Ramp up the flavor with foraged ramps

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Over the weekend, I headed to a friend's woody backyard, stepped just beyond the gate to their patio, and foraged for wild ramps.

Ramp season is ever so brief — only about a month — so now is the time to enter the forest and look for these oniony, garlicky wild leeks. They are wonderful as pesto, in soups, with eggs, in relishes, etc., and they take on a whole new depth of flavor when grilled or roasted. They grow in the woods all over the Berkshires; you've probably passed them on hikes many times.

If you're going to look, stick to slightly sloped hillsides in shaded forest. Ramps grow slowly, so it's important to leave growing ramps as undisturbed as possible and take the bigger, fatter leaves rather than smaller, new growth.

I'm not sure if it's their scarcity due to the short growing season (they also only grow wild and are almost impossible to cultivate commercially) or their great taste that makes ramps such a hot food item. They're sought after in farmers markets, and you'll see them as an ingredient this time of year at any local food restaurant worth its salt. I think it's that they trumpet the beginning of the golden, beautiful Berkshire and Southern Vermont summer, where menus get colorful, lovers loll around on picnic blankets at Tanglewood, and local swimming holes pack up with hipsters drinking canned wine. I can't wait!

Buckwheat soba noodles with roasted ramps and pork

I wanted to make something healthy, and ramps really complement pork. I kept it simple here for a clean, spring food feeling — just a little rice vinegar, soy sauce, olive oil, and honey. If you can't find these soba noodles, any kind of noodle will do, or rice.

Ingredients:

Two bundles of buckwheat soba noodles

to 3/4 pound ramps, whole, with bulb ends sliced clean

Two pork chops

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoon sesame seeds

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix vinegar, olive oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and honey together in large bowl.

Dip ramps into vinegar mix a handful at a time, letting excess drip back into bowl. Lay out flat, 1-2 layers, on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast 10-15 minutes on center rack, until ramps are reduced in size and a little crispy. Set aside and chop into thirds when cool. Meanwhile, marinate pork chops in excess vinegar mix 15-20 minutes.

Boil water and cook buckwheat soba noodles just like you would pasta, 8-12 minutes. Drain, then toss with chopped ramps and sesame seeds. Keep warm.

Heat a heavy-bottom pan on medium, then fry pork chops five minutes per side. Remove from pan and let sit 1-2 minutes. Slice each chop, then serve atop warm ramp noodles.


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