Chef Kathy Gunst Searches For The Wild Greens Of Spring

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A sure sign of spring in the eastern U.S. are spring leeks, also known as ramps. They grow wild and foodies love them --  so much that ramps are in danger of being over-harvested.

Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst visits a forest in northern New England that is bursting with ramps. Her guides are Galen Mott, a conservationist, and John Forti, an ethno-botanist and curator of historic landscapes at the Strawberry Garden Museum in New Hampshire. See Kathy Gunst's recipes for ramp mushroom tart, ramp butter and more below.

Sautéed Ramps (pdf)

[sidebar title="Kathy's Note" width="475" align="right"]This is the simplest recipe. Clean ramps (or wild leeks) under cold running water. Remove the brown "skin" off the bulb and let dry thoroughly. Heat good olive oil in a skillet over moderately-high heat and when hot add the ramps, leaves and all. Saute for 2 minutes (the greens will puff up), season with sea salt and pepper and flip over. Cook another 1 to 2 minutes or until the bulb looks tender. Serve hot with good, warm crusty bread.[/sidebar]

Ramp Butter (pdf)

[sidebar title="Kathy's Note" width="475" align="right"]This is a great way to extend the ramp season. The ramps are lightly sautéed in olive oil and then pureed with butter. The gorgeous green butter is bursting with fresh ramp flavor and is fabulous melted over a grilled steak, grilled or sautéed seafood, or used like you would use garlic butter to make garlic bread. Try a grilled cheese and ramp butter sandwich.[/sidebar]

2 tablespoons olive oil
5 ounces fresh ramps, well washed, ends trimmed, and skin removed from the white bulb with the white scallion-like bulb separated and left whole, and greens coarsely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 stick lightly salted butter, at room temperature

Heat the oil in a large skillet over moderate heat. Add the white scallion-like bulbs of the ramps and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and add the greens and stir.

Place the still warm ramps and the oil from the skillet into the container of a food processor or blender. Add the stick of butter and pulse until the butter softens (it may even melt from the heat of the ramps) and the ramps are fully incorporated. Place the butter into 1 or 2 ramekins and refrigerate for up to 3 to 4 days, or cover and freeze for up to 3 months.

Makes about 1/2 cup ramp butter.

Ramp and Mushroom Tart (pdf)

If you can find wild spring morels this French-style tart bursts with the flavors of the spring woods. Or use crimini mushrooms or your favorite variety of wild mushroom. Serve with a salad of spring greens and a lightly sparkling white wine.

For the Pastry:
1 1/2 cups flour
a pinch salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into small pieces
1/3 cup ice cold water

For the tart:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 1/2 ounces ramps, ends trimmed, and skin removed from the white bulb, with the bulb and greens chopped
7 ounces morels or crimini mushrooms, or wild local spring mushrooms, ends trimmed and thickly sliced
2 eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In the container of a food processor whirl the flour and salt. Add the butter and pulse about 15 times, or until the butter is the size of coarse cornmeal. With the motor running add enough cold water until the dough just begins to come together and pull away from the sides of the machine. Remove the dough and place in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.

Make the filling in a large skillet. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil over low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the ramps and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Add the remaining oil and the mushrooms and cook another 5 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, with a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk in the cream and then stir in the two cheeses.

Remove the pastry from the refrigerator. Working on a well floured surface roll out the dough to fit a 11 X 8 inch rectangular tart pan or 9-inch round tart pan with a removable bottom. Trim the excess pastry off the edges and discard. Poke a few holes in the bottom and sides of the pastry with the tines of a fork. Chill.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the crust in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven. Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Pour the cooled ramp mixture into the egg mixture, stirring well. Place the filling in the prepared pastry and bake on the middle shelf for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees and continue baking for another 20 minutes, or until the filling turns a light golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry. Let cool for a few minutes and then cut into serving pieces. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Serves 4 to 6.

Excerpted from"Notes from a Maine Kitchen" by Kathy Gunst, to be published in September 2011 (Down East Books).

This segment aired on April 27, 2011.


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