pici pasta with ramps and dandelion greens

pici pasta with ramps and dandelion greens

Right around this time last year I read a cranky rant (well, okay, I guess you could say rants by nature lean toward the cranky side), can’t remember where. Someone complaining about those crazed foodies who seemed to be suffering from some kind of trendy spring fever, everywhere strewing ramps onto every inch of their food and posting pictures of the resulting culinary mayhem all over the Internets.

Now here I am offering up my gratuitous ramp post. You could call me a crazed foodie I suppose, but it has to be said that there’s a reason people go nuts for these stinky undomesticated onions.

ramps

Ramps are alliums, members of the onion family. They’re wild relatives to leeks and garlic, possessed of a certain mysterious something that makes them exciting to be around, their aroma a presence of musky funkiness that somehow makes you lean in closer, provocatively.

Like your second cousin once-removed who shows up at Sunday dinner just home with his Eurail pass; sporting long ungroomed hair and a 5 o’clock shadow a good month exposed, still shaking out sand from a longer-than-planned sojourn on that beautiful but undiscovered beach located somewhere on the coast of the former Yugoslavia.

Untamed, but something you would very much like to get to know, or better yet devour hungrily with no words spoken. I’m talking about ramps here, remember. This is a family channel.

Dandelion greens are another spring thing that pops up, gets foraged and scattered over food but dandelion greens don’t have quite the sexy cachet that a few bunches of ramps do. Could it be it’s that they don’t have that delicious dirty smell? They are also admittedly bitter and a little tough, especially closer to the stems.

dandelion greens

My grandmother would cook dandelion down to a murky brown, then saturate them with garlicky olive oil. They went on the table once the smaller people had long departed with bellies full of macaroni, meatballs and assorted pastries. It was the comfort food of her generation, and her grown children too.

I can now appreciate – and even crave – all things on the bitter taste spectrum, greens included. I prefer not to cook them down to mush, although I recognize that long, long cooking removes a bit of that. The dandelion greens you can buy in the produce section aren’t wild but cultivated, definitely milder than wild ones from the backyard.

This combination of strong greens is a good match with pasta of the same character. I love these dried thick hollow noodles from Tuscany called pici  – I found a bag recently at An Olive Ovation, a boutique olive oil store in St. Louis.

Chef Jacob Kennedy describes pici in his fantastic book The Geometry of Pasta as “almost brutish in their diameter and lack of uniformity; they go with brutish sauces…”

pici pasta

pici pasta with ramps and dandelion greens

pici pasta with ramps and dandelion greens

Yield: serves 2 - 4

Substitute bucatini or perciatelli pasta for the pici, which are similar long hollow-shaped pasta.

Ingredients

  1. 12 ounces pici, bucatini or perciatelli pasta
  2. 1 bunch ramps, root ends trimmed
  3. 1 bunch (about ½ pound) dandelion greens; washed
  4. ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  5. 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced lengthwise
  6. 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  7. Kosher salt
  8. 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or dried crushed chili

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil with 2 tablespoons kosher salt.
  2. Rinse the ramps to remove any dirt or mud. Separate the green leafy tops from the root ends; slice the greens into thin ribbons and slice the ramp stalks and bulbs thinly crosswise.
  3. Slice the woody stems off the dandelion greens until only about ½-inch remains.
  4. Heat the oil and garlic in a sauté pan until the garlic becomes fragrant and starts to sizzle (but not turn brown). Toss in the ramps and greens and move them around in the pan. Cook partially covered until the greens are wilted and softened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente – it will take a bit longer to cook than spaghetti or thinner long pasta shapes. Just before draining scoop out 1/3 cup of the pasta water and whisk into the eggs.
  6. Add the drained pasta to the sauté pan off the heat; drizzle in the eggs and toss everything together. Sprinkle with the chili and taste for more salt.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/05/pici-pasta-with-ramps-and-dandelion-greens/

fava bean ravioli

fava bean ravioli

It’s been raining so much where I live that the grass seems to have Green Giant superpowers and I’m starting to have a tiny inkling what it could be like to live in the Pacific Northwest. Notice I said “tiny”.

I realize that 2 or 3 days of back-to-back misty gray couldn’t ever compare to seemingly endless months without blue skies. It’s just that when the sun has popped out for a few minutes lately, it’s been notable. In the lights blinking on in the middle of the night during a power outage kind of way. But the upside is that the world outdoors is such a Technicolor shade of green, actually shades of green with all the chartreuse new growth exploding everywhere, that it hurts my eyes a little. In a good way, of course.

fava beans shelling and peeling fava beans
fava bean ravioli fava_bean

Verdant shades of green have been part of my cooking lately too, and I don’t expect that will fade anytime soon. And just wait – ramps are coming!

Fava beans are one of those harbingers of spring I like to grab while they last. Usually at this early point in the season favas are still pretty tiny and tender, but the ones I brought home recently were more manly in stature – big boys.  I have a feeling they were grown somewhere south of California, if you know what I mean. When the beans are bigger than a thumbnail – 1/2  inch or so – they develop more starch. Which makes them a perfect filling for ravioli.

fava bean ravioli recipe

Favas are a bit of work, but not tediously so, as shelling tiny peas can sometimes be. They require a two-step process to prepare for cooking, shucking them first from their thick-skinned velvety pods and then peeling off the tougher outer coat surrounding the bean, which simply means the cook is free to enjoy the Zen-like peaceful place of soothing repetition. If you’re into that sort of thing, I mean.

If you can find fresh pasta sheets at your local store or Italian market, making a batch of these ravioli becomes a few steps simpler.

fava bean ravioli

fava bean ravioli

Yield: about 2 dozen ravioli

Serving Size: 4 - 6

Ingredients

  1. Ravioli dough:
  2. 6 large egg yolks
  3. 3 whole large eggs
  4. 3 cups flour, all-purpose or Italian-style “00”; plus additional
  5. ½ teaspoon salt
  6. Filling:
  7. 2 ½ pounds fava beans in their pods
  8. ¼ cup finely grated Pecorino or Parmigiano cheese, plus additional
  9. 3 tablespoons drained whole milk ricotta cheese
  10. ¼ cup chopped fresh mint or Italian parsley
  11. ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  12. Salt to taste
  13. 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  14. 2 tablespoons butter
  15. 2 leeks, sliced into thin matchsticks
  16. ½ pound asparagus, sliced into ½-inch pieces

Instructions

  1. To make the ravioli dough, pulse the egg yolks, whole eggs, 3 cups flour and salt in a food processor until the dough comes together in a ball. Add more flour if the dough seems very sticky. Transfer the dough to a work surface and knead briefly until the dough is smooth. Gather into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest for an hour at room temperature.
  2. To make the filling, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Shell the favas, then drop them into the water to blanch for 2 minutes; drain. When cool enough to handle, make a small tear on the tough outer skins and peel them off. You should have about 3 cups peeled fava beans.
  3. Reserve ½ cup of the fava beans, and put the rest in a food processor along with the ricotta, grated cheese, mint and pepper. Puree to a thick, smooth consistency. Be sure to taste the mixture for salt as needed.
  4. Divide dough into 4 portions, keeping reserved dough covered while working so it doesn’t dry out. Flour the dough and roll into thin 3-inch wide sheets on a pasta machine (I stop at setting 6 on my hand-cranked Atlas). Trim the sheets into workable sections about 2 feet long and place on a lightly floured surface.
  5. Form the fava filling into small balls about 1-inch in diameter and arrange 1 inch apart in the center of pasta sheet. Make an egg wash with an egg white and a drop of water, and brush over the dough all around the filling. Fold dough lengthwise over the filling, pressing gently between each ravioli and pinching to seal along the open edge.
  6. Cut the ravioli with a fluted cutter or use a pizza cutter if you don’t have one. Transfer the ravioli to a floured tray and refrigerate until ready to cook.
  7. Heat the olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat. Sweat the leeks with a pinch of salt until soft; add the asparagus, cover and cook 2 minutes, until tender but still bright green. Remove from heat and stir in the reserved fava beans.
  8. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the ravioli in about 6 at a time and cook until they float to the surface, usually less than 3 minutes. Remove ravioli using a slotted spoon or mesh skimmer and keep warm; transfer to a serving bowl and combine with the sauce. Serve right away with more grated cheese alongside.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/05/fava-bean-ravioli/

sweet pea bruschetta, ricotta and mint

sweet pea bruschetta with ricotta, mint and pecorino

I’ve been wanting to eat at the restaurant A16 for a few years now, and I finally had a chance to go there while I was San Francisco earlier this month.

I dove into the absolutely amazing wine list,  carefully curated by wine director Shelley Lindgren, which contains literally hundreds of Italian labels, so many I’ve never tasted (yet).  If I were lucky to live anywhere near A16, I’d consider drinking wine there as much as possible. It would be an educational journey through Italy by way of wine, and I wouldn’t need a passport.

I sipped a Negroni while studying the list, tasting my starter, a sweet pea bruschetta that could have been a meal all by itself.

sweet pea bruschetta with ricotta, mint and pecorino

Firebrand, a brick oven bakery in Oakland, makes the bread served at A16. It’s the kind of bread that I crave every day. The crust is thick, dark and chewy, with a smoky hint of char. The interior crumb is dense, moist and full of flavor. Cooks at A16 toast the bread in their wood-fired oven before assembling the bruschetta, so it’s like a double-down of deliciousness.

The toppings on the bruschetta the night I was there were house-made ricotta, mashed sweet peas and preserved lemon-mint pesto. Every course I had after that was great, but it was that bruschetta I keep thinking about.

fresh mint

I did my best in this recipe recreation, but – poor me! – lacking a wood-fired oven, fantastic handmade bread and ricotta, it really does earn the label “inspiration”.

Despite the relative poverty of ingredients and firewood, my version took the edge off an urge to book another flight west. It’s fresh pea season somewhere, but not where I live, so I used frozen peas. I think they are a very fine substitute – and I have to say maybe even better than fresh ones. Sometimes after all the work of shucking peas, I find them starchy, hard and not very sweet.

The one element that came from “home” was mint, which has been stubbornly, happily green and thriving in my garden all winter.

sweet pea bruschetta with ricotta, mint and pecorino

sweet pea bruschetta with ricotta, mint and pecorino

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  1. 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  2. 1 cup shelled peas, fresh or frozen
  3. Salt
  4. Extra virgin olive oil
  5. Fresh ground black pepper
  6. 4 ¾-inch thick slices crusty bread
  7. 1 garlic clove
  8. Handful fresh mint leaves, sliced thin
  9. 2 ounce chunk Pecorino Romano cheese

Instructions

  1. Drain the ricotta for an hour in a fine mesh colander or cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl.
  2. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil; add a teaspoon salt and the peas. Cook 1 or 2 minutes; drain and transfer to a bowl. Mash the peas to a coarse consistency using a potato masher or wooden spoon along with 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil, pepper and salt to taste.
  3. Heat a griddle or grill to medium high heat. Brush the bread on both sides with olive oil and toast until dark golden brown on both sides. Remove the toasted bread from the griddle and scrape the garlic clove over the tops.
  4. Spread some ricotta over the bread, sprinkle with mint and spoon some peas over. Use a vegetable peeler to shave Pecorino cheese over each bruschetta. Drizzle with olive oil before serving warm or at room temperature
http://familystylefood.com/2013/04/sweet-pea-bruschetta-ricotta-and-mint/