The appearance of ramps, wild baby leeks, signifies the arrival of Spring. Chefs and foodies excitedly await the first ramps of the season and sometimes even freak out about ramps.
Perhaps the biggest influence of ramps is their role in the naming of the city of Chicago. According to Wikipedia, Chicago is a French rendering of the Native American word for wild onion, shikaakwa.
Ramps kind of look like a scallion with purple/red stems topped with broad green leaves and taste somewhere between onions and garlic. When cooking ramps, it is important not to overwhelm their earthy, delicate flavor.
David Chang of Momofuku fame likes to pickle ramps. Others prefer to grill, braise, or roast ramps. My inspiration for dinner came from Mario Batali's recipe for spaghetti with ramps from Babbo.
The dish was simple but elegant. I gently sautéed the thinly sliced bulbs and stalks of the ramps in butter and good olive oil. I then added the ramp leaves, briefly sautéing until the leaves wilted. I tossed in the spaghetti and sprinkled fresh bread crumbs toasted in olive oil on top.
The fragrant dish certainly highlighted the unique, delicate flavors of the ramps. The fresh bread crumbs added a lovely texture to the dish.
Spaghetti with Ramps (adapted from Mario Batali)
1 bunch of ramps, about 12-15
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
Maldon or other flaky salt
1/2 lb spaghetti
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs toasted in olive oil (see recipe below)
Cook spaghetti just before al dente in salted water. Drain and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.
Thoroughly clean the ramps, removing the translucent husk over the bulb if necessary. Thinly slice the bulb and stems, reserving the leaves.
In a large sauté pan, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat until butter foams. Sauté the bulbs and stems of the ramps until soft but not browned, about 4-5 minutes. Season lightly with Maldon or other flaky salt.
Add ramp leaves and cook until leaves are wilted, about a minute.Transfer spaghetti to sauté pan with 2 tbsp reserved pasta water. Toss gently to coat well, and if necessary, increase heat to high to evaporate the liquid.
Transfer to plates and dust with fresh bread crumbs toasted in olive oil (see recipe below). If desire, top with freshly grated pecorino romano. I didn't find it necessary to add cheese.
Bread crumbs toasted in olive oil
Tear 2 slices of good rustic bread into roughly 1" pieces. Grind in a food processor to coarse size leaving some pieces slightly larger. In a small sauté pan, heat 1/2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat until hot. Add 1/4 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs and toast until golden, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a plate and let cool.