Wild Things

My loving, darling husband has a stupid-crazy-job these days. He works harder than anyone I know (certainly harder than me), and he’s in school two nights a week to get yet another degree so he can work even harder (but hopefully bring in more cash for that B&B he’s gonna buy for me in Napa one day…). I miss him a whole bunch, and those nights we get to watch TV together are extra special lately since there’s not an abundance of them.

This week, we ate veggie pizza together and watched a movie. It was nice.

We watched Where the Wild Things Are, a movie I’ve been wanting to sit through for a while now. It’s relatively short, in movie terms, and perfect for a weeknight. It made me a little weepy, but those movies are the best – the ones that touch you, make you think, and make you relish the good moments. It makes you remember how hard growing up can be, and how in our adult lives we take so many things for granted. I think that little guy took things for granted too, and eventually realized he had to “go home”. His friend, who I assume was an alternative version of him, experiences a similar realization, and the unity at the end of the film was really something. Like I said, weep-worthy.

It didn’t hurt that I got to hear the voice of Sopranos star (the best series ever) James Gandolfini throughout, and it made me chuckle to myself every time I pictured him in strip clubs, NJ gangster-style but then saw him on screen as a frumpy, troubled creature trying to find his way in the world while throwing sticks and pouting cliffside.

For dinner, I made pizza. Veggie pizza. Grilled veggie pizza. Grilled veggie pizza with ramp pesto. That’s more like it, right? You see, I’ve been waiting patiently for ramps since I first used them last year. Wild things in their own right, they are so pungent, so fragrant that, even a year later, I still remember the taste of ramps in the way that I remember the taste of my gramma’s lemon pound cake – it’s always there, though the frequency of consuming it isn’t, and that’s a sad fact.

I whipped up a batch of pesto with my first supply of ramps (ask Jennifer about my excitement when I saw them in the store; I think I embarrassed her), and used some of it to toss with some potatoes earlier in the week. I used a little more on this here pizza, and thank goodness, there’s still plenty left and with that, I made this egg omelet sandwich and still have more. You’d think it was regenerating or something, but it’s not; I’m just really making it last. Plus, ramps aren’t something you need to eat in large amounts, unless you’re hoping the resulting bad breath might keep your landlord or your in-laws, or perhaps even your spouse, away. I don’t have a landlord, I love my in-laws, and as for my spouse, I like to keep him as close by as possible.

Of course, that’s another story when he tries to steal my pizza. Which he did. Try, that is; I tend to have ninja-like reflexes when it comes to my food. Steal it from me, and you’re liable to wind up with a black eye, or maybe a missing finger if my fancy Japanese knife is nearby. Just don’t try it, for your sake and mine. I try to stay out of jail these days.

Although, with pizza that tastes as good as this one, a black eye or missing digit might be worth it. Just maybe.

Got any fancy pizza plans coming up? Share your favorites with us – don’t be shy :).

Grilled Veggie Pizza with Ramp Pesto
Loosely adapted from Cooking Light; serves 4

yes, there are multiple steps in this pizza-making process. but let me tell you a few things: it’s all easy, and three of the four “components” can be made in advance, and in large quantities. the pesto? you just read all the things I’ve done with it already. you can also freeze it in little ice cube trays for later. the pizza sauce? you can buy it, or make a batch that’ll last through 3-4 pizzas. the dough? double the recipe and freeze one for next time – I should have, because I have another pizza recipe up my sleeve for ‘vegetarian month’. once these are made, the pizza comes together in 30 minutes – perfect weeknight fare!

printable version

ingredients
pesto
2 small bunches of ramps, leaves separated from stems/bulbs
1 c grated Parmesan cheese (or other hard cheese)
1/3 c Marcona almonds (or other nut)
1/2 c walnut oil (or sunflower or olive oil)
salt and pepper

pizza dough
2 to 2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 c warm water, divided
1 packet of active, dry yeast
2 T evoo
1 t sugar
3/4 t salt
cornmeal, for dusting the bottom

pizza sauce
1 T evoo
3 T minced garlic
28-oz can of organic diced tomatoes
1 t fresh cracked pepper
1/2 t salt
1/2-1 t Italian seasoning or other dried spice (parsley, oregano, basil)

pizza toppings
1 baby zucchini, quartered
1 baby eggplant, quartered
1 red bell pepper, quartered
salt and pepper
1 c fontina cheese, shredded

instructions
make pesto.
heat olive oil in large saute pan over med-hi heat. chop ramp bulbs and stems and saute in pan for about 5 minutes to soften. add sauteed ramps, raw ramp leaves, cheese, almonds and a pinch of salt and pepper to food processor and blend. through the top with processor running, slowly drizzle in 1/2 c of oil. will make 1 1/4 cups of pesto. adjust seasoning and sit aside. [can refrigerate or freeze.]

make pizza dough.
Combine water & yeast; let sit for about 5 minutes. By hand or w/ stand mixer (dough hook attachment), combine flour, sugar, salt. Add yeast mixture and oil. Mix until sticky ball forms. Transfer to floured counter and knead until smooth (will probably add more flour as you go because the counter gets sticky and the dough is sticky; add by tablespoons). Total kneading time is 1-2 minutes (you can also do this in the mixer). Put in large bowl that is oiled or sprayed and turn down over to cover with oil/spray. Cover w/ plastic and let rise in warm place (I preheat oven to lowest possible temp, like 100, and then open door to let heat out before putting in; best is about 80 degrees) for an hour, or until about doubled in size. Take dough out, back on floured surface and deflate dough. Roll out to desired shape and dust one side with cornmeal. [alternatively, you can refrigerate dough overnight to let flavor develop. then take out 1 hour before using to let come to room temp, punch down dough, and roll out onto floured surface.]

pizza sauce.
heat olive oil in saucepan over medium heat. add garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes. add tomatoes and their juices, salt, pepper, and spice. bring to boil. reduce to low and simmer for 25 minutes. if you like your pizza sauce clumpy, leave it as is. if you like it smooth (I do, for pizza), blend it in a food processor or break out that handy dandy immersion blender. [refrigerate if making in advance, and if you make a lot, you can can it or freeze it.]

make pizza!
preheat grill (outdoor or indoor). grill eggplant, zucchini, and red pepper chunks until a good char forms. cut eggplant and zucchini into small pieces. place red pepper in ziploc bag for 10 minutes; peel and cut. mix all together in a bowl. plop pizza down onto grill (cornmeal side up) and grill for about 3 minutes; flip and grill 4 minutes. remove from grill.

spread pizza sauce over top of pizza. spread random dollops of ramp pesto around (use ~1/3 c). add mixed veggies, sprinkle with salt and pepper and add cheese. grill for another 4-5 minutes or until cheese melts (if grilling inside, it might help to place under broiler for a couple of minutes unless you like a dark pizza crust). slice into 8 pieces and enjoy!

Truly, Madly, Deeply in Love with Ramps

ramps

Ever heard of ramps? Me neither. Well, that’s a fib. Until last month though, I thought the only use of the word ramp was to describe an incline, possibly for a skateboard. But use of the word ramp in culinary terms? huh? A recent magazine article had me pretty excited though. I knew they came into season sometime in March and were only around for a short time, so I’ve been on the lookout at the local Whole Foods. The excitement when I finally saw them yesterday was, well, hard to describe. Something similar to listening to a new album from one of your favorite bands that’s received fantastic reviews from Rolling Stone – you know they’re reputable, but you don’t always agree with them, so you’re excited – but you still wanna listen for yourself. That’s exactly how I felt about ramps.


From what I’d read about these little green delights, there wasn’t much not to like. Unless you’re strange and don’t like garlic. or green onions. Having been described as a combo of green onions and strong garlic, I was pretty much sold on the sheer idea of them. They are most popular in, get this, West Virginia and Quebec! (picture furrowed brow of confused blondie here) And furthermore, in Quebec they are considered a delicacy. In WVa, they hold annual celebrations for them: “Ramp Feed” and the “International (yes, international) Ramp Festival”, which is the last weekend in April. Oh crikey – I just missed it…. maybe next year.


pesto ingredients

If you’re wandering aimlessly (or with aim, rather) in the g-store trying to find them, they easily stand out among their green, frumpy counterparts. They’re sexy – rounded white bulbs that look like shoes of a ballerina, long slender stems, purplish in hue, transitioning once again in color to soft green delicate leaves. And their smell? Not nearly as dreamy but rather pungent, as if you stuck your entire snout into a bottle of minced garlic – and then it got stuck. Yeah, strong is right, buster. But hold up cowboy/girl – you won’t find them in your local Kroger, Piggly Wiggly, or Dominicks. Only the specialty g-stores or farmers’ markets. If possible – go to a local farmers’ market and support the local growers – consider it your good deed of the day.


Others to get while the gettin’s good: asparagus, fava beans, strawberries, rhubarb, fennel


ramp pesto

I bought 2 bunches of ramps yesterday. On looking back at my receipt, I suppose they were gratis (I now recall the ringer not being able to find the code for them) so I can’t tell you what they’re going for. But nonetheless, I would concur with the previous assumptions about them – onion-y, garlic-y, gorgeous, and downright de-licious. I had a recipe from the April Bon Appetit in mind, which also called for Marcona almonds. These little buggers are also something to write home about. Spanish, heart-shaped, milky & nutty, (did I mention fried in olive oil, lightly salted, and stored in sunflower oil?) they are without a doubt my new favorite almond. But given their price (~12 buckaroos for 12 oz) I won’t be buying them often and will settle for their roasted unsalted version given their healthfulness and better price. If I can keep Chris away from them long enough, there’s enough for another recipe in my stack. Keep your fingers crossed that he doesn’t find the hiding spot. 😉


salmon and ramp pesto

I’ll have to say – this recipe tops the charts when compared to some others I’ve made lately. The salmon, simply seared and seasoned with salt & pepper, goes perfectly with the robustness of the pesto; and the little dollop on top brings it all together. Perfect with a glass of sauvignon blanc. Plus, pesto is one of my favorite sauces, and I love the multiple iterations (except for the tarragon pesto I made Thursday… not a fan.). And now that I’ve tried them, I am head over heels in love with ramps and will for sure be gettin’ my hands on some more before they’re out. I’m sure it would go great in biscuits, spaghetti, in a casserole… what else? Send some ideas people!


salmon and ramp pesto


Seared Salmon w/ Linguine & Ramp Pesto
Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2009; serves 6*




ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • 2/3 cup thinly sliced trimmed ramp bulbs and slender stems
  • 1 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese
  • 1/3 cup Marcona almonds (available at Whole Foods or online)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • 12 ounces linguine
  • salt & pepper
  • 6 6-ounce salmon fillets

instructions

Pesto: Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2/3 cup ramp bulbs and stems to skillet and sauté just until soft but not browned, reducing heat if necessary to prevent browning, about 5 minutes. Transfer sautéed ramps to processor (do not clean skillet). Add green tops, cheese, almonds, and tarragon to processor; process until finely chopped. With machine running, gradually add 1/2 cup oil and puree until almost smooth. Transfer pesto to bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in same large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper. Add salmon to skillet and cook just until opaque in center, about 4 minutes per side.

Drain pasta, reserving 3/4 cup pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot; add all but 1/4 cup pesto and toss to coat, adding enough pasta cooking liquid by tablespoonfuls to moisten. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide pasta among plates. Top with salmon. Spread remaining 1/4 cup pesto over fish and serve

*Note: I made this w/ 4 fillets and cut the pasta by 1/3 and made the same amount of pesto. I’m sure it’s great with tons of other things, like on bread or on other pastas with some tomatoes or something 😉 oohh… maybe even in scrambled eggs? yummers