Green Gold


The ramps are up, and my tastebuds are happy!

Spring is definitely here!

On Saturday, at the farmer’s market, I came upon a nice young couple selling little bundles of freshly cut ramp greens as well as pesto made from ramps. Of course, I had to buy some, even though I knew I would be going out to our old house the next day to divide the perennials and bring some of them back to the new house.

I figured that if the ramps were up in Athens county, they likely were up in Licking as well; they are cold weather beasties, and the fact that Licking is a good bit north would play in their favor, rather than against them.


Detail of ramp leaves showing the brilliant spring green color and silken texture.

I was right. On Sunday, the first thing I did when I got out of the car was peer over the edge of the ravine in search of clumps of brilliant green lance-shaped leaves. I was not disappointed; clumps of green gold waited down in the bottomlands near the creek, half buried in last fall’s leaf litter, thier violet and white roots cooled in the rich woodland soil.

So, I capered off with Zak to dig up irises, coral bells, foxglove, primroses, violets, bugleweed, forget me nots and foamflower from our huge perennial beds. (I am so going to miss that garden, but that is another story entirely.) But in the back of my mind, I kept giggling, “The ramps are up.”

I ended up not gathering as many as I would have liked; we spent a longer amount of time digging up a huge amount of flower plants, and so I ended up just dashing down and carefully digging up a single clump. Which I promptly, upon dashing out of the car at the new house an hour and a half later, plunked down into the cool clay soil of the tiny strip of woods that borders our new house, in an attempt to try and establish them here.

I woke up this morning and checked on them. They are notoriously hard to transplant, but thus far, the leaves still stand, verdant and upright.

I still have many more plants to transplant today; hence the short post.

Last night, we had planned to cook on the grill, but we took too long with our digging up and transplanting mission; we were finishing our quick planting of the more tender plants last night in the dark and by the fitful light of the landscaping lamps. By that time, I realized that I had no idea where the grill brush was for the grill, and we were both too tired to go digging around in the huge number of boxes in the basement in the hopes of finding it.

So, I came up with plan number two:

Pasta.

I have been on a pasta kick, as you might well have guessed from my previous post about puttanesca. It is probably because it is springtime and I always head toward lighter fair as the days grow warmer. Besides, it is quick, and what we needed last night was something quick and simple, because we were both famished and tired from digging and planting.

So, I dug about in my freezer and came up with a treasure: the last batch of pesto from the late fall harvest of basil.

Every year, I plant a huge amount of basil in my yard and on my deck. That is because Zak and I adore pesto. He first had it in Italy back in the late 1980′s, when he traveled there in college; I had it first when I read the recipe in Paula Wolfert’s book, Mediterranean Cooking, and had to make it, because it sounded so delicious. Unlike my forays into Whorehouse Spaghetti (maybe I should give the recipe for that here someday?) I stuck pretty true to classical Genovese pesto, though I often left out the pine nuts because I couldn’t always find them, and often the cheese was of a lesser quality because I was poor. But the basil and the garlic, those were always there in copious amounts.

So, each summer, I have planted enough basil to make one batch of pesto a week and one half batch for the freezer. At the end of the season, just before the first frosts of fall, I take up all the remaining basil plants and make a final batch which I divide up and put in the freezer. The bag I pulled out last night was from that last batch, and though it was frozen solid, its emerald color whispered sensual promises as I thawed it gently in warm water.

I took out a chicken breast from my stash, and cut it into small strips, then thinly sliced two shallots. I cut a small handful of ramp leaves into chiffonade, thrilling to the assault of its assertive fragrance as it permeated the air.

I set some olive oil on to heat in a skillet and some water to boil. I made up a simple salad of fresh greens from the farmer’s market, and tossed it with some sherry vinegar based dressing I made last week, and then tossed the shallots in to cook. They cooked quickly, and I sprinkled them with red pepper flakes, then after dusting the chicken pieces with flour, tossed them in. I let them brown well, then deglazed the pan with sherry (I’d have used marsala if I’d had it, but I didn’t so I improvised–and to be honest, it wasn’t sherry I used, either. It was Shao Hsing wine, but no one I know can tell the difference, really), and let it all cook down until a deep mahogany colored sauce clung to the chicken. I then sprinkled it with half the chiffonade of ramps and let them wilt slightly.

Meanwhile I cooked the pasta and when it was done, I tossed it with half of the pesto. I put that into bowls, topped it with the chicken bits and sprinkled it with the lovely ramp chiffonade.

And voila–it was done. Spring and summer on a plate, otherwise known as Green Gold.


The finished dish; summer pesto from the freezer tossed with pasta, topped with sauteed chicken chunks with a chiffonade of ramps as a garnish.

2 Comments

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  1. Barbara, that dish looks divine! Tell me, does ramp have a slightly garlicky taste? We serve something at the restaurant I work at that looks like this, and that grows like you describe it, but we haven’t been able to find the proper English name. In Danish it’s called “ramsløg” – løg means onion. Do you think it’s the same?

    Comment by Zarah Maria — April 13, 2005 #

  2. Hello, Zarah–thank you!

    They are the same species: allium ursinum: which translates as
    “Bear’s onion or garlic.” Apparently, everywhere except in the extreme north of Europe, it is often commonly called “bear’s garlic,” possibly because it is one of the earliest greens that comes up in the spring around the time that the bears awaken from hibernation.

    So, in English, your ramslog is ramp, rampson, ramson or rampscallion. Now you know!

    And yes, it is very fragrant, with a garlicky-onion taste with a bit of
    hotness to it when it is fully mature (especially if you eat the underground stems) and a lot of sweetness when it is young.

    It is one of my favorite wild forage foods. My other favorites are
    blackberries and morel mushrooms.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — April 13, 2005 #

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