I think this must have been the longest running Winter on record. Just when we thought it was over another storm dumped snow on us. I am relieved to say that is all behind us now and Spring is finally here. My first indication was the appearance of fiddlehead ferns at the farmers market and specialty grocery stores. My second indication is the appearance of the delicate leafy plant called ramps. Ramps, ramsons or wild leeks are perennials known as Allium tricoccum. They are found across much of the eastern United States and eastern Canada, from Alabama to Nova Scotia to Manitoba to Oklahoma. They grow wild and in close groups strongly rooted just beneath the surface of the soil. Like fiddleheads, they make their appearance in Spring just after the last snow fall. Ramps have a sharp taste that is a melange of scallion, garlic and leek. You can prepare them in many ways, but think of them as the supporting actor that wins the Oscar. Raw or cooked you have a really winner in your dish.
A ramp has broad, smooth, light green leaves, often with deep purple or burgundy tints on the lower stems, and a scallion-like stalk and bulb. Look for firm yet supple leaves and a bright white bulb. If the leaves are a little limp you can bring them back to life, but if they are crushed or have spots you might consider looking for fresher ramps.
Usually you find ramps in small bunches at the market. They may or may not have the roots attached. If so, give them a gentle rinse under cool water to wash away the dirt and nip off the roots. You can bring them back to life if they are a little wilty by placing them in a glass of water. I would highly encourage you to plan on using your ramps very soon after bringing them home. They may last a day or two in the ‘fridge, in a thin produce bag, but this is not something you want to wait on.
I created several recipes over the years for ramps, and this year is no different. I decided to go vegan this time with a mock cream sauce. As a substitute for cream, vegan dishes incorporate raw cashews, easily found at Whole Foods in the bulk bin. You need to soak them a little and then puree in a high speed blender. The taste is remarkably similar to cream.
This recipe could not be easier. The first step is to soak your cashews for about 10 – 15 minutes with boiling water.
Then find a great vinegar to help flavor your sauce. I came across a fabulous ramp vinegar on line by Lindera Farms. Scout around your local farmers market. If not, I think a good basic white wine vinegar will be fine.
Last, a high speed blender is key. That will make your cashews smooth and creamy. Use the soaking water to get the “cream” to your desired consistency.
You can mix this cream sauce right into the pasta and have it as is. Or, if you feel like taking one more step, blister a few cherry tomatoes and add them in. I love the contrast you get from the sharp ramp and tangy, bright tomato. Plus the color is just amazing.
If you’ve never tried a ramp, now is the time. We have just about two more weeks left before they are gone until next year. You can find them at many of our local farmers markets, and I’ve also spotted them at Tarry Market in Port Chester and Whole Foods. Buy them the minute you see them. Once they are gone you will have to wait until next Spring.
For those living in and near Port Chester, NY, I will be demoing this dish at the new Port Chester Farmers Market on Sunday May 13. It’s opening day and there will be a great line-up of local vendors and farms. I’m thrilled to be a part of this new endeavor!
Makes 1 pint
There is really no substitute for ramps, making this a very special Spring dish. Ramps are wild leeks that appear after the last snow fall and are with us for a brief moment in April and May. Pick them up as soon as you see them, as they will disappear very quickly.
2 cups raw cashews
1 bunch ramps, 2-3 oz.
2 tablespoons ramp vinegar or white wine vinegar, see note
Ground black pepper
1. Place the cashews in a bowl and pour 2 cups of boiling water over them. Set aside for 10 minutes.
2. Rinse the ramps well, remove the roots if attached and trim the leaves. Stack the leaves, roll them like a fat cigar and slice very thinly (chiffonade) and set aside. Mince the stem and bulbs and set aside.
3. Drain the cashews reserving the liquid. Place in a high-speed blender with the vinegar, ½ teaspoon of salt and 1 cup of the liquid. Puree slowing adding additional liquid until you read a soft, creamy texture. Add in the minced stem/bulbs and puree. Continue adding liquid and salt slowly to get to your desired texture and taste. Add 1 cup of the leaves and pulse a few times to incorporate. Us the remaining leaves in your salad later.
Cook’s note: Ramp vinegar is a specialty item. I found a wonderful brand on line at Lindera Farm. You may get lucky at the farmers market. If not use a good white wine vinegar.
Pasta with Ramp-Cashew Cream and Blistered Tomatoes
Makes 4 servings
1 dry pine grape or cherry tomatoes, rinsed and dried
Ground black pepper
8 oz. pasta
Ramp-cashew cream, recipe above
Finely sliced chives or garnish
Nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese
1. Place the tomatoes in a non-stick pan with just enough oil to just coat the bottom of the pan and tomatoes. They should lie flat and be close to each other. Season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until they blister a take on a little color. Turn off the heat and set aside.
2. While the tomatoes cook bring a pot of salted water to boil and cook your favorite pasta shape.
3. Drain the pasta reserving a little of the cooking liquid and place in a large bowl. Add enough ramp cream to coat the pasta. Taste for seasoning and add a little salt and pepper as desired.
4. Very gently fold in the tomatoes and some of the cooking oil in the bottom of the pan. Taking care to not break them up.
5. To serve garnish with chives, nutritional yeast (if keeping this completely vegan) or parmesan cheese.