Q: Do you have a good easy recipe for ramps? What are ramps, anyway?
A: Glad you asked.
Ramps are wild baby leeks that grow exclusively between the Atlantic and the Mississippi from Canada to the Carolinas. A member of the Allium genus, ramps resemble a scallion with broader leaves. They taste a little bit garlicky and a little bit savory, a welcome taste of sweetness after a cold and dreary winter. Ramps are the first sign that spring is here, so I am never happier than when I see ramps for the first time each season.
The beauty of ramps is that they are only in season for eight weeks a year. As a cook who gets excited about wild foraged foods, I love the transience of ramps. For the few short weeks during which they are available, I put ramps in everything.
Last weekend, Susi, Leo and I went north to pick ramps in the Columbia County woods. At a Manhattan farmer's market, these little leeks sell for $22 per pound. In the woods, ramps grow like weeds.
During late April and early May, New York chefs go crazy for ramps. They are without a doubt the trendiest of the lilies (so prevalent on restaurant menus that they made the New York Times Sunday Magazine's "Meh" list). Ramps benefit from their exceptional versatility. Ramps can be served whole or chopped; grilled, sauteed or pickled; with eggs, chicken, or fish.
Choose ramps that are firm with bright-colored greenery. Wrap them tightly in moist paper towels and place them in a loosely closed paper bag and refrigerate for up to a week. Trim the root ends just before cooking.
May is the latter half of ramp season. To preserve the transient taste of spring, we pickle ramps to use throughout the year. Pickled ramps can be kept in the fridge for up to two weeks or they can be canned or shelf-stored and saved for up to a year.
This dish is as simple as it gets: al dente noodles with fresh garlicky ramps, chili for heat, and breadcrumbs for texture. It's the perfect zing for early spring.
Spaghetti with Ramps
1 pound dry spaghetti or linguini
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces fresh ramps
Kosher salt, to taste
1-2 tablespoons red chili flakes
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt. Add the spaghetti to the pot and cook according to the package instructions, until tender but still al dente.
Heat olive oil in a 12- to 14-inch sautÃ© pan over medium high heat. Separate ramps by the white root ends and the leafy green top. Add root ends to the pan and sautÃ© until tender.
Add salt and chili flakes. At the very end, add the greens and sautÃ© until wilted. Drain pasta and add it to the sautÃ© pan. Toss gently to coat the pasta with the sauce.
Divide pasta evenly among four warmed plates. Drizzle olive oil over top and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
(Mario Batali is the award-winning chef behind twenty-four restaurants including Eataly, DelPosto, and his flagship Greenwich Village enoteca, Babbo. In this column, Mario answers questions submitted via social media and by people he encounters daily in Downtown Manhattan. Keep asking!)Copyright © 2015, CT Now