Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Attack of the Ramps

It could be a tag line on an illuminated poster of a B movie, a la horror genre.

"They came out of the fields. They invaded New York. They're green, they're alive, they're..."

Ramps! Horror turns to happy endings. With winter officially behind us, ramps are the earth's way of assuring us its spring. Giving us a pat on the back, saying, "Congratulations! You made it through winter. Now have a snack."

Also known as wild leeks, ramps are a garlicky, oniony, curvy, leafy, beautiful and delicious spring vegetable. Overflowing from every other booth in farmers markets around the city, ramps are here and here in number. Making the city a little greener and significantly more tasty. One of the best things about these little sprigs of tangly-rooted vegetables (aside from their flirty looks and scrumptious flavor), is that you can cook them almost any way you want. Sauteed, grilled, baked...

While it's still cool enough to turn on the oven in our cozy kitchen, we decided to use the bunch of ramps whisked away from the greener side of Union Square Park to make a savory bread pudding. Over lemon sodas we sliced crusty bread, infused sage into whole milk, and sliced our ramps, separating the white stalk from the bright green leaf, but using all parts in the pudding because...well, you can. So why not.

A few eggs, salt, pepper and some Grana Padano, deliciously salty cheese, and the pudding was only an hour at 350 degrees away from our bellies.

Now if you are reading this thinking, bread pudding, ew no thank you, that sounds worse than an alien invasion...I can empathize. There was a period in my life when the thought of squishy, wet bread sounded wholly and completely gross. But when you think of it as a moist, rich, sophisticated cousin to stuffing, soft, comforting, and in this case salty, with pockets of bright ramps... Aren't you tempted to try a bite of this?

I hope so. Once golden and steaming and crispy around the edges, we'll just say I was truly happy (down to the bottom of my stomach) for spring. Plus bread pudding is ideal for warming you up just enough to ward of the spring night chills. Throw ramps in the mix and nearly the whole pan will disappear before you realize it. That is, if your experience is anything similar to mine...

We ate the leftovers with eggs over-easy for lunch the next day. Eggs and ramps will not steer you wrong. I think some sausage added to the mix wouldn't hurt one bit either. Having fully succumbed to the ramp bite, we used a second bunch to saute and lay over pan fried salmon for dinner the next night.

If I sound ramp crazed, well, okay I might just be. But consider it may be an even crazier thing to let spring pass without giving into the ramp invasion. Remember, no matter what it may sound like, they aren't out to get you.

You should go out and get them.

Savory Ramp Bread Pudding

1 large loaf of crusty bread, cut into big pieces (enough to almost fill an 11 x 7 inch baking pan)
1 bunch of ramps
5 cups whole milk
15 leaves of sage
7 eggs
1 1/2 cups grated Grana Padano cheese (or anything hard and salty)

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 11 x 7 inch baking pan.
2. Heat milk with sage, bringing it almost to a boil. Take it off the heat, cover with plastic wrap and let infuse for 5 min. Remove sage.
3. In a large bowl mix bread and milk. Let soak.
4. Cut roots off ramps. Slice the white part of the ramp into small pieces, cut the leaves into larger chunks. Reserve a few whole leaves for decorating the top of the pudding.
5. In a small bowl, whisk eggs together with white ramp pieces, salt and pepper.
6. Mix egg thoroughly into bread and milk.
7. Stir in 1 cup of grated cheese.
8. Spread pudding into pan.
9. Garnish the top with whole ramp leaves and the remaining 1/2 C cheese.
10. Bake for 1 hr and 10 minutes or until pudding is golden brown on top.

approx 15 servings

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