Friday, May 10, 2013

The Passion for Ramps and a recipe for Bucatini with Andouille Sausage, Pan Grattato and, of course, Ramps

If foraging for ramps, make sure you're not
mistaking day lilies for the real deal.
Photo: Courtesy of Kerry Heffernan

         Ramp season is upon us and we’re off.  Every other foodie in New York will race to their local greenmarket in search of these tender, yet pungent, harbingers of Spring.  In fact, the interest is so intense that the only comparable event that comes to mind is to the running of the Bulls in Pamplona.  They attract that kind of crowd. Fortunately, the only real danger you’ll encounter is the distinct possibly that you’ll be run over by a ramp-crazed Chef at the Union Square Greenmarket. What’s all the excitement about?  Well, after the kind of winter we’ve had in the East, the mere sight of these woodland wild leeks, with their bright green leaves, is more than welcome.  And the fact that this year the asparagus is late rising from its beds only makes the leeks even more appealing.  There are said to be people who view the ramp as a mere “meh” on the menu.  And then there are those who haven’t a clue what a ramp is.   Not that that’s all that surprising.  They may be wild in the East and the South but they don’t even exist west of the Dakotas.   But they do grow here and picking your own may be an option.  But be careful.  My friend Kerry Heffernan mistook the day lilies growing near his house in Sag Harbor for ramps.  As you can see from his photo, it’s not a hard mistake to make.  Since I am not the forager that Kerry is, dutifully, I went to Union Square solely for the purpose of buying the first ramps of the season.  And then I was faced with what to do with them once I got home.
The simplest possible way to cook ramps is just to trim the roots, wash them carefully because they’re generally full of soil, and then put them in a hot pan coated with olive oil, salt and pepper them and cook them for all of 15 seconds.  They’re delicious that way but I wanted to make their aromatic, garlic-y presence felt in something more substantial.  A contributor to, which I’ve just been asked to contribute to as well, posted an interesting recipe using Bucatini. 

The thicker-than-spaghetti pasta is characterized by its hollow center. Now some believe that it holds sauce better because of the tunnel that runs right through its middle.  I’m no whiz at physics but that does seem to be a stretch to me.  Instead I would hold that it’s infinitely easier to eat Bucatini than Spaghetti because the larger Bucatini doesn’t fall all over the place while you are wrapping it around your fork.  It’s more substantial than Spaghetti and that’s important to me because I am trying not to give up pasta altogether but to limit our portions to just 3 oz. a serving.  That portion size still gives me my pasta fix but cuts down the shocking number of carbohydrates in pasta.  This recipe however had carbs all its own.        
Jacques Larson
Jacques Larson, whose recipe was my take-off point, is the chef at Wild Olives, (2867 Maybank Highway, John’s Island, S.C. 29455).  Jacques’ recipe introduced me to Pangrattato. Made with days-old bread which is cubed and cooked in olive oil spiced with chiles, garlic and anchovies, it’s a fried crouton.  It looked very good but with my pasta rationed,  I thought the dish needed some more body.  That’s when I latched on two Andouille Chicken Sausages, lonely orphans in the fridge.  They amped up the flavor and the kick and were a great addition, which I’d heartily endorse. However, Andrew and I thought Italian sweet sausage, taken out of its casing and crumbled into bits might have been even better.  Here’s the recipe, which I urge you to try.  It just might hold you over for the run on Asparagus that’s just about to begin.

Recipe for Bucatini with Andouille Sausage, Pangrattato and Ramps adapted from Jacques Larson
       Serves 4.  Prep Time 30 minutes. Cooking time 60 minutes including 
       ‘resting time’ for the Pangrattato

       For the Pangrattato:

2 cups extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed 
1 quart dried or stale bread, cubed in 1/2 inch pieces 
Salt and freshly ground black, to taste
Zest of 1 lemon
1 small chile (Fresno or Thai), diced finely
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 salted anchovy in oil, diced or 1 tsp. anchovy paste 

For the Bucatini:

6 quarts water
2 tablespoons salt, plus more to taste
12 oz.  bucatini
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
4 cloves garlic, smashed
6 ounces ramps, leaves cut in half and stems diced finely
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup butter
1/                                                           2 cups grated Parmesan
First, make the Pangrattato:
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the dried bread pieces, making sure the bread is completely coated with a little oil to spare (add more oil if necessary). Toss the bread with salt and pepper, to taste, constantly stirring until golden brown and crispy. 
Add the remaining ingredients and toss until the garlic begins to brown. Line a baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel and place on the baking sheet. Place in the oven to dry out the bread, for at least 45 minutes.

For the Bucatini, Andouille Sausage and Ramps.
In a large pot, bring the water to a boil over high heat and add the salt. Cook the bucatini for 8 minutes.
On the diagonal, slice the Andouille sausage into ½ inch slices. In a small skillet, over medium heat, sauté the sausage until it is browned about 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and brown. Then, remove the cloves with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil in the pan.
Add the ramp stems to the pan. Sauté, but be careful not to brown. Season with red pepper flakes and black pepper, to taste.  

Add the ramp leaves. Add a ladleful of pasta water to the pan and set aside.

Once the pasta is al dente, add the bucatini to the sauté pan, making sure to reserve some of the cooking water and raise the heat. Add the cooked sausage to the pan.  Add about ½ cup or so of pasta water to the sauté pan and continue to cook the pasta so that it absorbs all of the flavor. 

Once the pasta water has almost completely evaporated, add the butter and swirl the pan until the sauce is emulsified. Add the Parmesan, season with salt, to taste, and toss. Divide the pasta among 4 bowls. Serve with additional grated cheese and top with the pangrattato.   

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