April 29, 2008
Clearly, I’m atoning for Saturday’s seasonally-disfunctional post (stuffed bell peppers, in April!). Between yesterday’s favas beans, asparagus and peas and today’s ramps (RAMPS!!!), I’d like to think my errant eating has been absolved. So, about these ramps: I was beyond excited to find them at the market. They were tucked haphazardly among the chiles, unmarked (probably the only reason I was able to score some) and unpriced (ominous, for sure). I gathered up a bunch and sort of lost myself for a second, marveling at how simultaneously humble and stunning they looked. I spotted a nearby employee and asked him, wide-eyed and awestruck, “Are these ramps?” He smiled knowingly at me and assured me that they were indeed. Clearly, he understood. As I returned to my handful of the beauties, he mentioned: “$11.99 a pound, by the way.” I snapped out of my reverie, promptly returned half-a-handful of the ramps and began scheming about how I’d put the remaining ones to use.
Well, let me just tell you that the Internets were surprisingly unhelpful. There were not a ton of ramp recipes out there. As I was just about to abandon recipes altogether and go freestyle (probably a little reckless, seeing as though I’d never actually tasted ramps before), I found a recipe at Food & Wine’s site for a white cheese pizza with ramps.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
Since I really like white cheeses, absolutely love pizza and was pretty sure that ramps were going to be my new best friend, I was intrigued. And when I read the recipe’s headnotes, I was sold:
“The name Chicago comes from the Algonquin word chicagoua, which some historians say means “ramp”-a wild onion with a delicious garlicky flavor. That’s one reason Chicago chefs like Tony Mantuano [this recipe’s author] feel a sentimental attachment to the pungent spring plant.”
Not only is this great city apparently named after the ramp, but I had to giggle at the Wayne’s World-ness of this excerpt (anybody? the scene where Alice Cooper explains to Wayne and Garth the Algonquin roots of “Milwaukee”?). Anyway, Goodbye “Second City” (I’ve always hated that nickname), hello “Ramp-Ville” (Ramp Town? Rampopolis?)!
I adapted the recipe very slightly. I halved the recipe (because we’d be eating this as a side with a bowl of steaming hot soup, which was exactly what the sub-Spring temperatures called for) and decreased the cheeses (I didn’t want to overwhelm the ramps). To showcase the ramps, I rolled out the dough into a long, thin rectangle, so that I could leave the ramps intact, rather than cutting them into segments.
The recipe calls for quickly blanching the ramps in boiling water before draining them and arraying them atop the pizza. As soon as the ramps hit the water, I knew we were in for a treat: they immediately released a pungent, oniony aroma—one that reminded me of the corner of my grandpa’s garden where his chives grow. A few minutes in a blistering hot oven later, the pizza (really, more of a flatbread) looked rustic and gorgeous. And it tasted incredible too. The crust was perfectly thin and crackly and browned. And then, the ramps. So, so (soo, sooo, soooo) good. They were an earthy, garlickly sweet and each bite was completely alive. In short: totally worth the hype. Sigh.
White Cheese Pizza with Ramps
Food & Wine
For the Dough
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
For the Topping
10 ramps or medium scallions
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
1 cup coarsely grated fresh mozzarella cheese (4 ounces); see Note
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk the flour together with the yeast, salt and sugar. Pour in the water and stir well with a wooden spoon to form a dough. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for a few minutes until smooth. Transfer the pizza dough to a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let stand in a warm place until the pizza dough has doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
Set a pizza stone on the bottom or on the bottom shelf of the oven and preheat to 500° for at least 30 minutes.
Make the topping: Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Blanch the ramps until they are bright green but still al dente, about 1 minute. Drain, pat dry and cut into 1-inch lengths.
Punch down the pizza dough and transfer it to a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough to a 12-inch round, about 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured pizza peel or an inverted baking sheet. Brush the dough with olive oil and sprinkle on the grated mozzarella in an even layer. Scatter the blanched ramps over the mozzarella and season lightly with salt and pepper. Top the pizza with the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Slide the pizza from the peel onto the hot stone. Bake for about 8 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the pizza crust is browned and crisp on the bottom. Transfer the pizza to a work surface, cut into wedges and serve right away.