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Sautéed Asparagus and Ramps

Do you know what the first sign of spring is in these parts?  No, it’s not crocuses blossoming or daffodils blooming or birds trilling merrily.  It’s RAMPS!!!  This year, I caved into the excitement and picked up a bunch of them to try with another spring vegetable – Asparagus – to make Sautéed Asparagus and Ramps to celebrate the season.

Every year, when Ramps, also called wild garlic or wild leek, arrive in the Greenmarkets and start popping up on restaurant dishes, it’s like some frenzy or RAMP-O-RAMA takes hold in New York.  Ramp-Watch starts up shortly after Easter and then full-blown RAMP-A-PALOOZA happens shortly thereafter.

I’ve watched this for several years.  The Tweets go out that ramps have arrived in the market and which vendor is carrying them.  People line up, and the second the bundles hit the table, they are snapped up by the eager hoards.  Pickled Ramps, Spaghetti with Ramps, Ramp Pizza, Ramps dipped in chocolate and covered with sprinkles, Ramp & Bacon Cupcakes, Fried Ramps with Beer, you get the idea. (O.k., so I made the last three of them up, but it is just a matter of time before someone makes them, or even Ramp Ice Cream.)  Even Eater commented on it this year.

Personally, although I was pleased to see Ramps in the market when I dropped on Wednesday, I was even more excited to see ASPARAGUS!  This is a phrase my mother would have been shocked to see when I was a child as I wouldn’t go near the things, no way, no how.  My parents, however, used to eat frozen or canned asparagus which take on the same slimy, stringy consistency and grey-green color that canned green beans do, so I was always completely repulsed by them.  Then, as an adult, I learned that asparagus could be bright, crunchy, vibrantly verdant.  Now, each year, I eagerly gather them up from the moment they are in season, until I can no longer track them down anywhere at a local farmers market.

So, I decided to see what I could come up with if I paired these two springtime treats together.  The chronic issue I’ve run into when cooking Ramps in the past is that the bottom part takes longer to get tender than the leaves at the top.  My solution to this is to treat the white bulb and tougher part of the stem as I would garlic or onions.  The green, tender portion of the vegetable, I made into a chiffonade and used it as I would parsley or  basil or any other fresh herb.  That way, I could use all of the goodness of the ramps and bring out the white’s more garlic-y flavor and the top’s more grassy, onion-y contrast all at the same time.  Maybe Peas will come into season soon so I can see how well they work with Ramps, too.

Sautéed Asparagus and Ramps

Prep time: 15 minutes

Serving Size: 2 portions

Ingredients:

5-7 Ramp bulbs with leaves (You will want to have 1 Tbsp. of the white part and 5-6 leaves of the green part for this recipe.)

14-16 Asparagus spears (the most tender you can find)

1/2 tsp. Salt

1 tsp. Unsalted Butter

1/4 tsp. Salt

1/8 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground

Assembly:

Rinse any dirt off the ramps by putting them under running water.  Cut off root end of ramp and discard (or compost) them.  Pull off the extra skin that might be on the white part of the ramp, and discard or compost that part, too.  (It’s sort of like the papery piece that is on the end of scallions.)

Finely chop white part and any tough green part of the ramps.  Separately, slice the leafy, green part of the ramp in to strips or chiffonade.  You will want to have 1 Tbsp. of the white part and 5-6 leaves of the green part for this recipe.  Save any of the remaining green part for another dish.

Rinse the asparagus to get rid of any dirt or sand.  Trim the ends of the asparagus either by cutting the bottoms of them off with a knife or (my favorite method) bending them several inches from the bottom of the spear find the point at which it breaks off.  It will give a satisfying snap, sort of like popping bubbles of bubble wrap, where the tender part starts and the woody, harder to eat part ends.  Discard or compost those bottom bits.

Put a saucepan of water on to boil.  When it has reached boiling point, add 1/2 tsp. salt and let the water come back up to a boil.

While the asparagus are cooking, put a frying or sauté pan on the stove over medium-low heat (not blazing) and melt the butter in the pan.

Check the asparagus to see if they are ready.  The asparagus should be done by the time all of the butter has melted and is foamy.  A fork or knife should easily pierce the spears, but they should not start to come apart.

Add the white part of the ramps to the butter and toss to coat in the fat.  Cook for about 30 seconds, until you start to smell the an essence of garlic coming from the mixture.

Add the asparagus and toss them with the ramps and the butter to coat them thoroughly.  They don’t need much cooking, this step is more to incorporate all the flavors, so you can move immediately to the next step.

Add the green tops of the ramps.  These delicate leaves will cook very quickly.  Toss them with the asparagus and the white part of the ramps.  Season with the remaining 1/4 tsp. of salt and the black pepper.  Toss again to incorporate the seasonings.  Turn off the heat and serve at once.

The vibrant colors along with the delicate, herby aroma, sort of like the wind brushing through a field of onion grass, is enough to waken the senses from the sleep of winter.  This is delicious as a side dish, could be a perfect appetizer portion or (as I discovered with the leftovers) is ideal for folding into an omelette.

Buon appetito!