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 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.
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…”
Substitute bucatini or perciatelli pasta for the pici, which are similar long hollow-shaped pasta.
12 ounces pici, bucatini or perciatelli pasta
1 bunch ramps, root ends trimmed
1 bunch (about ½ pound) dandelion greens; washed
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced lengthwise
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or dried crushed chili
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil with 2 tablespoons kosher salt.
- 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.
- Slice the woody stems off the dandelion greens until only about ½-inch remains.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.