Ramp It Up

May 6, 2015

Ramps are the first green vegetable to emerge from the ground each year, nudging aside dried layers of last fall’s leaves. This past weekend, when they appeared, the first swatch of green in our relentlessly brown landscape, the mere sight of them made me happy. 

Yesterday, walking in the woods, I literally fell into a patch of ramps. All at once I saw them everywhere, whole clusters dotting the slope of the hill. I pulled out my penknife and dug little moats around each bulb, willing them to pop off their roots. (It's important to leave the roots behind so  the ramps return next year.) Before I knew it, I had gathered dinner. 

But what to do with them? Standing in the kitchen, washing ramps,  I considered the usual suspects. Pasta. Pizza. Pesto. For an extremely versatile vegetable, ramps are too often relegated to the same old recipes. Then I remembered the first time I ever tasted ramps.  It was in the Ozarks, in the seventies; we ate them simply fried in bacon fat until they had caramelized into something surprisingly decadent. That! I thought. I'll make that. 

I used guanciale instead of bacon. Then I added a couple of fried eggs and a thick slab of toast.  It made a  lovely- and almost free – dinner for two. 

Ramps with Guanciale Lardons 

1/2 pound ramps, cleaned

Dash olive oil

1-2 ounces guanciale 

 Salt and pepper to taste 

2 Eggs 

Clean the ramps well, trimming off the parts clinging tenaciously to the dirt they grew in. If yours have roots, remove them. Separate the bulbs from the leaves. 

Slice the guanciale into thin pieces, no larger than a fingernail. Heat a pan over medium-low heat, add a splash of olive oil and toss in the guanciale. The goal is to render the fat from the jowl evenly without allowing it to crisp or brown; what you want is the rich nutty flavor of the pork without the taste of char. If you sense your guanciale is beginning to brown, cool the pan with a splash of water. It should take about 6 minutes to render the fat, moving it about the pan from time to time. 

Remove the guanciale from the pan, leaving a teaspoon or so of that delicious fat behind. Turn up the heat and add the ramp bulbs. When they become translucent, in a minute or so, add the leaves. Let them dance about the pan a bit, and just before everything begins to wilt, remove the ramps to two plates, making a little nest of each portion. 

Add a bit more fat and fry two eggs in the same pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and gently place an egg on each ramp nest. 

Savor this slowly, knowing that this is a fleeting flavor. Ramps will soon be gone, and they won't return  until next spring.

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