Hummus has succumbed to the fusion evolution. You may now find hundreds of variations that have not a single ingredient common to the original puree of chic peas, tahini, garlic and lemon.
Hummus is the Arabic word for chic pea. So when someone from the Middle East - where the dish originates - says hummus, they always mean “with chic peas”. (Or garbanzo bean - same thing.) That could mean a dish with the whole legume as an ingredient or it could be the silky puree that has catapulted hummus onto the world stage as some kind of dip.
The transition of hummus to mean any pureed dip, where cooks take great liberties with the ingredients, is far from an unusual phenomenon in the culinary world. Look at curry, for example: it started as a sauce and has spawned an impressive worldwide lineage of variations that are far from its original self.
This is the nature of cuisine and a beautiful thing, if you ask me. Why not allow an accepted idea to morph and evolve through the contribution of innovative ingredients, flavors, techniques? When we approach food, and life, this way, our possibilities are forever expanding.
However, I do believe in maintaining some integrity of the original dish. When I am taking liberties with a traditional recipe, I will always include some key element of the original. So you will never find a hummus recipe from me with neither chic pea nor tahini. The tiny bit of Puritan in me insists.
Otherwise, anything is possible.
Winter squash as well as sweet potatoes make ideal substitutions for chic peas when reinventing hummus. The orange flesh of sweet potatoes, pumpkin or butternut bring a vibrancy that chic peas cannot. I love the sweetness and color they contribute. The rich, bitter silkiness of tahini shares an earthiness that bring the two into a harmony that just makes sense. I prefer these two together to chic pea hummus any day.
I love any recipe that calls for roasted squash or sweet potatoes. There are few easier tasks in the kitchen than throwing one of these onto a baking sheet and into the oven to be forgotten for a bit. (And no peeling required!) Roasting either of these two winter vegetables with the end goal of pureeing means an almost irreverence to the kitchen timer. Let them go awhile (up to an hour) until they’re so soft inside their skins, your job is mostly done for you. Let them cool to the touch, then scoop out the glossy flesh. Discard the skins.
Below is a recipe that simply uses sweet potatoes as a replacement for chic peas. Otherwise the tahini, garlic and lemon juice are standard. A little salt, of course. And a bit of cumin.
A further suggestion is given for taking the sweet potato hummus to the next level of exotic: a Persian incarnation. I’ll go this extra step when I am trying to impress someone. Pomegranate seeds are little jewels, anyway; so they alone make a huge impact. And they’re in season now.
Preheat oven to 350
On a baking sheet, place:
3 pounds sweet potatoes or any kind of sweet winter squash, like butternut
You can leave the sweet potatoes whole. Squash will need to be cut in half and baked cut side down. A little spray of olive oil on the pan will keep it from sticking.
Bake for 1 hour or so, until a fork pierces the skin easily.
Let the sweet potatoes cool slightly and then scoop out the flesh into a food processor or high speed blender.
¾ cup Tahini
2 cloves Garlic
Juice of 2 Lemons
2 ½ teaspoons Salt
½ teaspoon Cumin ground
Process until smooth. Taste and add more of any of the seasonings to your liking.
You could stop here and enjoy this version of the sweet potato hummus with a little olive oil on top, or swirl in some pesto.
Or to add the Persian influence, process the following with the ingredients above:
½ Roasted red pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
And then garnish with any combination of the following:
Drizzle of pomegranate molasses
Fresh mint, chopped or whole
Recipe copyright Rhona Bowles Kamar 2018
Working with tahini is an act of faith and perseverance. You must be able to hold fast to your conviction that everything will turn out fine.
When it's fresh, sesame seed butter is smooth and a bit runny. That can deceive you into believing that making a sauce with it will be a breeze. (Not-so fresh tahini can be dry and clumpy, like the last bit of peanut butter at the bottom of the jar. It will require extra patience.)
Jumping into the process of working with tahini will teach you things about yourself. Are you willing to keep going towards your destination or will you throw up your hands, give up? Will you cry and perceive yourself as a failure? Or will you declare yourself as capable as centuries of cooks who have made it through, and persevere?
Tahini is bitter on its own; so most recipes are going to call for the addition of water, citrus juice or oil. But when tahini meets liquid, it typically seizes up... appears to break.... becomes something scary, nothing like the lusciousness it was moments before.
Heed my advice: keep whisking. Don't take no for an answer.
Add a bit more of your liquid. Whisk some more. And watch the clumpy mess return to its former smooth self.
When working with tahini, always take the liberty to add more water or other liquid than the recipe calls for, but go slowly. Add a little at a time and then whisk. You get to decide how thin you want the sauce to be.
Arab-inspired Prana Bowl
The recipe below is a traditional Arabic tahini sauce that is often added to a salad of cucumbers and tomatoes or cooked chic peas. It can also be used to dress greens on a salad; like the Prana lunch bowl pictured below. To assemble the Prana Bowl: smear some hummus on the plate and throw in some cooked chic peas, dried figs or dates, cucumbers and tomatoes. Toss the creamy lemon mint dressing with fresh kale and/ or lettuce and pile the dressed greens in the middle. Some toasted pine nuts and zatar or sumac sprinkled on top would elevate the Middle Eastern vibe.
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup tahini
1 cup warm water
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons fresh herbs (mint, cilantro etc )
In a medium sized mixing bowl, add the tahini. Slowly whisk in the water, continually whisking until the tahini has returned to a smooth consistency. Whisk in the other ingredients. Taste and adjust any of the seasonings as you like.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days.
Product recommendation: organic tahini
I love messing around with super nutritious esoteric ingredients, using them to reinvent more familiar dishes in a cleaner way. I’ve used chia seeds to try to get somewhere close to my grandmother’s banana pudding. I’ve used flaxseeds to mimic an egg. I am completely comfortable with the idea of pureed cashews as a “cheese.” In the pursuit of optimal health, I am not afraid to take risks.
But sometimes I wish it could be like the old days, when we didn’t have to think so hard about what foods were healthy; we just had a repertoire of dishes that were familiar and we never questioned them. My grandmother had a repertoire of family heirloom recipes built entirely around seasonality, with little regard to nutrient content. I envy her free reign with butter and cream atop all of those garden vegetables; all that bacon grease stored on the stovetop in a coffee can.
As our knowledge of the connection between our food and health expands, we are forced to look at our family’s traditional foods with new eyes. And so for people like me, with an extra keen interest in nutrition and a willingness to experiment, things can get interesting.
Socca is an example of a dish that makes me happy because it hits all the notes of a clean diet, but it is a time-honored classic. Chic pea flour is hardly a familiar ingredient here in the states, but it’s been used since ancient times all over the rest of the world. There are variations of this crepe like, oven baked, four ingredient flatbread in Italy (farinata or torta de ceci)…in Gibraltar (calentita)…in Uruguay (faina) and northern India (cheela).
It is gluten free, dairy free, sugar free and soy free only by coincidence, not design, making it so easy for me to adore.
In fact, I wish more people had its combination of old world charm with
Chic pea flour, also know as Besan or Gram flour, can be found in any Indian grocery store or ordered on line. I have started to see it in regular grocery stores here and there. It is a denser, heavier flour so take the time to sift it before adding in the water.
You're making a pancake batter so a whisk is your tool of choice. The batter will be thin and should be lump free. If sifting the dry flour didn't yield you a smooth batter, go ahead and put the wet batter through a sieve as well.
Rosemary is a traditional Provencal herb of choice, but there are no limitations here. I have used chives, cilantro or thyme. The objective with the fresh herbs is to lend flavor notes to the Socca. (And I like the phytonutrients they lend as well.) Chic pea flour has a bitter earthy flavor that needs balance from the floral herbs.
It is customary to let the Socca batter sit for several hours before cooking. I have used the batter immediately and seen little difference in the results. But I like that I can make the batter ahead of time - even in the morning before heading to work - and cook the Socca whenever I'm ready to eat.
The key to Socca is a super hot pan. So set your oven to at least 450 and let it preheat. Once it is preheated, heat a dry 9 to 12 inch cast iron pan for about 5 minutes.
Remove the heated pan from the oven and swirl in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Then the batter. Make sure you coat the pan well with the batter. The oil will mix in and float on top. That's what you want.
Put the Socca on the top oven rack and let it bake for about 5 minutes until it is well set. Then turn your broiler on for another 2 minutes or so until you see the top browning. Carefully remove from the oven. Slide a thin spatula around the edges and then underneath to loosen; and then onto a plate or cutting board. Always serve Socca immediately.
Serves 2 to 4
1 cup chic pea or garbanzo bean flour (Besan flour in Indian groceries)
1 cup lukewarm water
4 Tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
fresh ground pepper
3 Tablespoons fresh minced rosemary, thyme, chives or other herbs
9 to 12 inch round oven-proof skillet or Socca or crepe pan.
Sift the flour through a fine sieve into a mixing bowl. Slowly add the water while whisking out any lumps. If the batter is still lumpy, strain it through the fine sieve another time. The batter needs to be smooth.
Whisk in the salt, pepper and 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Set the batter aside to rest while you preheat the oven, or up to several hours.
Set rack as close to the top of the oven as will accommodate your pan. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. When the oven is preheated, set the pan inside to heat, about 3 minutes.
Stir the fresh herbs into the batter. Remove the pan from the oven and swirl in 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Coat the pan well. Pour in the batter and swirl it around to coat the pan.
Bake the socca for about 7 minutes, until it is well set and then turn the oven to broil. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes until a brown crust forms on the top.
Carefully remove from the oven. Slide a thin spatula around the edges to loosen and then underneath the bread and slide onto a cutting board. Cut into triangles and serve immediately.
product recommendation: organic chic pea flour
There is something about this dish that really plays on my fantasy of living in the French countryside. It’s a traditional Provencal summer dish, the ingredients of which could be gathered solely from one well-planned garden in July and throughout most of August. The ingredients are not exclusive to the south of France; my own grandmother would have grown the traditional zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and peppers in her garden in rural Kentucky.
It’s the abundance of herbs that inspire the romance around this dish for me. (My grandmother didn’t grow many herbs). Any combination of summer herbs: basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary are typical. I’ve read some French cooks even add fresh lavender, which I’ve yet to try. Some fantasies may best be kept elusive.
Perhaps the romance lies in how ratatouille represents what is best about French country cooking: simplicity. It’s really just a vegetable stew. There is a brilliant humility about it.
Like so many other iconic national dishes, ratatouille has some essential ingredients - eggplant, zucchini and tomato - along with possible other elements that vary from cook to cook. These elements are usually guarded like a dark family secret.
My recipe includes balsamic vinegar: not a traditional ingredient to ratatouille, although some cooks do use it. It is a sweet and tart contribution.
The vibrant colors of the ingredients reflect the depth of phytonutrients inherent in this dish: yet another reason to love it. For example: the deep purple eggplant (anthocyanin), the red tomatoes (lycopene), and the green zucchinis (chlorophyll). Instead of the usual red or green bell peppers, look for the orange or purple or yellow for beta-carotene and Vitamin C (source here).The aromatics (garlic and onions) bring allyl sulfides and bioflavonoids, for cancer prevention (source here). And those beautiful herbs I love bring in polyphenols and endless other beneficial nutrients (source here). I think it would be fair to call ratatouille a power dish - nutritionally speaking.
You can put a ratatouille together in various ways. I love the beautiful photos of the dish done with layers of sliced vegetables arranged in a circle, like a tian. But I am suspicious of how well the flavors meld presented like that. The success of a good ratatouille is the synergy between the ingredients, the melding of flavors. That’s what makes it a stew.
However, that does not mean that the cubed vegetables (as this recipe suggests) should collapse into each other completely. Mushy and unrecognizable is not the goal.
The secret to maintaining the integrity of each vegetable is two-part. First, take the time to sear the zucchini and eggplant to give them a nice crust. Second, don’t cook the ratatouille too long.
NOTE ABOUT THE EGGPLANT: The eggplant can be cubed with the skin left on, if you like. Some find the skins of eggplant bitter and if so, you can remove them. You can also take the time to salt and let the eggplant drain for half an hour to further remove any bitterness. Be sure to rinse and dry the cubed eggplant if you do this step.
NOTE ABOUT THE ZUCCHINI: Make sure you let the zucchini (and eggplant) get a nice brown crust. Don't overcrowd the pan while searing the vegetables; you may need to do it in several batches. It's worth the effort: you gain some texture to the vegetables that will keep them from becoming mushy.
NOTE ABOUT PEPPERS: This is another place where you can take liberties. If you love peppers and onions, feel free to cut them bigger. Adjust the size according to how much of their presence you want to see in the stew. I love them medium sized and deeply caramelized.
Serves 4 to 6 people
1 pound Zucchini, diced medium
1 pound Eggplant, peeled, seeded and drained on paper towels, then diced medium
1 medium or 2 small yellow onions, diced medium
2 Bell peppers of one or various colors, diced medium
1 head Garlic, chopped
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, cored and chopped rough
3 Tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped fine. Any combination of basil, parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary or lavender.
½ to 1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt or more to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper or more to taste
3 Tablespoons olive oil
In a large sauté pan or dutch oven, heat a tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat. Pan-sear the zucchini and eggplant in olive oil in batches to get a nice crust on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Add another tablespoon of olive oil and sauté onions, bell peppers and garlic until soft and deeply caramelized. Deglaze the pan with ½ cup balsamic vinegar. Reserve the rest if needed later.
Add the seared vegetables in with the aromatics and tomatoes. Cover and turn the heat on medium to start to soften the vegetables. Keep a careful eye on the stove and adjust the heat if the vegetables are cooking too fast. The lid will help to keep the juices steaming. Add ½ cup water or more balsamic if the pan is running dry.
When the vegetables are soft, add at least 3 tablespoons fresh chopped rosemary, parsley and thyme. Add 1 teaspoon salt and fresh cracked pepper or more to taste.
Pushing past June beetles and prickly stems, berry picking is done of love, a tedious process. One in the mouth, one for the basket. As it should be. Just like that, no washing.
It’s a crime to eat fresh berries any other way but unaffected, straight out of the garden.
But should an abundance of summer berries become your windfall, a sorbet is a preparation that will render a juicy, tongue stained pardon from the judge.
Any combination of the four radiant jewels – raspberries, blueberries, blackberries or strawberries – will work here. The beauty of this method is that it leaves the berries in their raw state, conserving their glow bestowing nutrients in a fun, chilly way.
The presentation can be altered to please you: a classic sorbet scooped into beautiful glass dishes or frozen in any size and shape of Popsicle mold. And truth be told, the base for the sorbet could be shaken with ice and your favorite spirit and then strained into a martini glass. It’s summer. All things are possible.
Any discussion of a berry recipe brings up the issue of seeds, which inspires all kinds of reactions. Yes, the seeds are such an important part of the nutritious profile of berries. Especially the ones with hardier seeds: the blackberry and raspberry. Some feel strongly that it is wasteful and irresponsible to strain them out. But others aren’t able to get past the granulated mouth feel the seeds contribute to an otherwise smooth experience. This recipe suggests a compromise. But please skip the straining step if you feel it best.
If you are missing one or more type of berry, substitute more of another. Any single variety can stand alone in this recipe as well. And don’t get too caught up with the measurements. More or less of this or that berry is okay.
The seeds are going to be strained from the blackberries and raspberries, so start by blending them together. In a blender process the blackberries and raspberries until they are a smooth puree. If your blender stalls and won’t process the fibrous berries, add one tablespoon of cold water at a time until the blades get moving.
Pass the puree through a fine mesh strainer into a mixing bowl, pushing out all of the fruit liquid and leaving the seeds behind. Discard the seeds and set the puree aside while you move on to the other berries.
Give your blender a quick rinse and put in the strawberries and blueberries. At this point, add the ginger as well. Again, process until smooth. Without straining these berries, add them to the blackberry – raspberry mixture.
Whisk in the lemon zest and lemon juice, the vanilla and seeds, if using and then on to the sweetener. Agave is recommended, but honey would be fine too.
The sweetness of a berry is unpredictable. That’s part of its charm. Something that looks so juicy can fool. So begin with the least amount of agave. Then taste. Add more sweetener to your satisfaction. With high citrus and warm vanilla, this sorbet can stand without being overly sweet. Follow your palate.
Choose your medium: a commercial ice cream maker to process the berries into a sorbet or Popsicle molds. Or, with spiced rum…..
2 cups each of strawberries (capped and quartered), blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. If you are missing any of the four, add more of the others
One quarter inch of fresh ginger, peeled
One quarter to half a cup raw, organic agave
One whole lemon, zested and then cut in half
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
One quarter inch vanilla pod scraped of seeds, optional
Process all of the ingredients, except the vanilla seeds and lemon zest, together in a blender. Strain out the seeds, if you desire. Then add in the vanilla seeds and lemon zest. Taste and add more agave if you like.
Freeze in a commercial ice cream machine per the manufacturer’s directions or pour into popsicle molds.
Twice a year, I pack my car full to the ceiling and drive three hours to cook for a yoga retreat deep in the woods of Kentucky. The kitchen - my station for the weekend - overlooks an expansive lake, although its view is mostly blocked by thousands of huge trees. Little streaks of blue peek through the green leaves; more or less, depending on the season. Late fall means more visibility of the water. Although I love the fullness of the oaks, maples and birches in late spring just as much.
I watch hawks circle above the tree line while I chop vegetables and listen to the group of 20 or so women practicing in the great room that’s open to the kitchen.
Cooking is a form of meditation for me, no matter the location or kitchen. But in this scenario, everything I love about it is amplified.
There is a rhythm I fall into that is as restorative for me as the asanas are for the yoginis. The openness of the kitchen to the living-room-turned-studio obliges me to tune into the tempo of their practice. When they are in meditation, I move slower, more deliberate. I am quiet. This is not the time to load the dishwasher or do heavy chopping. I save those tasks for the active part of the practice. I can bang around a little when they’re up doing headstands and backbends.
Being tuned into the pace of their practice becomes my own practice. As I work, I listen to the teachers’ lesson for the day. Whether she’s talking about the history of the goddess or the secret life of trees, I listen along and sometimes stop to take a note.
I am at perfect peace there; and laugh when the women express their guilt that I am working while they relax. They don’t understand: this is how I relax.
The yoginis always want this chocolate pepita bark on retreat. That's fine with me. It's super easy, requiring only two ingredients, not counting the sea salt or any other little exotic garnishes. Pumpkin seeds are one of the healthiest foods on the planet, full of phytonutrients, minerals and fiber. (Research here.)
But no doubt it's the crunch + chocolate + salt factor that makes these non- negotiable for the weekend's menu.
There are countless types of chocolate you can melt to drizzle over the toasted seeds. I suggest a semi sweet chocolate chip of your choice. I love the Enjoy Life brand of chocolate chips: they’re soy, gluten and dairy free. The also have a dark and milk chocolate version.
Buy raw pumpkin seeds and toast them yourself. That gives you total control over the level of crunch. I love to let them go almost to the edge of burnt. They pop as they roast. You could just as well leave them raw, if you like.
Notice the chips on the right side of the bowl. When all the chocolate has turned that lighter shade, then you can stir.
½ pound raw pumpkin seeds
12 ounces vegan or regular semi sweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350.
Line a baking sheet with parchment. Spray the paper lightly with olive oil pan spray.
Spread half a pound of raw pumpkin seeds out evenly, in a single layer as much as possible.
Toast for 12 to 15 minutes until they start to brown.
Let them cool down but make sure they stay evenly spread over the pan. Gently shake the pan to redistribute them, if need be.
In a sauce pan that comfortably fits a stainless steel or glass bowl, bring an inch or so of water to boil. You could also use a double boiler here, if you possess one.
Spread the chocolate chips out in the bowl in a single layer and set over the water. Leave the chocolate undisturbed until every last morsel has melted, when all of them have faded into a lighter shade.
Whisk until the chocolate is smooth with no lumps at all. Dip the tip of a teaspoon into the chocolate and drizzle the chocolate across the seeds, with staccato flicks of your wrist as if this were an abstract expressionist painting. Do maintain control though or you’ll find strings of chocolate on everything outside the rim of the baking sheet.
Cover as much of the seeds as possible, but know that some will inevitably fall away later, when you break the mass into long chards. Throw those stragglers in a bowl and eat them too.
Once you've covered all the seeds, you can sprinkle some sea salt or candied ginger over the chocolate if you like. The yoginis love them both. There are infinite other possibilities: dried lavender? Pink peppercorns? Chili flakes? This is your work of art - you decide.
Set the pan in the fridge for half an hour or so. Then carefully break up the bark into pieces and serve. Leftovers should be kept cool and dry.
Click the link here to print the recipe:
Usually when we talk about “doing a shot” it’s with tequila or some other strong spirit that gives us a quick buzz (and takes away our good judgment.) It starts with fun intentions and ends with a bad headache.
Fresh juiced ginger can give you a buzz without the headache or the regrets. It’s an all over body buzz, generated by ginger’s intense heat. On the other side of the sharp swallow, warmth spreads throughout the body quickly, a burst of energy follows. The mind is cleared. Juice bars everywhere serve little shots of ginger + lemon + honey, a triple threat against inflammation.
The day we first introduced our own version to our bar menu, I asked a few servers if they wanted to do a ginger shot with me. Their response was immediate and enthusiastic: “Yes!”
I laughed, and then told them there’s no alcohol in a ginger shot. They did the shot anyway, with puckered faces and dramatic groans. Ginger is spicy. But I watched as they sang the praises of the after-effect to customers. Sales grew.
Drinking ginger juice becomes a daily addiction. This is the kind of buzz we should crave. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory food and is also said to be good for digestion. (research here.) A cousin to turmeric, ginger is a bona fide member of the super food family.
Most juice bars sell ginger juice by the ounce, and when I am lazy, I will get mine this way. But juicing ginger in big batches and freezing it in ice cube trays is a cheaper way to make sure you always have a supply. I make a batch every few weeks; no daily juicer clean up required.
Here is a place where I really insist on buying organic, as I do for other root vegetables. Growing in the soil means extra exposure to the chemicals of non-organic farming.
Buying organic means I leave the skins on when I juice ginger. A good wash in the sink and then straight into the juicer. Peeling ginger is an exercise in dexterity, navigating little nooks and crannies. If you can’t find organic and want to peel the skin, here’s a little tip: break the roots down into smaller nubs for easier navigation.
Juicing with the skins on also means about a 30 percent greater yield of the juice, I have found. Here a few other tips for successful ginger juicing:
These recipes are, as always, just a guideline. Experiment with the quantities of ginger juice, lemon and honey to arrive at your perfect edge. Adapting to the lovable burn of ginger can happen at your own pace. Feel free to use less than suggested here.
Ten ounces of fresh ginger will yield about 4 ounces of juice.
For an all over body buzz:
Ginger shot or base for the recipes below.
In a glass, stir together:
4 ounces ginger juice
Juice of 1 lemon
3 teaspoons honey or to taste
Each serving will be a little over 1 ounce. Drink quickly or use this as a base for the drinks below.
For a refreshing alternative to soda:
Mix 1 ounce of the Ginger Shot/Base recipe in an 8 to 12 ounce glass. Fill with ice. Top with sparkling mineral water. Stir.
For a winter day or to scare away a cold:
Mix 1 ounce of the Ginger Shot/Base recipe in an 8 ounce coffee mug. Top with hot water and stir.
P.S. Much thanks to my friend's mom who graciously hosted me in her Atlanta home last week and let me have fun in her poolside kitchen. Her name, ironically: Jinger. With a J.
Click the link below to print the recipe:
I would love to forage for ramps one day. I would do it more for the photo opportunity than for the fun of digging around the wet floor of the woods. I imagine the sun coming through the trees and hitting the little patches of graceful ramp leaves and how beautiful that would be.
I wonder how many times I might have walked over a crop playing in the woods as a child. My grandfather, a farmer, never talked about ramps or brought any home from the woods around the farm like he did persimmons and papaws. That leads me to believe ramps didn’t grow in that part of rural Kentucky. I had never heard of the precious wild spring onions until I was already grown.
And truthfully, I didn’t pay much attention when I did hear about them - at first. It’s one of those things in life that might stay on the periphery of your consciousness, then one day come into full focus. That’s when my devotion set in.
Ramps have a cult following. Here’s why: they grow wild (intrigue), they have a short season (rare) and they are in short supply (coveted). It’s as much these reasons as their flavor profile that has made them so hot in recent years. Though they are wild onions, I often forget that and call them wild garlic. The flavor suggests a hybrid of the two. It’s strong.
The leaves are what I really love about ramps. Otherwise, I would stick to my favorite green onion, the leek. Ramp leaves are beautiful. They’re long and triangular and elegant. You could use a small bunch to fan yourself, if temperatures were high in late April, early May. The bulbs are like a regular green onion, small, pungent. But the leaves are hearty in volume, delicate in texture, and can be prepared in countless ways. Their generous length means you can julienne them lengthwise and toss them with string pasta, like the recipe here.
It’s been so rainy here lately that I have skipped the farmers market, knowing that I was dangling on the edge of ramp season. This week, I scored a pound from a friend who had hoarded more than his share in his refrigerator. I took it as a sign that I should go ahead and share this recipe, despite being late in the season. I hope fate is as kind to you this weekend.
1 pound Jovial Gluten Free Tagliatelle or other string pasta of your choice
Butternut squash, about 1 pound
Ramps, 1 pound leaves and bulbs
Simple Mills Grain free Rosemary and sea salt crackers, 1 cup
Or substitute 1 cup any GF breadcrumbs + 1 tablespoon minced
rosemary + 1 teaspoon sea salt + 1 teaspoon olive oil
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, finely minced.
Juice and zest of one lemon
¼ gram or generous pinch saffron, softened in half inch of warm water
1 ½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
Preheat oven to 425 and slice the squash lengthwise in half. Spray a baking sheet with oil and lay the squash cut side down. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes or until soft. This can be done a day or two in advance.
Remove from the oven and scoop out and discard the seeds. Scoop the flesh into a blender and add half cup of the vegetable stock. Process until smooth.
Prep the Ramps
Cut and discard the thin stems, separating the white bulbs from the green leaves. Wash and dry both well. Finely mince the bulbs (this can be done super fast in a small food processor.) Set aside.
Julienne the leaves into long strips. Set aside.
Prep the Breadcrumbs
If you’re using the Simple Mills Rosemary crackers, process them into fine crumbs.
If you’re using gluten free breadcrumbs, toss them with the rosemary, lemon zest and olive oil and toast for a minute in a sauté pan on medium heat. Set aside.
Make the Sauce
Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, heat a skillet to medium high and put in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Saute the ramp greens until they have wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate.
Add the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté 2 tablespoons of the minced ramp bulbs (reserve the others for another use) and 2 garlic cloves until soft, about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the lemon juice/zest and the saffron/soaking liquid. Add the pureed squash and 1 cup of vegetable stock. Reserve the remaining half-cup of broth to thin out the sauce to your liking. Add the salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed.
Stir in the sautéed ramp greens. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook 10 minutes or per the package instructions.
Remove the pasta with a slotted spoon to the sauce. Coat well with the sauce.
Garnish with the rosemary breadcrumbs.
Note about the pasta:
I used Jovial’s gluten free brown rice tagliatelle (made with eggs), because I wanted a pasta that would accommodate the long strands of ramp leaves. You can use any string pasta, of course. Jovial’s tagliatelle is as good as the handmade pappardelle I used to buy for this dish.
Note about the sauce:
The butternut squash gives this sauce structure and body. But it will thicken quickly, especially if reheated. You can add in extra vegetable stock to thin it out, if you like. Or even a little water.
Note about the breadcrumbs:
These are here purely for a textural punch and can be left out if you want. I’ve recently started keeping Simple Mills almond flour crackers (the rosemary is my current favorite) in the house at all times and discovered one night they make great breadcrumbs, with an easy whirl in the food processor. You can use any brand of gluten free breadcrumb and toast them with some chopped rosemary, lemon zest, sea salt and olive oil.
Note about Saffron:
Saffron is the arguably the most exotic and beautiful spice in the world. Words defy explanation of its flavor because there is no comparison. Its price point reflects its perceived value. It is beloved.
When cooking with saffron, you want to crush it between your fingertips and then soften it a bit in some liquid before adding it to a dish. A tiny bit of warm water or stock for three or four minutes is sufficient. Add the soaking liquid along with it. And never leave a single speck of it unused.
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