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

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

Kosher salt

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

Ravioli dough:

6 large egg yolks

3 whole large eggs

3 cups flour, all-purpose or Italian-style “00”; plus additional

½ teaspoon salt

Filling:

2 ½ pounds fava beans in their pods

¼ cup finely grated Pecorino or Parmigiano cheese, plus additional

3 tablespoons drained whole milk ricotta cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh mint or Italian parsley

½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

2 leeks, sliced into thin matchsticks

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/

asparagus risotto verde

asparagus risotto verde

Mother Nature dropped more snow last weekend than we’ve had in something like thirty years, but that’s no reason to believe that the vernal equinox hasn’t in fact occurred, right on schedule.

Besides, the snow has almost completely melted already and there’s been a pair of busy cardinals right outside my window, getting their nest ready for…new carpeting?

Melissa Clark’s latest recipe feature in the New York Times is all about the comforts of pale (read:white) food. Maybe that’s what inspired my green risotto; all I know is that I imagined eating a bowl of something that looked and tasted of springtime.

asparagus risotto verde

I had hopes of laying hands on some asparagus. Lucky me! – my local grocery store has gorgeous, fat bunches from California on sale for $1.99 a pound (heads up, Saint Louis readers).

I’ve been getting comfortably reacquainted with one of my favorite cookbook authors, Marcella Hazan. Her basic risotto recipe is a standard in my cooking, but once I’d envisioned a particular very, very verde shade of green, I had to stray a bit from her method; stirring and cooking the risotto with the asparagus in it.

Nothing wrong with that, but by the time the risotto is done the asparagus has taken on a dull gray-green color; not exactly the intense, chlorophyll color of my springtime dreams.

I employed a color-saving culinary trick instead: blanch the asparagus, then puree the stalks immediately with a bit of parsley or spinach. This not only preserves the greenness, but really intensifies the flavor of the finished dish. I add the beautiful, tender tips to the risotto at the end.

verde asparagus puree blanched asparagus

Here are a few things to take away from Marcella regarding the techniques of a classic risotto:

  • Use a mild-flavored brodo, or light broth, as the cooking liquid; it will reduce and become more concentrated as it cooks down and becomes absorbed by the rice. A rich meat or even vegetable stock will overwhelm the delicacy of the risotto and become “distracting” to the balance of flavors.
  • The type of rice used to make risotto is important. Special varieties familiar to cooks as Arborio, as well as Carnaroli and Vialone Nano, are all defined by short grains and the amount of starch surrounding the kernels. You can use any kind of rice (or grain, for that matter) in the method of risotto-making, but there’s probably some Italian law ready to decree that what you have is a pot of boiled rice, not the true, creamy amalgamation of rice, broth, butter and Parmigiano known as risotto. Don’t blame me! Italians can get testy on this subject.
  • Finally, use the right pot to cook risotto. I almost always use an enameled cast iron Le Creuset casserole. Marcella advises that lightweight pans “are not suitable” because they will not retain heat at a moderate level. Moderation is key. A heavy 18/10 stainless-steel clad type of pan will work just fine.

asparagus risotto verde

asparagus risotto verde

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

For brodo (optional – use 2 cups light chicken or vegetable broth diluted with 2 cups water if you’d rather):

1 peeled carrot

1 small onion, peeled and halved

1 small fennel bulb or 2 celery stalks; roughly chopped

1 garlic clove

1 very small ( less than 2-inches diameter) waxy potato, peeled and chopped

For risotto:

1 pound asparagus

Handful parsley tops or spinach leaves

Salt

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

½ cup finely chopped shallot or onion

½ cup pinot grigio (or other dry, white wine)

1 cup Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice

4 cups brodo or light broth, as noted above

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana cheese

Fresh lemon juice from half a lemon

Thinly sliced red radish, watercress and fennel fronds (optional) for garnish

Instructions

  1. Make the brodo: put all ingredients into a large saucepan and cover with 5 cups water. Bring to a simmer; lower heat and cook 30 minutes. Strain the brodo into another pan and keep warm.
  2. To make the risotto: Bring a small pan of salted water to a boil. Trim off the bottom inch of the asparagus and discard. Cut off the first 3 inches of the tips; slice the remaining stalks into 1-inch lengths. Drop the tips into the water and cook 1 minute; remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl filled with ice water. Drop the chopped stalks into the boiling water and cook exactly 3 minutes. Immediately remove the stalks with a slotted spoon and put in a blender along with the parsley or spinach. Add a pinch of salt and ½ cup of the cooking water and puree until very smooth.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon butter and the oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat until the butter melts and sizzles (but doesn’t turn brown); add the shallot and 1 teaspoon salt and cook it softened, 1 minute or so. Add the rice and stir to coat with the fat, cook until the rice begins to crackle, 1 minute.
  4. Pour in the wine, stir it around and boil until it’s evaporated. Pour in 2 cups of the brodo; bring to a steady bubble (not a violent boil) and cook until absorbed, stirring frequently for 7 – 10 minutes.
  5. Add another cup of brodo, another ½ teaspoon salt and continue cooking until almost absorbed. Watch carefully at this point – the rice will be nearly ready when the grains have swelled in volume and the liquid becomes thickened. Taste the rice – it should be tender all around, and very slightly al dente at the core. Add more liquid if needed, ¼ cup at a time until you feel it’s done. There should be some thick, starchy liquid still left in the pot. You might not use all the brodo.
  6. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the reserved asparagus puree, remaining butter and half the cheese. Stir in the lemon juice and taste the risotto for seasoning, adding more salt to taste if needed. Gently stir in the asparagus tips.
  7. Serve in bowls, topping each one with some radish, watercress and fennel fronds with additional cheese on the side.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/03/asparagus-risotto-verde/