By now you've probably heard of ramps, the wild leeks that grow in the Northeastern U.S. and one of the first foods to show up in farmers markets every spring. Even though our winter was relatively mild, Ohio's growing season produces very little in the winter, one can only eat so much squash, onions, potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale before growing desperate for fresh food! When I see ramps at our farmers market, I know spring is actually on its way and more and more foods will come with warmer weather.
This is usually the first dish I make with ramps every year, it's a very simple pasta that lets the flavor of the ramps really shine, their garlicky goodness is tamed a bit by cooking, taking away the harshness, leaving excellent flavor. Cooking ramps with black pepper and crushed red pepper, for heat, makes a perfect coating for pasta. You can also adjust the spiciness to your personal taste.
Aglio e olio is one of my favorite pastas, the sauce cooks about the same time as it takes to cook the pasta, so it's easy for a weeknight, hearty enough for a weekend meal, and makes the perfect late night snack, too. This ramp version is probably my favorite, perhaps because I know the ramp season is a short one. I top my ramp aglio e olio with some lemony ramp breadcrumbs, which add brightness from the lemon, another tiny punch of flavor from ramp leaves, and panko to add some texture to the pasta.
I rounded out our "ramp fest" with ramp pesto served on semolina bread. If you have access to ramps in your area, I hope you try this pasta soon, enjoy!
Recipe adapted from Mario Batali
Step 1: Gather Ingredients
For the topping:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs (I use whole wheat panko)
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 Tbsp. finely chopped ramp greens (from the tops of 2-3 ramps)
For the sauce:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 ounces fresh ramps, rinsed, white root ends and green leafy tops separated
1 tsp. crushed red pepper (You can use up to 1 Tbsp., I prefer to use a smaller amount, and serve with extra crushed red pepper so everyone can season their own dish)
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
For the pasta:
1 lb. long pasta. I used homemade spaghetti
1/4 to 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional
Step 2: Prepare Breadcrumbs
Melt 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add panko and pinch of salt and toast, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the lemon zest and ramp leaves and stir to combine. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
Step 3: Prepare Sauce
Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons salt and return to a boil.
Note: if you're using store bought pasta, such as spaghetti or linguine, you should start cooking it at the same time, or a little before the sauce, since my homemade spaghetti cooked in only 4 minutes, I started the sauce first.
Heat 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil in a skillet over low heat. Add the ramps, chili flakes, and black pepper. Cook gently until the ramps soften and turn light golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. If the ramps start browning too quickly, add some of the pasta water which will lower the temperature immediately.
Step 4: Cook Pasta, Add Sauce, and Serve
Cook pasta until al dente, about 4 minutes for my homemade spaghetti, or fresh pasta. (Follow package instructions.)
Add ramp leaves to skillet and cook until slightly wilted, about 1 minute.
Before draining, reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta water. Drain pasta.
Return pasta to pot and add ramp mixture, 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water, and remaining 1 Tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil, toss to combine, if pasta looks dry, add remaining pasta water. Season with salt and extra pepper to taste. To serve, sprinkle with panko topping and Parmesan cheese, if using. Add extra crushed red peppers, if desired. Mangia and enjoy!