It is that time of year.

The ramps have arrived.

Ramps are wild leeks, and belong to the same genus as onions, garlic and chives.  Their flavor is a wild and woodsy combination of the three.  You can eat the entire plant, the bulb, stalk, and leaves, and can use them in recipes where you'd use garlic, onions, leeks, or scallions.  They are native to North America, and thrive in damp woodlands.  They are one of the first splashes of green in the woods, and an unmistakable sign that spring has finally decided to come to the party.

(here is one growing in our yard--that I had planted from a few extra I had bought at the farmer's market two seasons ago).

To make them even more of a produce rock star, they are only around for about a month, after which the flavor grows too aggressive.  During that time, these slender green devils send the culinary world into a bit of a frenzy.  In Appalachia there are many community-wide festivals devoted solely to ramps.  In New York City, it's tough to walk into a restaurant in April and not find at least one ramp special on the menu.  At Rick Bishop's Mountain Sweet Berry Farm stand in Union Square's greenmarket, there is a sign propped up by his ramps with business cards from spectacular NYC chefs (who get their ramps from Rick), and handwritten notes of how they each prepare this seasonal delicacy:

The Modern: ramp ravioli

Gramercy Tavern: grilled, pickled, salsa verde with ramp greens, sauteed with scallions, salad of leeks with grilled ramps

Butter: chopped eggs on toast with grilled ramps and ricotta

Corton: ramp wrapped quail breast and lardo ballantine

SD26: ramp risotto

Mas Farmhouse: sauteed with bacon cream

Co.: grilled with lamb shoulder

Dell'anima: Tajarin "alla carbonara"--ramps, speck, egg, and pecorino

When I visited the stand yesterday, I told Rick I was in a bit of a "ramp rut" and needed some new ideas.  And did I get some!  (Tip:  always chat with the farmer at the stand to find out their favorite way of preparing their vegetables.  Amazing resource!)  Great new ramp recipes to follow...and in the meantime, get some while you can.

The Leanest Month
Beginning a few years ago, my husband and I have made almost every effort to cook and eat as seasonally and locally as possible. We are continually making changes to our lifestyle, but don't feel like we are really making any huge culinary sacrifices. Each season we do dig up more and more of our backyard to add to our vegetable and herb gardens (currently at about 2,200 sq feet). We blanch, freeze, can, dry and preserve as much as we physically have time for, both from our own plants and all the area farmers markets. All with hopes of having a little bit of those glorious, most prolific, summer produce months available to us in colder times.

However, this time of year it gets tough. We are down to about five of the treasured quart jars of plum tomatoes we bought in flats from our farmer Seth Heller at the local market in August and canned over a weekend (all 45 of our heirloom tomato plants died in this year's blight, described here by Dan Barber http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/09/opinion/09barber.html?scp=1&sq=tomato%20blight%20barber&st=cse). We've mostly used up our squash, garlic, shallots, and beets that were in cold storage, and are growing a little weary of produce, though frozen minutes from when picked, plucked from our freezer.

Thankfully, there are farmers markets still operating this time of year!

I visited the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC this past Friday (I split my time nearly 50/50 between the city and the very rural NY Catskills--more on this later). Though smaller than in warmer months, there is still a strong number of booths, offering a big variety of produce, meat, cheeses, and local foodstuffs to the urban locavore.

I did some grocery shopping, and came home with a heavy bag of fresh food. Parsnips, carrots, celeriac, crimini and king oyster mushrooms, kale and Mutzu apples. Combined with the chickens and eggs we get from the local farm Quails-r-Us each week, February is not looking so much like a culinary wasteland in upstate New York. Recipes from this week's bounty to follow shortly, as well as every week hereafter.


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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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