ramp & asparagus risotto
For months now I’ve flipped wistfully through magazine after magazine, mooning over photos of dark green stalks and oohing and ahhing at recipes as I daydream of Spring. I’ve repeatedly paused beside the co-op’s local produce cooler, glancing from turnip to, well, turnip and heaving great put-upon sighs before wending my way listlessly among the monotonous aisles of pantry staples. I’ve attempted to cheer myself up by flirting with spinach and chard and other leafy greens as they’ve appeared, but I’ve remained inconsolable. I’ve been waiting for asparagus.
What I hadn’t counted on, despite the praise heaped upon them by every publication from Bon Appétit to National Geographic, was ramps. Wild ramps, by virtue of their very wildness, are a hallmark of culinary hipster-dom, the food world’s equivalent of skinny jeans and high-top Chucks and loving that band long before you’d ever even heard of it. But that’s no reason not to try them. Ramps grow in moist, wooded areas across most of the US and parts of Canada and are easily distinguished from their lily of the valley look-alikes by their ridiculously oniony smell. I found mine not far from the asparagus — in the produce cooler, safe and sound inside a clear plastic bag bearing a handwritten sticker that identified them as wild ramps. I suspect this makes me a bit of a poseur, but as long as I steer clear of broken-in chinos I’ll probably be okay.
Plus, I’m a very appreciative poseur, which I think should count for something. After I’d liberated my ramps from their little plastic prison I sat for a minute or two or maybe ten and simply marveled at their existence. I fanned them out, breathed in their pungent odiferousness, and admired the way their pretty, pink-tinged stems curved gracefully into broad green leaves. I carefully weighed their potential as dinner against their decorative charm, savoring the visual appeal of green leaves, pink stems, and white porcelain against the dark wood of my dining room table. I got a bit caught up in the aesthetic of it all; I might have even petted the ramps a little, just to show my gratitude. Then I chopped them up and made risotto.
Of course, the point of this whole Spring thing is asparagus, whose tender stalks have only just begun to emerge from fertile Spring soil as if in answer to months of prayer or, in my case, whining and moping and (occasionally) cussing. And really, there’s no reason not to eat asparagus every day from now until it disappears from the local food scene for another year, so into the pan it went along with the ramps.
I’m not sure a more fitting homage to Spring exists. The green grassiness of the asparagus, the spicy sweetness of the ramps and the creaminess of risotto mingle together to create a fresh, earthy dish that somehow manages to taste both delicate and piquant — a dish that quietly congratulates you for having endured months and months of snow and ice and turnips; a dish worth waiting for.
Also, it’s really yummy topped with seared scallops.
Ramp & Asparagus Risotto with (or without) Seared Scallops
adapted from Rick Moonen & Roy Finamore’s Fish Without a Doubt
for the risotto
½ lb. asparagus
1 ice cube
2½ c. vegetable stock
3 T. olive oil
½ c. arborio rice
½ dry white wine (sauvignon blanc is rather nice)
1 T. unsalted butter
freshly grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1) Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and salt the water very well, about 3 T. of salt for 4 quarts of water. Trim the woody ends from the asparagus and cut asparagus the stalks crosswise into 2-inch pieces. Add the chopped asparagus to the boiling water, return to a boil, and blanch for 1 minute. Drain in a colander, refresh in cold water, and drain again. Fish the asparagus tips out and reserve.
2) Put the remaining stalks in a blender with the ice cube and blend to make a smooth puree. Scrape the puree into a bowl and set aside.
3) Bring the stock to a simmer and keep warm over low heat. Finely chop the ramp stems and greens, separating and reserving the greens for later. Heat 3 T. of the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the ramp stems and cook, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes until they soften.
4) Add the rice and stir until it’s coated – about 3 minutes. Season with salt & pepper, then add the wine, stirring until the liquid has nearly bubbled away. Use a ladle or measuring cup to add the warmed stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring occasionally until most of the stock has been absorbed. Add additional stock as each new addition is absorbed, stirring frequently but not constantly.
5) Taste the rice after about 20 minutes. When it’s almost al dente (this could take closer to 30 minutes than 20), add the ramp greens along with the last 1/2 cup of stock. Simmer until most of the stock has been absorbed, then stir in the asparagus puree, reserved asparagus tips, butter, and parmesan. Let the risotto rest while you prepare the scallops, or skip them and serve the risotto straightaway.
for the scallops
½ lb. sea scallops, tough muscles removed
2 t. olive oil
kosher salt and white pepper
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1) Put the scallops in a bowl. Drizzle with 1½ t. olive oil, season with salt and white pepper, and toss with the thyme sprigs. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, or as long as overnight.
2) Heat a skillet over high heat. Add the butter and remaining oil. When the butter stops bubbling, add the scallops and cook for about 2 minutes, until the bottoms of the scallops are caramelized. Turn them over and cook for an additional 2 minutes, then transfer the scallops to a plate. Garnish each bowl of risotto with 2-3 scallops.