Forage & Feast: Pickled Ramp Martinis
To my untrained eye, the park in Yonkers seemed scrubby patch alongside the MetroNorth train track. My foraging companions saw a lavish spring dinner sprouting amidst the trees.
Instead of collecting eggs, I decided to spend Easter collecting and cooking spring greens in the company of seven trowel-toting strangers. Forage & Feast, hosted by Jonathan of Lab 24/7 and Marc of No Recipes, sent a group of food lovers traipsing through the suburban woods in search of ramps, stinging nettles and fiddlehead ferns.
I’ve never cooked with any of these ingredients, let alone plucked them from nature, so I was grateful for the talented group, which included several food bloggers and a professional chef. Armed with bags, gloves and a love of bad puns (Rampage anyone? Anyone?) we swept through Yonkers like Sherman through Georgia.
Several hours later, with bulging sacks, we decamped to the Lab to prepare a feast. The menu included:
- Ramptinis. Vodka martinis with spicy pickled ramps
- Ramp Melting Moments. Parmesan shortbread cookie with creme fraiche and a broiled ramp.
- Forest Tempura. Fiddleheads, nettles, and ramps covered in a light tempura batter and deep fried. Served with yuzu salt and red shiso salt.
- Spring Scallops. Seared sea scallops on a vanilla sunchoke puree. Topped with a spring fricassée of fava beans, ramps, fiddleheads, and asparagus.
- Nettle Pasta Carbonara. Fresh nettle pappardelle, tossed with fiddleheads, guanciale, egg, olive oil and Parmesan.
- Braised Pork Belly with Ramp Pickles. Spice cured pork belly, served over sauteeed ramps and morel mushrooms, topped with caramel and pickled ramps.
- Ice Cream with Nettle Crème Anglaise. Caramelized juniper meringue cups filled with frozen cream and drizzled with nettles.
Let’s start with the ramptinis. Stephane from Zen Can Cook had the genius insight to mix up a batch of these spicy spears several days earlier, so they were in their pickled prime. He used the white part of the ramps – slender shoots that taste like mild garlic – for a martini topper like a pearl onion with major punch.
Our appetites whetted by the martinis, we turned to the amuse. We topped these magical cookies, known as melting moments for the way they dissolve on the tongue, with crème fraische, lemon and broiled ramps, which smelled of sweet roasted garlic.
By this point, I was so smitten by our ramps that I was composing happy, Seuss-like songs in my head.
I will eat them in a car.
I will eat them from a jar.
I will eat them from a can.
I will eat them from a pan.
Look, we kicked off with ramptinis, ok? What do you want from me?
Which brings me to the next course – nettle pasta. Armed with thick rubber gloves, I and Giff from Constable’s Larder cleaned the nasty little weed for hours (ok, seemed like hours), while I wondered why we were going to such great lengths for something that was doing its best to sting us. But we persevered and blanched it into behaving, where it disappeared into long, smooth sheets of fresh paparadelle.
Now I would love to wax poetic about the rest of the dishes: the creamy sunchokes, traditionally eaten by the French during the war; the forest tempura, which battered (ha!) the nettles into submission; the juniper merengue cups that smelled faintly of gin; the delectable pork belly that dissolved into the caramel ramp glaze; the surprising nettle ice cream sauce, which tasted of sweet, herbal green tea.
But my pictures ended when the sun, and several glasses of wine, disappeared, so for further documentation of our decadent dinner, check out these great sites:
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with Stephane’s recipe for killer picked ramps, which he was kind enough to share. Thanks again to everyone for an amazing day!
From Stephane, Zen Can Cook
3 bunches of ramps, white parts only
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup bottled water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/2 T. kosher salt
1 tablespoon each coriander seed, mustard seed, black peppercorns, fennel seed
1 dried hot chile pepper or dried chili flakes
Clean ramps and separate white from green, reserving greens for another use.
Prepare brine, bringing vinegar, water, sugar, honey and salt to a boil for 1 minute. Add dried spices and remove from the heat for 1 minute.
Blanch ramp bottoms in heavily salted water (should taste salty like sea water) for 1-2 minutes. Drain and cool quickly using ice and running cold water.
Pour brine over ramps and let sit for 3-5 days, after which you should use them or prepare them for storing.