now candied) ramp bulbs in as I was afraid that the ramp flavor would be weak without them (and besides, why waste the bulbs?).  If you want a lighter flavor, strain the bulbs out of the ice cream base before cooling - I think that you'll still get the flavor of the ramps infused into the custard base even without keeping the bulbs.  I note that I used about 25-30 ramp bulbs for about a pint of ice cream (as I wanted to ensure the ramp flavor got infused during the steeping process).  So if you want a mellower flavor, you could also use less ramps. 

Note:  it SMELLS like ramps, too.  This may be offputting to some people, I suppose.

The ice cream has a medium sweetness.  The buttermilk makes it a bit lighter than the ordinary super-rich egg custard-based ice cream, and also adds a slight tang.  Otherwise, it tastes and smells strongly like sauteed ramps (a bit sweet with an oniony garlicky kick).  The ramp flavor kind of melts into the cream.  Definitely a savory as opposed to sweet. 

Ramp bulbs steeping in buttermilk, cream, and sugar.

Too bad - gotta wait for next year!

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