one of the first signs of spring...a little early if you ask me...here goes...
Maybe it's human nature, but as a chef I am always looking forward to the next season. For example I really enjoy working with the bounty at the end of the summer. And then, I find myself pining for the squashes and fruit and mushrooms of the fall.
You can't wait to get it and as soon as you do you start looking forward to the next thing. Like a kid at Christmas, ripping open the most awesome present. Then throwing it over your shoulder to rip open the next one.
The culinary calender and the traditional calender are a bit different. Most people think in terms of four seasons. A very talented Chef and Restauranteur named Alfred Portale wrote a cook book based on the 12 seasons. The premise being that, with the food we eat, each month brings a batch of new seasonal ingredients.
In May we get local asparagus. For 5-6 weeks I eat asparagus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then come June, I don't eat asparagus for another 11 seasons. I move on.
Next up Strawberries. And so on...
I will say that winter is the longest season for me as a chef. After the glow of the holidays wears off and I settle into things, cooking the roots over and over gets a little tiring. Of course there are highlights. The truffles, game and cured meats help us through the cold dark days of winter. But, really and if you ask any Chef, I think we all agree on one thing. We can't wait for spring!
Bright green and fresh. The menu gets a little lighter and more vibrant.
Which brings me to the featured ingredient of the day. Ramps!
The ramp is a wild leek. It grows throughout North America, from the Carolinas to Canada. The aroma and flavor are like a combination of leeks, garlic and chives.
Ramps usually spring up, pardon the pun, in mid April. They are one of the first things to let us know that spring is here. Along with sorrel, and garlic mustard it means that it's time to change the menu.
My friend Kirk Avondoglio, an owner and chef at Perona Farms in Andover, taught me how to locate and harvest ramps. When I told him last week that the ramps in my favorite spot were 4-5 inches high he said "bullshit! It's to early." But, it's true. The weather that we have had has forced everything to start early this year.
Kinda cool from the creative/culinary perspective. It does make me wonder whats in store for our next 11 seasons though.
If you can get your hands on some...
while you are bringing some water to boil to cook linguine...
a little bacon or pancetta over medium heat to render the fat.
add the bottoms of the ramps after they have been cleaned. Saute for a few minutes.
then add the tops, a splash of white wine, some cream and reduce. add a swirl of truffle butter. Check seasoning. Finish with grated cheese, toasted bread crumbs, and some chopped chives or garlic mustard.
I like to enjoy a dish like this with an Italian white like a Greco de Tufo or a nice Albarino from Spain.