Last Saturday, a dear friend dropped by unexpectedly and delivered a fabulous, edible present that was local– very local. It wasn’t honey, or fish caught in the Sound, it wasn’t even a vegetable that he had cared for and grown on his patio. It was something that he had foraged. I’m not even sure why, but this made it all the more exciting– I was thrilled! Inside an old shopping bag, was a jumble of dirty ramps, the roots still clinging to the rocky soil in which they were buried.
For those of you who are not familiar with ramps, they are also called wild leeks, but I think that they have a taste all their own. It is a bit like green garlic– delicate and highly fragrant. However, they are far too pungent to be eaten raw. But when cooked they are mellow and sweet, recalling the flavors of onion and garlic.
Now I had cooked with ramps before, but they had always been purchased at a farmers’ market. I let my local farmer do the dirty work for me. When we lived in New York, I would buy them during the few short weeks of availability at the Union Square Greenmarket. There they would be virtually clean, tied together with a rubber band, and laying in piles in a wooden crate. They were rather expensive– but now I an see why. My friend had been on a hike when he had noticed the willowy, green stalks sprouting up all around him. He bent down to pick a few. He tugged, and the buggers would not budge. He dug, freed the stones that clung to the roots, and after a few moments was rewarded with a single ramp. From what I understand, foraging for ramps can be an arduous task.
But from his labor, I reaped the rewards in the form of a ramp gratin.
These ramps were beautiful– plump white bulbs with pristine greens unfurled like a beacon of spring. And another wonderful thing about this gift? They were plentiful. In the past I have been rather stingy when it came to my ramps. I would grill them in a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of Kosher salt. Each diner would get a few. But with my abundant delivery, all of this changed.
After cleaning and trimming my ramps, I blanched them in boiling, salted water. I then cut them into sizable pieces, and set them aside while I made a bechamel sauce out of milk and a bit of the blanching liquid. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t lose one bit of the garlicky-green onion flavor. Carefully I folded the ramps into the bechamel, sprinkled with fresh breadcrumbs and a grating of Parmesan cheese and popped the gratin in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, until it was piping hot and bubbling.
Then I dug in. I even shared some with my husband. So now I wonder– what will my friend deliver to me next?