A part of me kind of feels a bit ridiculous for posting two recipes with ramps/wild leeks today. Let me qualify this feeling a bit. A lot of people on my instagram/twitter feed seem to be enjoying this first spoil of spring (on the real: like lots). I definitely had a bit of a laugh when I read that they were sought out aggressively as some sort of “foodie merit badge” in an article that was published last year. I enjoy their mild and sweet onion-to-garlic taste and burst of first warm season nutrition, certainly. Spotting them on a Spring hike offers a special kind of thrill, a sense of discovery that is uncommon with more typical food-sourcing practices. There’s an intense freedom in sourcing your own food by wilder means. It’s a process coloured by curiosity, passion and independence.
But there is growing evidence that ramps/wild leeks are over-foraged. A more direct way of explaining this: since their glamorization of recent years, less thought is being given to their sometimes 18-month germination stage (kale is 5 days by comparison) and multi-year growth period necessary to produce an edible bulb. I sprialed down the rabbit hole reading blog posts and articles about dwindling ramp populations, stories of families that would look forward to gathering a few every year, having to go deeper and deeper into the forests for them as time has worn on. Those gorgeous photos of leafy bundles piled high at a farmer’s market table seem to capture a myopic worldview to me now. Fortunately, there are plenty of pieces that detail on sustainable harvesting techniques. In the discussion of local eating (whatever it may be defined by in whatever circle you find yourself in), entitlement, movements of excess and the need for more thorough investigation always seem to come up in an ethics tug of war.
Anyway, as with all things we take into our bodies that become a part of us, there has to be some serious thinking involved. I enjoyed these first bits of spring to the brim of fullness, from painstakingly washing away the grit and forest-y attachments to the actual enjoyment of the end product. Taking them in slowly and approaching the food with thought means a longer-felt sense of satiation for me. Very simply stated: I’m good for the year. Bring on the peas, strawberries and garlic scapes too please? Today I’m sharing two things I made with my little bundle of the alliums with you. There’s a brilliantly simple asparagus soup that capitalizes on that sweet onion flavour and a rustic spelt bread with some chopped greens folded in. Enjoyed together? Yes, yes.
I’ll also add a few notes on asparagus soup. I have to tell you, I’ve had some awfully crummy versions of it over the years. Ones where the sweetness of the perennial is overwhelmed by salty stock. Or the vegetable is very clearly overcooked, that damp funk ringing loud and clear. Sometimes its lightness is smothered in parmesan or truffle to the point of obscurity. With some trial and error I’ve learned a few key principles to follow when simmering up a soulful pot of this goodness. The seeming main point of this dish is to preserve and glorify that spring vegetal sweetness. Here’s how you do that: utilize acid in the form of white wine and a fresh squeeze of lime at the end. The lime adds a perfect sour lift that doesn’t turn the dish into asparagus + citrus soup. It serves the soup without overwhelming. Also, use a bit of heat, but not to the point where you can feel it. I add cayenne near the beginning of the cooking process and it merely serves to heighten sweetness. Lastly, enrich your stock with some wilt-y asparagus bits. Asparagus sweated out, simmered and puréed with asparagus stock? That’s the Platonic ideal of clean asparagus flavour right there. This is important.
Lastly, I made you some bread with chopped up ramp greens. Any sort of herbs would be nice in this (although in lesser amounts if you’re using rosemary, oregano, thyme + the like). The recipe is pretty simple and forgiving. It does require about 2 hours of mostly inactive time, but as with all warm and fresh bread-like things, it is certainly worth it.
SIMPLE ASPARAGUS & RAMP SOUP WITH RUSTIC SPELT BREAD
Print the recipe here!
NOTES: As I mentioned in the post, I like to simmer my vegetable stock with a few chopped up pieces of asparagus prior to making this to really amp up the sweet asparagus flavour. Inevitably a few spears go off/wilt-y in a bunch, so I just chop those up and toss them in with the stock until they’ve gone a little past the bright green stage.
2 tsp grapeseed oil
12 ramps/wild leeks, cleaned + chopped, white bulbs + greens divided
1 medium waxy potato, peeled + 1/2 inch dice
1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-2 inch lengths
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
heavy splash of dry white wine
salt + pepper
4-5 cups vegetable stock/asparagus stock
juice of 1 lime
kale chips (kale tossed in oil, salt + pepper and baked in a single layer at 400 degrees F for about 10 minutes or until crisp)
extra virgin olive oil
chopped chives/chive blossoms
edible flowers (very optional)
Heat the grapeseed oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the chopped white ramp bulbs to the pot. Stir them around and cook them until slightly softened. Add the diced potato, asparagus and cayenne. Saute the vegetables for a minute or so. Add the white wine, let the alcohol burn off a bit and stir the vegetables some more. Season everything with salt and pepper. Keep cooking the vegetables until the asparagus is bright, bright green.
Add the vegetable stock to the pot (enough to cover by an inch or so) and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the chopped ramp greens and stir. Simmer the soup until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes or so. Remove from the heat.
Carefully blend the soup in batches in your blender to puree. Add the lime juice to the pureed soup and stir to combine. Taste the soup for seasoning and adjust if necessary. To serve, bring the pureed soup to a boil and serve with any garnishes you like and slices of the spelt bread.
SPELT BREAD WITH RAMPS RECIPE
Barely adapted from Nigel Slater’s recipe in The Guardian
SERVES: makes 2 small loaves
NOTES: You could experiment with ratios of whole spelt to hard bread flour, but I tend to go with this recipe when I want a no fuss, lightly grainy bread. Of course, you can use other add-ins you like or just enjoy it plain.
2 1/2 cups/300g whole spelt flour
1 1/3 cups/200g hard bread flour
2 tsp fine sea salt
1 package of instant yeast (8 grams)
1 cup chopped ramps/wild leeks, green leafy parts only
1 1/3 cups water
oil for greasing a bowl
In a large bowl combine the spelt flour, bread flour, salt, yeast and chopped wild leeks. Stir them to combine. Add the water and stir until a dough starts to form. Bring it together with your hands. Dump the dough out onto a floured surface and bring it together. Knead for 8 – 10 minutes or until a supple and smooth dough forms with the slightest tackiness to it. It should feel warm and alive. It isn’t necessary to knock yourself out kneading this–just slowly keep on rolling it off the wrist until it feels good.
Form the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl, rolling it around to coat. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let it rise in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
Punch the dough down, cut it in half and form both pieces into round ball shapes by gathering/pinching dough on the bottom of the ball with your fingers. Once you’ve shaped both breads, place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover the sheet with a damp towel and let the bread rise for 30-45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and secure a rack in the middle of the oven.
Once you’re ready to bake, use a very sharp knife to cut a slit into the top. Nestle a whole ramp leaf in there if you like. Bake the loaves until golden brown and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom, about 25 minutes. Allow loaves to cool slightly before enjoying.