Wednesday, May 16, 2007

from 5/1/2007

Oh man. Yesterday was a banner day! Not so much for the food (although I did make a lovely ramp pizza, more on that later), but because I met one of my idols. And, then awkwardly hit on/harassed her. I was a hot mess. But, it's funny in retrospect, and I wrote her an explanation/apology email this morning that I think/hope was funny and disarming. Whoa. Now, I've made a fool of myself in front of: Alison Bechdel, John Waters, Stephin Merritt, Kathy McCarty and Crispin Glover. I'm sure this list of The Famous I've Offended and/or Freaked Out will continue to grow. Stay tuned.

Here's us:
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(note the intense red flushing at my neck. i was embarassed, yet i still could not stop talking.)

And, here's us making out:
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Okay. Whoa. Back to the food-talk.

Ashley asked about what the heck ramps are. They are a member of the onion family, and sometimes (by yankees), they're called a wild leek. The flavor is very intense, and is sort of between spring onions/garlic/shallot/leek. But, they're wild, so they have that wild kind of flavor (think: the difference in flavor between a morel and a white button mushroom).

They're notorious for being stinky. Often called "little stinkers" or "the king of stink". They're one of the signifiers of spring, and taste like a mouthful of West Virginia to me. They grow all over Appalachia (and other places, like Minnesota, farther north, but they call them wild leeks there)--anywhere in the woods where it's shady and moist, but are celebrated most fully in WV.

When I was a kid I hated going to ramp festivals because that meant we'd load up in the car (my brother, step-brother and I crammed into the backseat), and take a whole day taking my step-dad's "shortcuts" through windy country roads, and then on the way back everyone would be stinky and my brothers would constantly burp and then refuse to roll down their windows. I thought I was above all that. But now, it tastes like nostalgia and good times.

In the last couple of years, the ramps have become a culinary darling--prized for its heady aroma and taste, and its rarity and seasonality. You can google recipes with ramps, and find contributions by Emeril and Martha (Martha did actually spend some time in WV, if you'll remember her stint in the pokey), and find them on the menus of the most chi-chi restaurants. Locally, I've seen them on some of the Big Burrito menus. Casbah has a couple items on their menu now featuring ramps and other spring foraged delicacies: Alaskan halibut, olive oil poached, wild ramps, baby nettles, oyster mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, grilled potatoes and Horseradish crusted salmon, wild ramps, haricot verts and cucumber cream. When I recently asked at Whole Foods if they ever get any, they said that they probably will, but they'll probably be about $20/lb. I got a large bag (2 lbs?) at the festival for $3.50.

Actually, I got three bags. So, I'm going to try to learn how to can them this week so I can have them indefinitely, because there's no way I can eat, like, 5-6 pounds of ramps this week before they give up the ghost. If you want to have a taste, let me know and I'll share some fresh beauties before I can them up.

For more info you can find their wikipedia entry here:

So, last night's ramp adventure was Ramp Pizza. So, so good!

Ramp Pizza
(2 servings)

1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 T. (1 1/2 packages) active dry baking yeast
1/4 t. sugar or honey
1/2 t. fine-grain sea salt
1/2 c. warm water
2 T. olive oil
1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose white flour (plus more for kneading and surface)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, combine the whole wheat flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Add the warm water and olive oil. Mix until almost smooth. Stir in white flour.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface, and gradually add more white flour (about 1 t. at a time) to the dough as you knead it until it's no longer sticky. Knead for a couple more minutes until it's smooth and elastic.

Coat a bowl with oil, and form the dough into a ball, and place in bowl, turning to coat it all with the oil. Let rise for about 25 minutes, or until it has doubled in size, while you prepare the toppings.

After the dough has risen, put it on a lightly greased pan, and spread to the edges. I use a 9x13" cookie sheet, and it makes a very-thin (my mom calls this cracker crust) crust. If you'd like a slightly thicker crust, use a 12" pizza pan, but it'll still be thin.

I like to bake the crust for a about 5 minutes before I top it, so it gets a head start on being crispy-licious. I dock it a few times with a fork so the air can escape and not make big bubbles. I sprinkle it with some dried parsley, some crushed red pepper flakes and some grated parmesan/romano.

Then, take the crust out of the oven, and top (you can top with whatever you like; this is my current favorite combo):

sun-dried tomato spread (i used California Sun from a jar)
2 ramps, bulbs and leaves, minced
3 handfuls of spinach, washed and destemmed
1 large handful of grape tomatoes, quartered
4 dried figs (i like calimyrna)
Gimme Lean "sausage", fried and crumbled
grated manchego cheese

Bake for another 12 minutes. Let cool enough to not burn a hole through the roof of your mouth, slice, enjoy!

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