The Urge to Preserve

I started to feel the impending change of season press upon me.

The weather certainly wasn’t providing any hints, as I was enveloped by hot, wet, soupy air all last weekend. I did notice brown and orange leaves start to accumulate around the edges of the streets in my neighborhood. It was the obvious things: all of a sudden, Labor Day passed, beaches closed, schools started back in session, and I was reminded that, being September, we are only one month away from October, the month it first SNOWED last year.

Fortunately, it is possible to capture the lushness of summer in a tupperware container! I long to keep the excitement of my garden treasures alive. Call it the urge to preserve.

Cue the whir of the food processor.

Bunches of my healthy basil plant and flourishing parsley plants in hand, it was time to make some sauces and condiments.
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Basil Pesto
Parsley Pesto
Fromage Fort

Pesto is one of the very few “recipes” I pretty much have memorized, and/or feel comfortable adjusting by taste and feel. It all started with a recipe Matt and I received from a cooking class put on at a now-closed local Viking Cooking School location.

Basil Pesto
From Viking Cooking School’s recipe packet for a Breads and Pizzas class
Makes about 1 Cup

1 large clove garlic, or to taste, peeled
1/4 Cup pine nuts
2 ounces/approx 1/4 Cup packed Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
2 Cups (packed) fresh basil
1/4-1/3 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
should be plenty

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Toast the pine nuts by putting them in a 350 degree oven for just a few minutes, watching closely and shaking the pan after the first minute or two. This can also be done in a dry cast iron or saute pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Pine nuts will continue to brown if they sit in a hot pan.
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Combine garlic, pine nuts, cheese, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse to make a paste.
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Add basil and pulse.
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Drizzle in olive oil gradually, ideally with the motor running, until pesto reaches desired smooth consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning.
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Basil doesn’t retain its green color in pesto, when exposed to the air, so the best plan is to drizzle extra olive oil on top and put plastic wrap directly on the surface before refrigerating or freezing (it still tastes fine when it darkens). Pesto is both flavor and calorie rich, so I usually only use a little at time, which I can snag from the frozen container.
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While I was at it with the processing, I needed to deal with the variety of cheese cubes I bought on a whim at Fairway. (I swear, I have gotten much better about resisting the urge to impulse buy.) Cheese is one of those things that lasts a long time, making it easy for you to forget to use before it is too late. Fortunately, you can make something called Fromage Fort, a cheese spread, to transform the old cheese into something desirable for another week or so, and even use it for entertaining.
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Fromage Fort
From Alton Brown via Food Network online

1 pound left-over cheese, (cheddar, parmesan, ricotta, provolone, fontina, mozzarella, stinky blue cheeses all work*) at room temperature
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
, softened
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
1 small clove garlic

Grate hard cheeses and cut others into 1/2-inch cubes. Place cheese, wine, butter, herbs, and garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth, approximately 2 minutes. Serve immediately or refrigerate for at least 1 hour for a firmer consistency. Store in the refrigerator; consume within a week (no problem!).
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*I used 5 ounces of ricotta, 7 ounces of the miscellaneous cubes that were probably in the gouda and ricotta salata families, and 6 ounce of Wisconsin extra sharp cheddar. It was beyond delicious, especially broiled on some sourdough toast.

Parsley Almond Pesto
Adapted from Food and Wine

1 clove garlic
1 1/2 Cups lightly packed flat-leaf parsley
with thick stems removed
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 Cup olive oil
1/3 Cup unsalted almonds

Puree garlic and parsley with the salt in food processor. Drizzle olive oil in gradually, ideally with the machine running. Add the almonds and pulse to chop.
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This can be saved in the same way as the basil pesto. However, it keeps its bright green flavor much better in the refrigerator.

I served this with gnocchi I made from the King Arthur Flour website.
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and a recipe that served gnocchi with zucchini and tomatoes but substituted in the parsley pesto:

Recognize those tomatoes yet?

Recognize those tomatoes yet?


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I can still taste summer!

The Cucumber Conundrum

I am learning how different two years can be for vegetable crops!

I was wrong about getting lots of radishes and turnips. The zucchini hasn’t buried me. And my tomato crops, while not barren, haven’t produced so much that I have many to give away. As promised, here is the “after” picture.

I realize that it looks a little silly for my sunflowers to tower over the Japanese maple tree.

I realize that it looks a little silly for my sunflowers to tower over the Japanese maple tree.

And before.
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On the other hand, there has been SO MUCH cucumber from the farm share. It’s a tough one to keep fresh and interesting. Cucumber is eaten almost exclusively cold; you can’t generally preserve it by, say, drying it out (Googling to check…oh wait of course you can), and freezing it messes with the texture, right? The most common thing to do is make pickles. And I don’t love pickles! (Another problem that reduced my pickling motivation: I have managed to kill two dill plants before I had a chance to use them. Are they a tricky plant?)

So far, I have made a warm cucumber soup and some tomato cucumber salads. This week, I branched out and made cucumber sorbet!

Simple Mojito Cucumber Sorbet

From Vegetariantimes.com

3.4 – 1 Cup sugar
1 ½ cups mint leaves
2-3 medium cucumbers
, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
¼ Cup lime juice
2 oz. rum
, optional

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Naked cucumber

Naked cucumber

Side note: this is an awesome peeler.

Side note: this is an awesome peeler.

Bring sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Boil 1 minute, or until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, and add mint leaves. Cover, and cool.

Riley wants to know what I'm up to.

Riley wants to know what I’m up to.


Transfer mint syrup to blender or food processor, and process until mint leaves are finely chopped.
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Add cucumber chunks, and blend until very smooth.
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Chill in refrigerator until cold. Remove from fridge and stir lime juice and rum (if using).
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Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.
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Just getting started

Just getting started


I think we are there!

I think we are there!

Transfer to container and freeze.
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Note: Numerous variations on the theme of cucumber sorbet/ice cream can be found online. Many steep the mint leaves instead of blending them in, like this does. Most also strain out the solids from the cucumber as well. I can see the benefit of a smoother texture. However, I think the chewiness of this recipe made it feel especially icy-cold and refreshing.

This was served in place of a pre-dinner cocktail on a warm night.
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Love Affair with Zucchini

I could barely contain my excitement when I came across coveted squash blossoms while visiting the Ithaca Farmer’s Market last weekend.

These lovely, edible, light orange flowers of the zucchini plant are a delicacy, for sure, because as far as I know, they are only available for a short time in the summer. There is something special about eating a flower, especially when it has the potential for preparation as a feature in a meal, rather than a garnish.
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I had to wait a day to cook them, so they did wilt a little bit. But I already had ricotta in my fridge, planning ahead for this very time when I would get to stuff the flowers.

Rather appropriately, I also had zucchini itself in my fridge. I added it to a Smitten Kitchen recipe I saw a few weeks ago, “One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes.” I had been dying to make this recipe, mostly because I stinkin’ LOVE farro. (So chewy and yummy…shaped kind of like orzo pasta but with a denser texture, as a grain. Barley is somewhat similar). But also because Deb gave a very useful guide for one-pan cooking, based on her reliable testing. You see, most people (including myself) expect that the grain gets cooked in its own pot, and then the vegetables sauteed separately in second pan. Not her!

Full disclosure: I did use a second pan to saute my zucchini, since I thought it might benefit from a little sear and pre-softening, in case it became soggy when dropped directly into the main pan. I had looked over one of Smitten Kitchen’s other recipes with zucchini first for inspiration. That recipe has the squash ending up in a tart, and it does call for using a saute pan. At least I used that same saute pan for frying the blossom, which made me fairly efficient at minimizing the dishes pile in my sink!

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Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Ricotta

adapted from Gourmet on epicurus
Can be served with your favorite tomato sauce for dipping.

1 Cup ricotta, freshly made is best, and whole-milk is better, but part-skim (I used) is fine
1 large egg yolk
1/4 Cup fresh mint or basil or a combination, finely chopped
2/3 Cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
12 to 16 large zucchini squash blossoms
1/2 Cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 Cup chilled seltzer, club soda, or beer
Vegetable oil for frying

Equipment recommended: frying/candy thermometer.

For the filling, stir together ricotta, yolk, herbs, 1/3 cup parmesan, and 1/8 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

You may end up with extra filling, so feel free to scale it down to match the approximate number of blossoms you have. Yes, I realize that involves using part of an egg yolk–you could cook and eat the rest (why not?). Otherwise, I think that eggs are inexpensive and biodegradable enough that you aren’t being too wasteful if you discard a portion.

I used a combination of fresh spearmint and fresh basil from my garden.

I used a combination of fresh spearmint and fresh basil from my garden.


Carefully open each blossom and fill with ricotta filling, gently twisting end of blossom to enclose filling. I wouldn’t recommend using a spoon. The process will be so much easier if you can get your hands on something with a tapered tip which you can insert into the flower. Some reviewers did use the Ziplock bag-with-a-corner-snipped-off method.
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Whisk together flour, remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and carbonated liquid in a small bowl.
I didn't want to open a new bottle of seltzer to use only a small portion! But opening and using up a beer? That could be arranged.

I didn’t want to open a new bottle of seltzer to use only a small portion! But opening and using up a beer? That could be arranged.


Heat 1/2 inch oil to 375°F in a heavy skillet sized to fit half your blossoms. Meanwhile, dip blossoms in batter to thinly coat.
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Fry coated blossoms in batches, gently turning once, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes total.
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Transfer with tongs to paper towels to drain. (Check the temperature of the oil so it comes back up to 375°F between batches.) Season with salt. Serve alone or with tomato sauce.
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Farro with Summer Garden Vegetables
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1.5 Cups water
3/4 Cup semi-pearled/whole farro
1/2 medium onion
(I used about 3 ounces)
2 cloves garlic
4 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes
4 ounces zucchini
, diced
1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
Up to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Basil leaves, cut in chiffonade, for serving
Grated parmesan cheese, for serving

Place water and farro in a medium saucepan to presoak while you prepare the other ingredients.

Add a little olive oil to a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add diced zucchini and cook until slightly softened, about 3 minutes.
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Add to saucepan with farro.

Cut halved onion in half again, and very thinly slice it into quarter-moons. Add to pot with farro. Thinly slice garlic cloves and add to pot.

Halve tomatoes and add.

Fresh from my front-yard garden!

Fresh from my front-yard garden!


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Add salt, pepper flakes (to taste) and 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan.
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Turn on heat to medium-high and set a timer for 30 minutes. Bring UNcovered pan up to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. Check the farro’s texture after 30 minutes–it should be tender, but will be still chewy, and most of the water should be absorbed. If you let your heat get too high and the water boils off, you may have to add extra liquid.

Transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle with additional olive oil, basil and parmesan.
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It’s a zucchini + pasta/grain craze! Melissa Clark of the New York Times also used zucchini and tomatoes this week in her recipe.

Having the plant and the flower together!

Having the plant and the flower together!

It’s Burger Season!

Who doesn’t love a burger?

I may be misleading you with the title of this post, because what I will be featuring is a veggie burger. But this veggie burger is one of the best I have ever tasted.

I found the burger on Pinterest, drawn to this picture:

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The author described the original burger, which was discovered at a well-known vegetarian restaurant, as quite burger-like, vegetarian or not!

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I’m particularly proud of how my version turned out because I truly improvised on this one. The recipe called for approximately one onion. We all know that onions vary widely in size, so that kind of recipe instruction bothers me. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, but a lot of times new or hesitant cooks would appreciate more precision. To represent that onion in this recipe, I used about 3/4 of a cup of “stuff”: a little bit of yellow onion, a little bit of leftover chopped red onion I had (from a recipe that actually stipulated the number of tablespoons), and—-chopped swiss chard stems! Swiss chard came in my share last week and I had yet to fully utilize it. I used a few leaves as a substitute for spinach in a blue cheese, sundried tomato, and greens sourdough bread I made in the bread maker the day before, and I saved the stems.
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If you’re not familiar with swiss chard, I would say that it has more of an earthy flavor than other greens. I’m sure it has some similarities with beet greens (which could also be used here, if you have beets with the full tops!).
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Beet and Bean Burgers
Adapted from theKitchn’s recipe inspired by the veggie burgers at Northstar Cafe in Columbus, Ohio
makes about 4 medium burgers

1/4 cup brown rice (doubled if you like more rice-they say it makes a crispier burger)
3/4 cup of some combination of onion (red, yellow, white, or even green) and swiss chard stem, diced small
About 8 ounces of beets, diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced (to taste…at least 2 tsp for me)
1 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 can black beans (about 3/4 cup), drained and rinsed
1/2 juice from 1/2 lemon
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon parsley, minced
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme
, minced
2+ Tablespoons all-purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste

cheese (optional) – provolone, monterey jack, or cheddar

Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil. Add a handful of salt and the rice, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the rice until it is no longer al dente. You want it a little over-cooked. This will take at least 40 minutes, depending on your rice. Drain the rice and set it aside.

Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and swiss chard mixture, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the onions are translucent and softened.

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So pretty!

Stir in the beets. Cover the pot and cook until the beets are completely tender, stirring occasionally. Give it at least five minutes and then taste for tenderness.
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Add the garlic and cook until it is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Deglaze the pan using the cider vinegar.

Empty the black beans into a large bowl and use a fork to mash them up a bit. Add the cooked rice, the beet and onion mixture, the lemon juice, the olive oil, and all the spices. Stir to combine.
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Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the flour and stir. I needed to add a little extra flour for keeping the mix together, and it still fell apart a bit. Reviewers on the recipe’s webpage mentioned using rolled oats as a binder as well.

Heat a cast-iron skillet over the highest heat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Heat until it flows easily and shimmers.

Using your hands, form about a cup of the burger mixture into a patty between your palms. (Get ready to have horror-flick gory hands). Set it in the hot pan. Continue shaping and adding as many patties are you are making at one time and add to pan as they fit. Reduce heat.

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What’s wrong with this picture? Answer: not enough oil in the pan.

Note: the recipe says that the burgers are best eaten immediately. The mix can be kept in the fridge for a few days if you want to save it and make additional burgers at another time. I formed a few burgers and stuck them in the freezer–I’ll let you know if they hold up.

Cook the patties for 2 minutes, working to get a nice crust, then flip to the other side. If you’re adding cheese, lay a slice over the burgers now. Cook the second side for another 2 minutes.

Serve the veggie burgers on a toasted english muffin, burger buns or sandwich bread.

Seriously, this was so delicious.

Seriously, this was so delicious.

OK, OK, I know you want to see some meat. Here’s the burger I consumed at a friend’s house a few days later, made by our own Chef Chris Davila:

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The picture is blurry, but I’m sure you can see how it was cooked wonderfully medium rare.

He ground his own beef and used a combination of short ribs, sirloin, and flank steak. The recipe was from Saveur magazine’s June/July 2013 issue: Ultimate Grilled Cheeseburger. Special sauce and all.

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Happy burger season!

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Taking ramps and getting on the bandwagon

Have you heard the rage about ramps? Those bunches of mildly pungent spring onions that pop out for a short time, to the delight of foodies? It has been called a “Mania” by more than one source, with Eater and Grub Street tracking the appearance of ramps on restaurant menus. My interest was first piqued this spring 2013 either when I came across the ad for Ramp Fest in Hudson, NY (decided it would be wasteful to drive through NYC-area traffic, by myself, to partake), or when I saw Smitten Kitchen’s latest post. I had never cooked ramps, but I was pretty sure I had eaten them before, in a restaurant dish (apparently chefs hoard them).

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I learned that my friend Kelly is part of this cult. We were attending a mushroom-themed lecture and dinner, organized by our Cornell alma mater, when she brought up ramps, so I suppose that makes sense. She asked if I had had some yet this year. I lamented about western Long Island’s lack of good spring farmer’s markets, and told her I had not once seen them in ANY of my local grocery stores, but I didn’t feel the need to go out of my way when there are so many other vegetables to make use of. Then she offered to get me some, at the farmer’s market she walks by on her way to work at Columbia. Now was my chance! Who knows how long they will last?! I suggested we cook them together at her place that weekend.

Of course, I wanted to use the ramps at LEAST two ways. So here it goes.

Chimichurri Ramps Bread with Lemon Thyme Butter
discovered through Pinterest, on vegetarianadventures.com

Chimichurri:
1 bunch of ramps
(about 10 stalks)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 red pepper flakes
dash of pepper

For the bread:
1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons yeast
1 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup parmesan, shredded (apparently optional! Since we forgot to add it and it was still delicious)

For the butter:
6 Tablespoons butter
, softened
2 heaping teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
Half of a lemon’s worth of zest – wash lemon well to remove any wax

To make the bread: Combine the warm water and yeast in the large mixing bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes or until it becomes frothy. Add in the flours, salt, and olive oil and mix until combined. Knead dough in a stand mixer with hook attachment until smooth and elastic. If you don’t have a mixer, turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead by hand for ten minutes. If you are at Kelly and Kevin’s house, this floured surface is their cleaned off dining table. Hey, it worked! Transfer kneaded dough to an oiled bowl and cover with a clean dish towel. Let rise in a warm place for an hour.

While the bread is rising, make the butter: mash the lemon zest, softened butter, and thyme together. Depending on much your butter softened, wrap in parchment paper and place in the fridge until firm.

And make the chimmichurri: Rinse the ramps and cut off the roots and any rough tips. Slice into big chunks. Place all ingredients in a food processor (or blender) until a smooth paste forms. Taste for additional seasoning, and try not to eat it all right out of the container.
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Next, turn the dough out onto floured surface and roll into a rectangle, about 18 by 12 inches. Top with the chimichurri. At this point, you could add half of the shredded parmesan cheese too.
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Roll the long side of the dough towards you (jelly roll style, like you would for roulades or cinnamon rolls) and pinch the ends closed.
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This next instruction is a little messy: slice down the middle lengthwise, twist both pieces, and use the two parts to bread the bread by twirling around each other. (When I first saw this instruction, I pictured disaster. But with Kelly’s encouragement, I managed to keep most of the filling inside).
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Transfer to a greased baking sheet…

This whopper required four hands.

This whopper required four hands.

and let rise for another 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 425.  Add the rest of the shredded Parmesan, and bake for roughly 25 minutes or until golden on top.
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Ramp Risotto
via NYMag.com
Serves: 4

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ramps
1 small shallot
, finely chopped
Pinch of red-pepper flakes
1 cup arborio or other fancy risotto rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken broth,
simmering in separate pot on stove
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
, grated
Kosher salt to taste

In a wide, heavy-bottom saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Finely chop ramp greens and stalks, reserving greens for later.

Kelly's husband Kevin working the slice.

Kelly’s husband Kevin working the slice.

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Add shallot, ramp stalks, and pepper flakes, and stir until the shallot is translucent, about two minutes.
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Add rice to pot and cook over medium heat for two minutes, stirring to coat rice with oil. Pour in 1/4 cup of the wine and boil until almost absorbed. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of hot broth at a time, stirring the rice constantly until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Add another 1/4 cup of stock, the remaining wine, and a tablespoon of olive oil, continuing to stir.
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Add the ramp greens and more stock as needed and continue cooking and stirring until the risotto looks creamy but is still al dente, about 18 to 22 minutes.

Remove from heat and let the risotto stand for about 30 seconds. Add a drizzle of olive oil, butter, and cheese; stir until well combined. Season with salt.

What a ramptastic meal!

What a ramptastic meal!

In the end, I can understand the obsession with ramps. They are lovely. Their roots have a stronger flavor than leeks, more subtle than green onions, and more complex than yellow onions, with a slight flavor of garlic. And they are so easy to prepare! In spite of the fact that I have gotten pretty good at dicing onions, I don’t always enjoy the mess it makes with the little pieces going everywhere. The leaves wilt nicely too, retaining a bright green punch. If you like the idea of these recipes but can’t find ramps (surprise surprise) I will share Smitten Kitchen Deb’s suggestion of using a combination of green onions and a few spinach leaves, some pretty standard ingredients to have hanging around (or growing in a garden later in the summer). I’ll have to try this someday soon and let you know how it goes!

Kelly and me

Kelly and me