Tag Archive | ramps

Looking for Spring–a Green Lunch for Happiness

fern

I have never been so ready to see spring come after this bitter winter. I planted early seeds in the garden, and when they didn’t come up fast enough I planted more…and more. Now the garden beds are a jumble of tiny seedlings. I promise them I will sort it all out.

Meanwhile I am foraging for the first intrepid plants of the season–wild and cultivated: tiny dark green spikes of chives, crinkled mint leaves, shocking-green sorrel, fragrant chervil, lacy arugula… tender nettles, ramps, and cat-briar leaves from the woods…and abundant watercress from the branch. High above us on the ridge tops the trees are barely leafing out, but spring is happening from the ground up. The forest floor is covered with wildflowers, and lively flavors from deep green leaves are there to be gathered if you know where to look.

Ramps

Looking is half the fun. You have to walk carefully in the spring woods because there are so many little plants uncurling from their winter’s sleep. Wild iris and geranium, trillium, Solomon’s Seal, blood root, phlox, rue anemone, trout lily, bellwort…all mixed in with red-tinged poison ivy leaves, stately cohosh, fairy kingdoms of moss, and tangles of fern fronds. I even found some showy orchis and the newly unfolded leaves of ginseng.

Two Shades of Orange Salad

beets

Golden beets (found in miraculously good shape after hibernating in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator all winter!) and oranges provide the two shades of orange for this salad–a riff on a Moroccan ” two shades of red salad” made with beets and tomatoes, found in the cookbook Flatbreads and Flavors by Alford and Duguid. The salad also borrows from the orange and beet salsa from Jerusalem, the cookbook.

Ingredients: 2 medium golden beets, 1 orange, 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion, 1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1/4 cup chopped chives, 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint leaves, 3/4 tsp coriander seed, 3/4 tsp cumin seed, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp red chile flakes, 1 garlic clove, 2 to 3 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil, pinch of sugar, salt and freshly ground black pepper, 2 cups watercress or arugula leaves, 1/4 cup toasted walnuts

Place the beets in a saucepan, cover with plenty of water, and bring to a boil. Partially cover and cook at a low boil for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the beets are easily pierced with a sharp knife. Drain, cool, and peel before cutting into 1/2-inch dice.

Peel the orange and remove all the pith and seeds. Slice the orange about 1/4-inch thick. Separate the slices into segments, removing tough connective membranes. Add the orange pieces and their juice to the diced beets, along with the onion, chopped olives, and herbs.

Toast and grind the coriander and cumin seeds in a mortar and pestle. Add the paprika and chile. Add the peeled garlic clove and pound to a paste with 1/4 tsp salt. Whisk in the lemon juice and oil. Pour the dressing over the beet mixture. Toss gently and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the salad on top of a shallow bowl of watercress or arugula leaves and sprinkle with walnuts.

Chickpea Soup with Watercress and Wild Greens

Nettles

Mild-flavored chickpeas combine well with deep green-flavors of a wide variety of greens including spinach, chard, and kale, as well as foraged greens like nettles, lambs quarters, and coneflower. Watercress adds a welcome bite, and the North African spice blend ras el hanout adds spicy fragrance.

Ingredients: 2 1/2 Tbs olive oil, 1 thinly sliced large onion, 1 Tbs finely chopped garlic, 2 Tbs finely chopped ginger, 2 cups cooked chickpeas, 2 cups vegetable broth or chickpea cooking liquid, 4 cups chopped greens (about 5 oz), 6 cups watercress leaves (6 to 7 oz), 2 tsp ras el hanout, 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, salt, lemon wedges

Warm the olive oil with the onion in a Dutch oven or other soup pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is completely soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook about 1 minute. Stir in the ras el hanout, cinnamon, chickpeas, and broth and bring to a low boil. Add the chopped greens and watercress and simmer until the leaves are wilted and tender, 1 to 2 minutes.

Use a blender or food processor to blend the soup to a smooth puree. Return to the pot to reheat. Season with salt to taste. Serve with lemon wedges and thick yogurt.

Fava Bean Pesto with Sorrel

Sorrel

This is a green salsa/spread for spring…a great topping for bruschetta or crackers. I added frozen edamame from last year’s garden for brighter green color.

Ingredients: 1 cup peeled fresh fava beans, 1/2 cup shelled edamame, 1 large garlic clove, 1/4 tsp kosher or sea salt, 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint leaves, 1/4 cup chopped sorrel leaves, 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, 2 Tbs Pecorino Romano, freshly ground black pepper

Cook shelled fava beans in salted boiling water until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and cool in cold water. Drain again and slip off the outer skin.

Chop the garlic and put it in a mortar with the salt. Mash with the pestle to make a paste. Add the rest of the ingredients gradually and use the mortar and pestle or a food processor to make a chunky, spreadable pesto.

Spring Green Kuku

Dandelion

A kuku is the Iranian version of a frittata, and my Silk Road Cooking book says that a fresh herb kuku is eaten on the spring equinox to symbolize rebirth, fertility and happiness.

Arugula

Ingredients: 6 free-range eggs, 2 Tbs cream, 1 Tbs flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 3 Tbs olive oil, 1 cup chopped spring onions (including green stems), 1 cup thinly sliced ramp leaves (chives or garlic chives), 3 cups chopped nettle leaves (baby kale or spinach), 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, 1/4 cup finely chopped chervil (fennel or dill), 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint, 2 Tbs currants or dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat 2 Tbs olive oil in a 10-inch oven-proof skillet. Add the onions to the skillet and cook 4 to 5 minutes. Add the ramp leaves or chives and cook 1 minute. Add the greens and cook until just wilted. Stir in the fresh herbs and currants.

Stir the onion-herb mixture into the beaten eggs. Clean the skillet and return it to the heat and add the remaining 1 Tbs olive oil. When hot, pour in the egg mixture and transfer the pan to the oven. Cover and cook 15 minutes. Remove the cover and continue to cook about 5 more minutes, until the eggs are just set.

Cut the kuku in thin slices and eat with bruschetta or flatbread, with a dollop of yogurt sauce.

Yogurt Sauce

Ingredients: 1 cup thick yogurt. 1 finely chopped garlic clove, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper, 2 tsp fresh lemon juice, 2 tsp sumac powder, 1/2 tsp dried mint, 2 Tbs finely sliced chives

Put the garlic and salt in a mortar and mash the garlic to a paste. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine.

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Hungry Gap

Old English farmers had a term for the time of year when winter’s stores were getting low and spring was still just a promise. They called it the “hungry gap.” It makes my stomach growl just to think about it. Modern grocery store shoppers don’t experience a hungry gap anymore; it’s always summer somewhere in the world, and produce from afar flows in year-round. Asparagus from Peru, zucchini from Mexico, greens in plastic boxes from California…they fill the hunger gap but leave a flavor gap.

Just when I am thinking that the spring garden harvest is a long way off, and we will indeed suffer a hungry gap, the garden and woods wake up. It’s a forager’s paradise; the wild plants and garden survivors offer some of the most vibrant and flavorful food of the year. Chives, sorrel, mint, corn salad, garlic chives, chervil, arugula, and chickweed emerge…full deep green. Last year’s chicory, radicchio, chard, kale, mustard, and celery send out new leaves, full of energy stored all winter. In the woods, the ramps are poking out of their blanket of fallen leaves. I am as happy to see these first leaves of spring as any of summer’s more extravagant bounty.

Eating foraged plants in spring is an immersion in the here and now. Every day brings new growth–mint creeps from between the rocks, chicory emerges from under the mulch, and the winter pea shoots become succulent and enticing. I notice each leaf…its shape, texture, and color, and how it unfurls, almost blinking in the sunlight. Flavors range from  sharp and intense to sweetly mellow, tamed by a long winter.

The most direct (and my favorite) way to eat these wild flavors of spring is to snip the tiny leaves into a salad. The Italians call this kind of salad misticanza, a mix of greens that includes a complex range of flavors and textures. My early spring mix includes peppery arugula, soft and mild leaves of chicory “Zuccherina di Trieste“, crunchy endive or escarole, spicy mustard leaves and flower buds, slightly bitter radicchio or chicory “Catalogna Pugliese” (Italian dandelion), delicate pea shoots, and mild chickweed. Pile the leaves into a salad bowl and toss them with good olive oil, a little salt and black pepper, and a drizzle of wine vinegar. That’s all you need.

spring green salad

Some people aren’t as fond as I am of the intensely green, slightly bitter taste of these wild and wonderful greens. For these taste buds, a little oil and vinegar are not enough. Happily, there is a remedy. Adding ingredients like cheeses, cooked beans, toasted nuts, and crisp croutons soften the overly zealous green-ness and introduce welcome contrasting textures. Crispy fried bacon or pancetta pair perfectly with salads of sturdy greens–a lesson we learned from the local old-timers, who dressed their foraged spring greens with bacon grease.

Spring Misticanza with Marinated White Beans

spring salad with beans

I made this with a perfect head of radicchio “Palla Rossa” that over-wintered under two layers of row cover, surviving sub-zero nights. The beans were big fat Borlotto beans that I shelled out and put in the freezer last September. Any large white beans or cannellini beans will work. The mild, soft-textured beans are the perfect foil for sharp, spicy greens.

Ingredients: 4 cups thinly sliced radicchio, 4 cups mixed spicy salad greens, 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion, 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chervil, chives, mint), 1 1/4 cooked white beans, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1/2 tsp red chile flakes, extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, fresh lemon juice, feta cheese and/or crisp fried bacon or pancetta

Warm 3 Tbs olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and chile and cook 1 or 2 minutes. Add the cooked beans and 2 Tbs of their cooking liquid, reduce the heat to low and simmer gently 2 to 3 minutes. Add 2 to 4 tsp red wine vinegar, salt and black pepper to taste. Turn off the heat and allow the beans to marinate while you make the salad.

Toss the radicchio, mixed greens, herbs, and onion together in a large salad bowl. Drizzle with fruity olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the warm bean mixture over the top and garnish with crumbled feta cheese and pieces of crisp bacon or pancetta.

Frittata with Spring Greens and Ramps

Ramps

Ramps are a special member of the onion family that grows wild in rich, moist mountain coves. They are one of the first signs of spring and much beloved for their pungent flavor and ability to drive off the last of winter.

Ingredients: 5 large eggs, 12 ramps (substitute scallions or garlic chives–about 1 cup chopped), 1 small bunch greens (kale, chard, mustard, nettles, watercress–3 to 4 cups chopped), 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano, pecorino, or grana Padano cheese, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, 2 to 3 Tbs chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chervil, mint), red chile flakes

Heat the oven to 275 degrees F. Clean and trim the ramps. Thinly slice the white ends and chop the greens into 1-inch pieces. Remove any tough stems and roughly chop the greens into bite-size pieces. Heat 2 Tbs olive oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped ramps and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until soft. Add the chopped greens and saute a few minutes until wilted. The young leaves should cook quickly.

Whisk the eggs with the salt and pepper in a large bowl. Stir the ramps and greens and grated cheese into the eggs. Wipe the skillet clean, then set over medium-high heat with an additional 1 Tbs oil. When the oil shimmers, pour in the egg mixture into the pan. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the eggs are almost set, 15 to 20 minutes. Allow the frittata to cool 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

To serve, cut the frittata in wedges. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with chopped herbs and a pinch of chile.

Ramp Butter

I found the instructions for making ramp butter in a cookbook written by the owners of Franny’s, a restaurant in Brooklyn dedicated to simple, seasonal, Italian food. They cure their own meats and like to pair ramp butter with pancetta on crostini. I raided my small ramp patch for this recipe, but had to supplement with wild onions to make enough.

Ingredients: 2 2/3 cups thinly sliced ramp leaves (or wild onion tops), 2/3 cup thinly sliced ramp or onion bottoms, 1/2 lb. unsalted butter, 1 tsp chile flakes, 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

In a saucepan, melt 6 Tbs butter over medium-low heat. Add 1/3 cup ramp bottoms and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Add the chile flakes and stir 20 to 30 seconds. Add the ramp tops and salt and cook until the greens are tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl, and cool to room temperature.

In a food processor, blend the uncooked ramp bottoms with the cooked mixture. Pulse in the remaining room-temperature butter. Transfer to a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Roll into a log and twist the ends of the paper to seal. Refrigerate until used. The butter will store 1 week in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer.

Eating Green

Chickweed

“Green” has become a buzzword of living these days, but I take eating green literally. It’s all about the color. I’m not sure anyone truly knows about green if they haven’t experienced spring in the mountains of North Carolina. Every day is an explosion of green. Every leaf that unfolds, every seedling that emerges unfurls it’s own gorgeous shade of green. I want to eat them all.

My friend Vicki once introduced me as the person who could grow everything better than she could excepting chickweed. That’s not really true, but I am a person who is always on the lookout for, and who recognizes superior chickweed. Vicki has lush, extravagantly green chickweed growing on the banks of her branch–the best kind for eating.

Chickweed is a wild plant that is a major ingredient in my daughter Naomi’s spring tonic pesto. Making this pesto involves foraging in the garden for early spring volunteers and exploring in the woods for wild edible greens… a wonderful way to spend a misty spring day. While harvesting green leaves we discovered patches of trillium, trout lily, bellwort, tightly wound ferns, and legions of violets.

The early spring garden is also full of surprising abundance. All those wonderful Italian chicories and Japanese mustards are making new leaves, as are the chard and kale plants that survived the winter. Wild arugula (sylvetta), chives, and garlic chives spring to life…mint, sorrel, and wild fennel are at their tender best. Garden-grown chickweed and the tips of my Austrian winter pea cover crop are succulent and sweet. It’s a green feast.

Here is a collection of recipes for eating green. Feel free to mix and match and substitute one green for another. Like the Mexican cook said when asked whether her soup should be made with chard or spinach, “Which one do you have?”

Wild Spring Tonic Pesto

Wild Spring Greens

This is food as medicine at it’s best. You can feel the energy and exuberance of the plant world in this deep green pesto. If it’s possible to capture the essence of spring, this is it.

Naomi and I gathered chickweed, cleavers, nettles, plantain, dandelion, arugula, chives, ramps (wild garlic-leek), violet flowers, sorrel, and watercress. About 3 cups of mixed leaves are pureed in the food processor with 3 crushed garlic cloves, 2 or 3 Tbs fresh lemon juice, a pinch of sea salt, 1 or 2 tsp balsamic vinegar, and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Freeze in small portions to use whenever green energy is needed.

Spring Garden Pesto

Garden Green

This is a tamer pesto made with the earliest tender garden herbs–a handful each chopped young parsley leaves, French sorrel, chives, Chinese garlic chives, mint, and a touch of wild arugula. Mash a few garlic cloves with a pinch of sea salt to make a paste. Use a large mortar and pestle or a food processor to finely chop or pound the herbs to make a rough pesto. Add extra virgin olive oil until the pesto is as you like it.

Watercress -Chickpea Soup

It is important to harvest watercress only from clean, uncontaminated water, like the spring water that bubbles out of the mountain above our house. Watercress has a strong, spicy flavor that mellows with cooking. Arugula, broccoli rabe, or spinach could replace the watercress in this soup. Ramps are wild garlic-leeks that grow in rich mountain woods.

Ingredients: 2 Tbs olive oil, 1 1/2 cups chopped onion or leeks, 2 or 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves, 5 or 6 ramps, 1 finely chopped jalapeno, 1 1/2 Tbs minced ginger, 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (one14-oz can with liquid), 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth (or chickpea cooking liquid), 8 oz well-washed watercress, 4 oz spinach leaves, salt, freshly ground black pepper, yogurt (optional)

Warm the olive oil in a heavy soup pot with the onions or leeks over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the onion is very soft. Stir in the garlic, ramps, jalapeno, and ginger; cook 1 or 2 minutes. Add the spices, one cup chickpeas, and broth; season to taste with salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Add the chopped watercress (reserve a small amount for a garnish) and spinach leaves and simmer 1 or 2 minutes, until wilted. Cool slightly and puree the soup in a blender until smooth. Add liquid as needed. Season with salt and pepper

Toss the remaining chickpeas with a drizzle of olive oil and 1/2 tsp crushed cumin seed. Shake them around in a hot skillet for a few minutes to toast the seeds, and scrape them onto the surface of the soup. Scatter the reserved watercress on top. Serve with a dollop of yogurt.

Note: The combination of chickpeas and watercress makes an excellent hummus. Puree the 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas with 2 garlic cloves, 1 or 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice, a large handful watercress, and 3 or 4 Tbs tahini. Add salt to taste.

Green Fritters

Ingredients: 1 cup cooked rice, 1/2 cup farmer’s cheese or crumbled feta, 1 large egg, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1 bunch chard or other greens (enough to make 1 1/2 cups cooked and squeeze-dried), 1/4 cup chopped scallions or garlic chives, 2 Tbs chopped dill or fennel greens, pinch cayenne, 1/4 tsp salt, freshly ground black pepper, sesame seeds

Steam the greens a few minutes, until tender and wilted. Drain and press out excess liquid. Put all the ingredients except the sesame seeds in a food processor and pulse to combine. Shape the mixture into small patties and coat with sesame seeds. The fritters may be fried in a skillet or baked in the oven at 400 degrees F. for 20 minutes.

Serve with lemon wedges or quick pickled lemon slices.

Green Rice with Rajas

Nettles

This is a lovely way to eat nettles. Harvest by pinching off the top few leaves of tender young plants in spring. Violet leaves are a nice addition. If you don’t have nettles, use spinach, chard, or beet greens. I like using white rice for this dish to show off the green color. Long grain white Basmati or short grain Arborio rice give different, but equally good, results. Rajas are strips of roasted and peeled poblano chiles.

Ingredients: 1 cup rice, 1 1/2 Tbs olive oil, 2/3 cup chopped onion, 8 to 10 oz nettles or other green leaves (enough to make 1 to 1/2 cups when steamed), `1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1 1/2 cups water, 1/2 tsp salt

Wash the rice and set aside to drain. Wash the nettles or other greens and steam 2 or 3 minutes until wilted and tender. Warm the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion 2 to 3 minutes. Add the drained rice and cook, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Using a blender, puree the greens and parsley with the water and salt. Combine the rice and greens in a saucepan and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover tightly, and cook the rice about 20 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.

Serve topped with strips of roasted and peeled poblano chiles.

Watercress Guacamole

Ingredients: two diced ripe avocados, 1/2 cup finely chopped sweet onion, 1 or 2 finely chopped jalapeno or serrano chiles, 1 cup chopped watercress, juice of 1 lime, salt and black pepper

Combine all the ingredients and season to taste with salt and pepper. Leave chunky or mash smooth, as you like it.

Add an avocado and increase the onion to 1 1/2 cups and the watercress to 2 or 3 cups. Sauté the onion until soft. Stir in the chopped watercress and cook 1 or 2 minutes to wilt. Puree all the ingredients with cold water or broth (or yogurt) in a blender. Sprinkle chopped chives or cilantro on top.

Spring Garden Salads

Garden Greens

While I wait for the lettuce to grow, I fill the salad bowl with the first spinach leaves, arugula, baby kale, chickweed, and the leaves of over-wintered chicory. My favorite salad varieties are Chicory “Bionda Folie Larghe” and Chicory “Zuccherina di Trieste”, that I found in the Seeds from Italy catalog and planted last fall. The new spring growth is mild and tender–perfect for eating raw in salads.

Because greens such as spinach, chicory, endive, and kale are stronger flavored and sturdier than lettuce, they are particularly well suited to combining with salad add-ins like slices of avocado, feta or blue cheeses, shavings of aged cheese, crumbled bacon, diced apples or pears, hard-cooked eggs, or toasted nuts. Add a scattering of tender fresh herbs (parsley, chives, mint, chervil…) and a lively citrusy dressing. Try vinaigrette made with fresh orange juice and a splash of balsamic vinegar to complement slightly bitter greens. For even more flavor, serve the salad with a bowl of spring garden pesto or salsa verde on the side. Or, don’t bother making a salad…just put little bowls of “add-ins” and pesto on the table with a platter of beautiful green leaves. Wrap whatever you choose in a leaf and pop it in your mouth. What could be more delicious?

Salsa Verde: Use a large mortar and pestle to mash together a large garlic clove and a pinch of coarse salt. Combine the garlic paste with 2 Tbs red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice, 2 tsp dijon mustard, and 3 Tbs finely chopped shallot or sweet onion. Set aside while you finely chop about 3/4 cup fresh herbs (parsley, chives, mint, chervil). Mix the herbs with 2 Tbs chopped capers and 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil. Scrape the garlic mixture into the herbs and stir well. Adjust the flavors by adding salt, black pepper, more oil or lemon juice.

Variations: Incorporate anchovies into the garlic paste. Add chopped green olives to the salsa.