Wednesday, April 29, 2009

ramping it up

I know you've all been anxiously awaiting the big reveal. I promised you a farmer's market-inspired spring dinner, so without further ado, here goes:

Springtime supper
Meyer lemon soda
Asparagus, prosciutto, and fried eggs with ramp pesto
Strawberries with rose petal jam

This menu is tasty but light, which is what I'm always in the mood for this time of year. And it's also quick enough to throw together on a weeknight, on the off chance people are coming over after work. A recipe for the asparagus, prosciutto, and fried eggs isn't really necessary. It's one of those great dishes that was born out of what happened to be in the fridge and can be easily thrown together. But it looks and tastes way better than the sum of its parts.

Here's what you do: blanch a bunch of trimmed asparagus (throw them in boiling water for about five minutes, then drain the asparagus and submerge them in ice water), while you fry up a few eggs in a pat of butter. I like two eggs per person for a main dish, but one egg per person could work if you're serving other things. Divide the asparagus up among your plates and drape a few slices of prosciutto prettily over the spears. Top with the fried eggs, a shaving of parmesan, and a few dollops of garlic-y, onion-y, ramp pesto.

A few quick words about ramps (a.k.a. wild leeks). In the April issue, Bon Appetit offers a few helpful hints on working with them, mainly removing the slippery film that covers the end of the bulb. Otherwise, you can treat ramps like spring onions or leeks. Just chop off the roots, and use the bulbs and leaves. To make the pesto, you briefly sauté the stems and bulbs, then puree them with the leaves, some tarragon, and the usual pesto suspects: cheese, nuts, and olive oil. But this isn't your typical basil pesto.

Ramps have a pungent, spicy flavor that lingers well beyond dinner. Needless to say Dan and I weren't smelling like roses after this meal. I actually woke up the next morning with the taste of ramps still in my mouth. (TMI?) But like lots of delicious, stinky foods, they are well worth it. And if you and your partner are the only ones eating, then who cares, really? Otherwise, mouthwash recommended.

Ramp pesto
I made a few tweaks to the recipe, from Bon Appetit. I substituted parmesan cheese for Asiago and pine nuts for Marcona almonds because that's what I had on hand. I also added a squeeze of lemon in the end, for some much-needed acidity. And I mixed the cheese by hand, which creates a nicer texture, in my opinion. In the original recipe, the pesto is served with seared salmon and linguine, if you have leftovers and need inspiration.
(Serves about 6 people)

2 Tbsp. plus 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
2/3 cup thinly sliced trimmed ramp bulbs and slender stems plus 3 cups thinly sliced green tops (from about 8 ounces ramps)
1 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese (I used parmesan)
1/3 cup Marcona almonds (I used 1/2 cup pine nuts)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1/2 lemon, juiced

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2/3 cup ramp bulbs and stems to skillet and sauté just until soft but not browned, reducing heat if necessary to prevent browning, about 5 minutes. Transfer sautéed ramps to processor. Add green tops, nuts, and tarragon to processor; process until finely chopped. With machine running, gradually add 1/2 cup oil and puree until almost smooth. Transfer pesto to bowl. Add the cheese and lemon juice and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Strawberries with rose petal jam
I realize that rose petal jam isn't something most people have on hand. I didn't have any myself, but my mom bought a jar while she was visiting us, and then realized it was more than three ounces so she couldn't take it on the plane. Her loss, my gain.

I've been devouring (literally and figuratively) the recipes in David Tanis' cookbook, A Platter of Figs. It's full of delicious-sounding dishes and is organized by menu, which I find really helpful and inspiring, even if I don't always make everything he suggests in the order he suggests. And even though he's an Alice Waters devotee, his voice and cooking style is very down to earth.

One recipe, which is so simple I almost flipped right past it, is for rose-scented strawberries. He writes that strawberries are botanically related to roses (interesting, right?) and that they taste wonderful together. After reading that, I immediately bought some berries and cracked open Mom's jam. It was the next best thing to rose water, I figured, so I mixed about a half a cup of jam into a pint of sliced strawberries. And he was right. While the jam has a very subtle, floral, honey-like flavor, it melded extremely well with the berries. Not to sound corny, but it was absolutely ambrosial. If you have some actual rose water on hand, I'd love to know how it goes.

Rose-scented strawberries
Here is the original recipe. I substituted about 1/2 cup rose petal jam for the sugar, rose water and kirsch.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)

2 pints organic strawberries
Kirsch (fruit brandy)
Organic rose syrup

Rinse the berries briefly in cold water and lay them on a kitchen towel. Discard any imperfect fruit (or make jam out of it). With a paring knife or huller, remove the leaves and cores, taking care to leave the natural berry shape. Cut large berries into wedges or slices. Cover and keep at room temperature until ready to serve. Just before serving, put the berries into a mixing bowl, sprinkle lightly with sugar, splash with a little kirsch. Add 2 teaspoons rose syrup and toss gently until all is glistening. Put the berries in a beautiful bowl and take them to the table. [Aren't his recipes so poetic?]


Ulla said...

OMG that looks wonderful! so smart too, I am having a bit of a brain fart when it comes to spring seasonal cooking, i am looking forward to june:P

Pink of Perfection said...

oh. wow. this all looks so seductively springy and your tweaks to the ramp pesto sound like they would make it even better. i'm sort of speechless right now. i think i need a meyer lemon soda to get my voice back. ;)

Anonymous said...

Creative use for the jam!
What about inventing a
rose petal salad dressing??

Lisa said...

Ulla: I know. As much as I love spring, summer produce is where it's at.

POP: Thanks! "Seductively springy"...that's me.

Anony: Hmm..I'll have to think about that one. The jam is so sweet I can't really see using it in a salad that's savory. I could see using it with protein somehow, though.

Mike said...

Hey Lisa,
I make pesto all the time because it seems to be a very forgiving food. I had basil, kale and cilantro that needed to be used, and I added walnuts and some lemon and garlic, and I too mixed the cheese (parmigiano regiano) by hand. I wasn't sure what using kale would do the taste but it was great! I'm gonna try your recipe next time! :)

Lisa said...

Hey Mike! Yes, pesto is SO forgiving. I think the worst thing you can do is over process it, but I've definitely still eaten bowls of mushy pesto. So clever that you used kale and walnuts! I'll have to try your method the next time I have some extra leafy veggies hanging around.

Daniel said...

I like a mint and parsley pesto myself.

This ramp pesto was very flavorful, but please heed Lisa's warning: you may need to wear a Hazmat suit the rest of the evening.

Crystal said...

Gotta love ramps! I just went on a cooking spree with them and although they aren't my favorite thing, something just feels exciting about cooking with ramps.

Lisa said...

Cafe Cyan: Yes, totally. I think it's being so desperate for spring and new produce to try. I did like the pesto, though.

Realflowergirl said...

I always have a pot of rose petal jam as I make it each summer from garden roses.
So interesting about strwberries and roses being related - I had no idea that was true. 2 weeks to go until our English roses can be picked and then when the strawberries come out I'll be trying this recipe!

Lisa said...

Hi Realflowergirl,
Your blog is beautiful! I am so jealous that you make your own rose petal jam--wow. Please let me know what you think of it with the strawberries!


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