Ramps Today, Three Ways.

ramps, dirt.

Late this morning, I packed a little spade, a plastic bag and my Husband and headed for the woods. Last week was so incredibly busy, that I didn't have time to go pluck a few of the hundreds of ramps I spotted the week before. It's been rainy here for the past 3 days, and the forest floor felt spongy. I felt grateful to shovel up the the dark earth carefully surrounding a few of the ramps; I felt strange to be digging in a common area, the ground foreign and surprisingly healthy - fresh with that loamy, dirty smell that before today I thought only really existed in the country.

I brought home my haul, which was on the light side because Spring is fading and I was cautious not to over dig. I'm not sure I can ever get over the prettiness of ramps, their ribbony tops and rose-legged midsections, their gleaming white bulbs that smell cleanly pungent.

ramps, no dirt

This is the first time I've ever foraged for ramps, and I didn't really go out in the woods this Spring looking for them. But there they were, laughing at me that I had just bought a little bunch at the store for $2.50, hiding in plain sight amongst the trilliums and Jack-in-the-Pulpits and other tiny, flowering Spring things that I recognized and pointed out to my family. When I saw the bounty of the forest just steps from my house, I vowed that I would experiment a little more with this wild leek and today I did.

ramp sorrel pesto

My neighbor across the street planted some things in the back of her house a few years ago in a garden plot that ended up being too shady to be prolific. The chives I could recognize, but I didn't recognize the large, neat green bunches of sorrel that seemed to be self-propagating themselves. Neither of us knew what it was (since she had forgotten what she planted), and as we nibbled it, tart and lemony, she found the original plant marker buried beside the largest clump. Having the memory I do, I recalled seeing a sorrel-ramp pesto recipe - and after I mixed up a double batch of it today, I think I can declare it my favorite pesto ever.

The recipe for Ramp and Sorrel Pesto is from Annie Wegner-LeFort, a girl who knows much more about foraging that I do... and that makes me think I should ask her to be my guide in helping do a bit more of it. I used toasted almonds and about twice (or maybe thrice) the amount of olive oil she called for because I have some amazingly delicious olive oil on hand right now. (But, I'll be discussing that at length sometime in the near future.)

pesto portions

I love when I taste something and it exceeds my expectations. Sorrel on its own, munched in the outdoors, is good and shockingly refreshing, but I couldn't imagine using an amount of it in a recipe and not having it take over. But ramps and sorrel are a perfect match, complementing each other perfectly and not really overwhelming me with their combined strength. I did just as Annie suggested and portioned it into mini-muffin tins and popped it into the freezer. It seems a shame to freeze something so delicious mere moments after it was out growing in the woods, but I maybe will get back out to pick just enough more for another fresh batch before the season ends.

I trimmed the bulbs from the rest of my stock and weighed them in at about 10 ounces. Not quite enough for much, but enough for about half of Hank Shaw's gorgeous looking saffron pickled ramps. I settled on that one after much debate. There are lots of nice looking ramp pickles out there, but I figured that if I am going to can a single jar of something, I had better make it stellar - and what does that more than saffron.

I had just enough left (I had this high-quality one from the Spice House) for a half recipe. The saffron transformed plain, white vinegar (the stuff I call "household vinegar" since I generally use it for cleaning) into something truly amazing. It's golden and sunny, and I'm going to try and save this one jar for a special occasion after it cures at least two weeks as Hank advises. If I was going to use the last of the saffron on something, this was definitely a good bet. I had trimmed down the ramp "necks" and saved the inch and a half or so sized pieces and let them simmer in the small amount of vinegar solution that was left after packing my jar and getting it into the water bath. I'll happily be munching them with something before too long!

saffron pickled ramps
I don't have many of them, but I love these "Longlife" Mason jars...

With the ramp bulbs snug in their jar, I turned the 6 oz. or so of ramp greens into this kimchi from the Hungry Tigress. All I can say is holy cow is this stuff good. You could easily polish it off before it ever got to fermenting, but most of it made it to the jar and it's sealed up on the counter for a few more hours before heading into the fridge. The only thing I could be sad about is how few ramp tops I appear to have now that they are fermenting and wilting... Now would also be a good time for me to mention that if you have ever seen a recipe on the Tigress site, make it because it will, no doubt, be great.

ramp green <span class=

Maybe I should make a verbal commitment to learn more about foraging and gleaning this year. OK, I WILL make a verbal commitment to learn more about it. Thinking of the great adventure I had with my little bounty today and what fun I've had in the past with similarly small hauls confirms that foraging is a good fit for me. I just need a few friends to start me on my way, since I am a little intrepid about just photo-identifying wild edibles. But I suppose for things like violets and now ramps, there really is no mistaking them. If you are lucky enough to spot some, forage mindfully and leave some to propagate for another day, and then... go make these things right away.

Vegan Monday: Pasta!

Well, a whole week has passed without a single word from rcakewalk. The truth is, I had a lovely Summer Cold most of last week, and really didn't do much cooking until I needed to get ready for the Boy-O's birthday on Friday. I feel like I have a lot of time to make up for, since being compromised in taste and smell faculties rendered me a pretty poor kitchen experimenter for many days. (Though, I did manage to read all the way through Wild Fermentation - and start a "ginger bug", and then after the bug was going, I bottled a little batch of ginger beer.)

Last night, I knew that I was feeling better, when I was automatically planning what I could come up with for my continuing Vegan Monday postings. Since my basil was in need of pinching back again, I figured pasta and pesto would be a good choice for supper... and it was a happily sneaky one that my Husband ate without knowledge of its delicious vegan-ness.

I really love making pasta from scratch. I've done it now for probably 12 years, and can't say that I've ever tried to make it without eggs. What's even worse, is that I wrote a post about beet pasta, in which I tweaked a recipe I saw in the Outpost Exchange that did not contain eggs, and I actually said that I prefer pasta that does. I can now attest that this is because I never had homemade semolina pasta. It is wonderful, and easy to do, and I may just have to take back the song previously sung about the wonders of egg pasta.

Semolina flour, in it's sand-like peskyness, is very high in gluten - which enables it to stretch and not break when cooking. I noticed the difference immediately when working with the dough. It was a resisting, silky thing; when rolled thinly (notch 6 on my Atlas Pasta Queen), it felt as if I were feeding a sheet of peached cotton through the cutters. The strands of finished fettuccine did not stick together either, and I could see myself actually able to roll little nests like Marcella Hazan without much difficulty. The dried pasta (seen in the first photo, above), did not break or crack when I moved it to a sheet pan. I was excited, since already I could tell that I was going to be so happy with the cooked result.

This morning, I mixed up a small batch using proportions from A Life(time) of Cooking. I needed almost twice the amount of water she recommended, but went by the feel of my egg pasta past, and was indeed rewarded with the pretty little dough seen above. Then, Boy-O (now a proud 4 year old!) and I went for a walk. As I like to err on the side of gluttony (a phrase coined by my Husband and Maeckel), I decided I had to make a second little batch, only whilst walking, I figured there was no reason not to try it with wheat flour and semolina.

Since the recipe calls for equal proportion of all purpose flour and semolina flour, I'm imagining all kinds of whole grain flour combinations are going to be tried sometime in the future. I used a white whole wheat flour from King Arthur Flour. The dough was just as nice to work with, and cooked up into a mildly, wheat flavored pasta. I heard no complaints from either of my guys, so I'm taking it that they couldn't even tell. I think the truth of the matter is that homemade pasta so far surpasses store bought pasta, that you would be hard pressed to find someone who thought otherwise.

The base recipe suggests that for each generous serving, these are the proportions to use. When I had two batches (using different flours), the total weight was just shy of 1 lb... The best thing about homemade pasta, is that it does store well. Just make sure it's dried well first, and then seal it in a zip top bag. It's even more of a convenience food than it's supermarketed brethren, since it takes mere minutes to cook. Even more reason for you to give it a go!

(Vegan) Semolina Pasta (adapted from A Life(time) of Cooking)
  • 1/2 c. semolina flour
  • 1/2 c. AP flour (or white whole wheat - I used KAF)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 t. olive oil (eyeball it)
  • 6-8 T. water, to feel
In a medium sized bowl, mix the flours and salt. Add the olive oil, then 4 T. of the water, while stirring the forming dough with your fingers. Add enough water to get the dough to form into a ball. (The semolina flour, and the wheat flour, will soak up a bit more liquid than regular AP flour.) When the dough is formed into a ball, knead gently for a few strokes on a wooden board to be sure everything is incorporated well.

Let the dough rest for at least a half hour. Roll out either by hand on a well floured board, or by hand cranked or stand mixer attachment, using regular AP flour as necessary. Cut into desired shape, and let dry (or cook right away).

When cooking, bring an ample amount of salted water to boil and add the pasta. Watch it carefully, it takes just a few minutes to cook. I start testing it when I see it boil up to the surface, usually around the three minute mark.

Semolina/AP flour pasta on the left, semolina/white whole wheat pasta on the right.

Of course, since I went through the trouble of making eggless pasta, I made a vegan pesto as well - from another winning recipe from Dreena Burton's Eat Drink & Be Vegan. I found the recipe printed for you here, from an interview that Dreena did for Vegan Freak Radio, and let me tell you - you may never find yourself buying a pine nut ever again. It was so creamy, fresh, and when I first tasted it, the bite of raw garlic perfectly complemented the other ingredients. (The only thing I did differently, other than not really measuring anything, was to omit the dried mustard. Why oh why do I always remember that I don't have this spice stocked until the last second? The amount needed was too little to be processed out of mustard seeds in my coffee mill/spice mill... so I just left it out.) I'm looking forward to having some of the leftovers on a pizza tomorrow...

While the final dish left something photographically to be desired, the taste did not. The pasta had perfect bite, just a tad more toothsomeness in the whole wheat version, and because I remembered to save some of the pasta's cooking water, I had a nicely thickened pesto sauce that gently coated the noodles. You could go all out and load up on the sauce, like Dreena does, but I have hopes for my leftovers tomorrow, so I restrained.

I'm sure I'll be back to my cooking self this week, and already I'm behind on my weekly fermenting/culturing duties. I actually have to start my next kombucha batch now before I hit the hay...

But before I do go: A non-vegan bit of information I must pass on! I got the best tip ever from my reading of Wild Fermentation for all of you yogurt makers out there: for every quart of milk you are inoculating with the yogurt culture from a previous batch, only use 1 Tablespoon of culture. 1 Tablespoon! I always use much more, but thanks to Sandor (and The Joy of Cooking) - who explained that less culture gives the bacillus room to move and creates a thicker, creamier result. I did this today, and in just 7 hours had beautifully thickened yogurt, with no separation!

So how is THAT to end a Vegan Monday post! From what I've read, you can make a soy or alternative milk yogurt from a culture, but the culture will not perpetuate. Also, I do not believe that the cultures can be dairy free to start... so now I'm curious, and have some label reading to do on my next Outpost trip. Maybe I know what direction I'm heading for next week's vegan post...

All things green for the beginning of August...

I was out of town for a week, and got to spend some time at my parent's house about 3 hours west of here. They pared down the garden this year, but I was still amazed at the quantity and size of the plants... I originally was only going to take the jalapenos and green beans, jalapenos for a candied jalapeno project that R1 and I are going to tackle, and green beans for dilly beans thanks to Marisa at Food in Jars. But of course the call of the wild was overwhelming, and when I had picked the beans clean, I grabbed a bunch of green peppers and an armful of carrots. Then I couldn't stop, and also took some onions. But my car had only limited space, since I made no effort to pack lightly for a week long I had to curb my enthusiasm.

As you may have already surmised, I do run greatly in the vein of obsessions. Notably this year, I've been obsessed with mangoes, knitting, tart cherries and canning in general. I forgot how amazing it is to preserve food in jars. Already, my basement storage of preserved food is nearing its capacity, and more room will need to be made. When I planted some green beans that a neighbor had given me in spring, I immediately thought of dilly beans. The first and last time I had one was with Gina (of Square Pie fame: and I forget who gave them to her. Of course, after discovering, I knew I had to try the spicy variety she showcased there.

It's surprisingly easy to can in hot water baths, i.e, pickling and jamming. I always thought that I never had the time, but I guess you make the time for the things obsessions are made of. I hardly have any time left over to think now with the knitting and the flickr and then this canning. At least I am being as productive as I can, for the shortening of summer days begins to remind me now that winter is a long and lonely time for the stay at home types. (Truth be told though, I'm never really lonely, and there is ALWAYS something that has to be made: a bed, a cake, you know.)

cayenne spiced dilly beans, courtesy of Marissa at

When I returned to Milwaukee, I had a scorched yard and lots of basil to contend with: so the first of the pesto preserve was on. Monday, I made the first batch. I like to freeze it in little scoops on wax paper and then transfer to deep frozen storage. Mine stayed nice and green thanks to Michael Chiarello. He recommends blanching the basil, plunging it into the ice bath, then drying it well before proceeding. But I can't be bothered with that - I skipped right to his trick of adding a pinch of ascorbic acid, and it stayed bright green even after its preliminary freeze.

Of course there is no way to make a ton of pesto and not have some for dinner. This was the fastest tastiest way: a Martha Stewart recipe. First, boil a waxy potato or two cut into 1 inch chunks for 2 minutes. Then add pasta and green beans and continue cooking until pasta is done, about 10 additional minutes for the fusilli I used above. Then simply drain and toss with a little pesto. You may think I was going to be in a marathon the next day what with the potatoes, pasta AND bread all on my plate at one time...but sometimes a huge helping of carbohydrates is just what the doctors order.

All of this just since Monday! And tonight is my much anticipated knitting class on mitered mittens. I've been psyched for weeks thinking of the mittens I will make for everyone. On my week gone, I purposefully left all knitting at home so I could rest my carpal tunneled arms, but have still managed to almost finish another hat since I got home as well. Like I said, they don't call them Obsessions for nothing.