This post on ramps was brought to you by my husband’s journal. Let me explain. He writes a daily entry in a journal that is meant to be written in a little each day for five straight years (he hasn’t missed a day). This book, containing nuggets from our daily lives— from quotidian to momentous— has
probably become our most prized
possession. Each day he writes a line and, right above it, he can see what we did that same day during each year prior. If all it says above is “Laura made veggie burgers and we watched Downton Abbey,” he usually keeps it to himself. But when it’s an especially interesting, noteworthy or fond memory, he usually reads it to me.So yesterday, Mike read me the entry from exactly one year ago because it happens to be one of our favorite days of our entire year living abroad. We had spent a glorious spring day hiking around Kahlenberg, a hill famous for its rolling Riesling vineyards and stunning views of Vienna in the distance. But the fondest part of the memory is— you guessed it— the food.
Exhausted from the hike, we felt we deserved a nice meal and so we picked out a place to eat using my tried-and-true requisite for choosing a restaurant when traveling abroad: no English menu. We took seats at Schimanko’s Winzerhaus under a vine-covered arbor on the patio and tried to decipher the menu. Stuffed inside the typed menu was a separate, hand-written insert with the words “BÄRLAUCH ZEIT!” scrawled across the top. Every dish below it included the word bärlauch. Mike’s six years of German study in high school were enough for him to tell me that zeit means season, but bärlauch? No idea. We asked the waiter, who spoke good English, what it meant. “Bärlauch? It is, vell… I don’t know in English. Green leaves, only here in spring, like onion, delicious…” We knew we wanted to order this exciting, in-season mystery ingredient that these Austrians were so excited about, so we took the plunge and ordered bärlauch soup, bärlauch stuffed mushrooms, and bärlauch pasta. We also ordered two glasses of crisp Riesling which we clinked together in a “Prost!” and a “here’s hoping we like bärlauch…”
We didn’t like it. We LOVED it. That green mystery plant floating in our soup, dotting our mushrooms, and creamed into our pesto pasta was so flavorful and complex. We spent the meal “ooooing” and “aaahhing,” trying to guess what it was. It wasn’t green onion, it wasn’t spinach, it wasn’t basil, it wasn’t leek, it wasn’t garlic… but it tasted like all those things. And it was delicious with our Riesling.
The first thing we did when we got back to a WiFi zone was look up bärlauch. No wonder! This thing has so many names— ramps (its common name in the U.S.), wild garlic, ramsons, buckrams, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic and (my favorite) bear’s leek, which is the literal translation of bärlauch. Apparently it got that name because it’s one of the first edible plants to pop up on the forest floor when bears come out of hibernation in spring, so they just gorge themselves on a barlauch buffet. All I can say is those bears have good taste.
Ramps are another member of the allium family (like the green garlic I featured a few weeks ago), so it has a host of health benefits, both nutritional and medicinal. And because it blurs the line between herb, leafy green, garlic, and onion, it has so many culinary uses. But just like bears, humans have to actually forage ramps in the wild, so they are hard to come by in stores. I’ve been patiently awaiting the start of spring, even after the stupid groundhog said it would be six more weeks, and have asked every week at Berkeley Bowl to no avail. And would you believe that yesterday, one year to the day of the journal entry, I finally got my hands on some ramps!
I would like to bring the beauty of the moment when Mike and I shared bärlauch mushrooms and Riesling in Kahlenberg to your very own kitchen. Please pour yourself a crisp glass of white wine and enjoy these ramped-up mushrooms as a sign that spring has sprung (and if you aren’t lucky enough to get your hands on ramps, you can make these mushrooms with a traditional pesto).
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 bunch ramps (~8 oz), washed well
- 1/3 cup good olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- optional: 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (omit if vegan, but you will need to add a bit more salt)
- 16 portobellini or brown button mushrooms, wiped clean and stems pinched off
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup white wine
Place a frying pan on the stove over medium heat. Add the walnuts and toast for 2-3 minutes, stirring regularly so they don’t burn. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and heat. Meanwhile, trim the root tips off the ramps and roughly chop. Add the ramps to the pan and sauté with the oil and walnuts for 2 minutes until just wilted and deep green. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
Place the ramps mixture in a food processor or blender and add the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and parmesan cheese. Pulse/process until the mixture comes together to form a pesto-like paste. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. If you like your pesto thinner, you can thin with more olive oil or lemon juice.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Place the mushrooms in the pan, hole-side down, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let sit for 5-6 minutes so they soften and brown slightly in the oil. Turn the mushrooms over so the hole is facing up and add the white wine to the pan, swishing it around to deglaze the pan and coat the mushrooms. Fill the hole of each mushroom with a dollop of ramps pesto, cover the skillet, and turn the heat the low to cook for 15 minutes or until the mushrooms are nice and soft all the way through.
Serve with a drizzle of aged balsamic, or for a heartier meal, serve on warm polenta with the deglazed mushroom juices.