Monday, May 16, 2011

Meatless Monday: Back to the Ramps

Happy Monday everyone.

Remember the reeking ramps I bought last week? 

I made something delicious with the bunch I purchased. But before I give you the recipe, let me tell you a few facts about the plant Allium tricoccum, commonly known collectively as ramps, or singularly as the wild leek.

Cultivating Ramps: Wild Leeks of Appalachia is a veritable treasure trove of information on this particular wild thing. From its authors Jeanine M. Davis and Jacqulyn Greenfield I learned that ramps can be found growing in patches in cool, shady areas with damp, rich soil high in organics, as far north as Canada, west to Missouri and Minnesota, and south to North Carolina and Tennessee. Their arrival as Spring’s first “greens” is celebrated with festivals, which have become major tourist attractions throughout southern Appalachia.

In recent years America’s top chefs began promoting ramps as a gourmet delicacy, and ramps now appear on the seasonal menus of many “white tablecloth” restaurants. The medical community has also been interested in ramps since a 2000 study indicated that selenium rich ramps reduced cancer in rats. Increased demand has led to the dwindling of the native ramp population, and studies have shown that it takes many years to recover from a single harvest. For this reason, the Smoky Mountain National Park banned harvesting of ramps in 2002. 

Seed germination studies were already underway when Cultivating Ramps was published. Efforts continue to cultivate ramps in a forest setting as a way to meet the  burgeoning demand. If you can supply the right environment and want to give ramp cultivation a try, here is a source for seeds and bulbs.  

Now, back to the recipe. I was inspired by Blake Royer’s recipe for Ramps with Linguine at Serious Eats.  I tweaked it a little, partly because I only had a small bunch of ramps. Here is my version.

Elaine's Reeking Ramps with Linguine

20 ramp bulbs
4 tbsp good quality olive oil
1 clove American garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs, toasted in olive oil
freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese
1/2 pound Barilla linguine, cooked al dente
First, prepare the ramps.
Clean the ramps, removing the roots and outer husk from the bulb. 
Slice to separate the leaves from the bulbs and stem.
Stack the leaves on top of one another, 
roll them lengthwise and slice thinly into ribbons.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. 
Remove the pan from the heat and add the ramp bulbs 
(with stems attached). 
Toss well until the pan cools just a bit. 
Return the skillet to the heat.
Stir until soft. Add garlic and stir for an additional minute. 
Add the cooked linguine. Stir.
Add the ramp leaves and breadcrumbs. 
Toss until the leaves are wilted. 
Transfer to two warm plates and top with cheese.

Mangia. [Note that this delicious dish exudes a pungent aroma. It may remain for hours, if not days, depending on how airtight your kitchen is.]

Have a great week. Ciao for now, but come back soon.

I try to blog on food or food issues each Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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