Spring is here at last and that means you’ll find two things at the farmer’s market that you won’t find there any other time of the year: ramps and asparagus.
Sure, you can find asparagus at the grocery store in January, but that asparagus is as far a cry from farmer’s market asparagus as a Monet is to a paint-by-number flower. And ramps, love them or hate them, are here for just a fleeting moment.
I’ll admit, I get lazy when it comes to eating seasonally. It’s easier to pop into the grocery store across the street, where lemons, onions and garlic look the same the whole year round, than it is to march all the way up to the Union Square Greenmarket on a windy or rainy spring day. On a Saturday, however, the rules change: I forcibly remove myself from the world wide web and make a point, especially in spring, summer and fall, to go pay a visit to the Union Square farmers. Sometimes I come home with just honey or maple syrup; other times I buy flowers (the lilacs I bought a few weeks ago made it into my newsletter.) This past Saturday I came home with ramps (despite my ramp-ambivalence) and asparagus and a few hours later I whipped up a dinner (the one you see above) that I declared to be one of the best meals I’ve ever made. And I give 100% of the credit to what I found at the farmer’s market.
There’s this SNL sketch that Craig and I find pretty funny. Actually, I’m not sure it’s even that funny; it’s more amusing than funny. Essentially, there’s this talk show host (played by Kenan Thompson) who hosts a show called “What Up With That?” and he sings a theme song (also called “What Up With That?”) and every time he starts to interview his guests, he starts the song again and nothing ever gets done and there’s a man in a red track suit dancing and sometimes a choir and weird cameos and confetti. Maybe you just need to see it, after the jump.
A few weeks ago, I told you about the spaghetti with ramps I ate at Franny’s in Park Slope. It may be the case that ramps have come and gone now and you’ve missed your window, but if, like me, you stumble upon them at a farmer’s market this weekend, here’s an easy way to prepare them: cut off the bulbs at the bottom and sauté them in olive oil with a few pinches of red pepper flakes and a drop of salt. Don’t make the mistake I made and make the heat too high: you don’t want them to brown, just to cook through. Meanwhile, boil your spaghetti. Once the bulbs are translucent, add the ramp leaves which you can cut up just a bit. Add a drop of pasta cooking water to turn it into a sauce and when the spaghetti’s just al dente, add it to the cooked ramp mixture, stir it all together: no cheese! This is about subtle ramp flavor, yo. Once on the plate, you can top with toasted bread crumbs which I made by taking four pieces of white sandwich bread, cutting crusts off, chopping the white parts into tiny bits and sauteing those bits in olive oil until golden brown with a smidge of salt and pepper. The bread crumbs are actually the key ingredient here: they add texture and little explosions of flavor as you devour the first great taste of spring.
The “r” word made its first appearance on Twitter last week when one of the many food people I follow announced that they spotted ramps at the Union Square Greenmarket. “Ramps are here!” another cheered and, as happens every year, the ramp-lovers went on a rampage.
I’m a ramp liker, not a ramp lover. What are ramps? Ramps are really mild, skinny onions that pop up at farmer’s markets around springtime and are prized by chefs for their delicacy and their uniquely mellow flavor. I know that David Chang likes to pickle them (there’s a recipe online for that somewhere) and other chefs might use them in a sauce or a soup, but the best use for them I’ve yet encountered was the dish I ate last night at Franny’s: a simple and beautiful spaghetti with ramps.