You know those broccoli florets you lifted from last night’s office holiday party? Roast them with olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes then layer them onto toasted ciabatta along with ricotta cheese sprinkled with nutmeg and a little more olive oil, and you just may recover in time for tonight’s party. ‘Tis the season.
My first year of graduate school concluded twelve days ago. I’ve read a novel, gotten a pedicure, and made my annual pilgrimage down to Baltimore for Beth and Don’s Memorial Day BBQ. This is me with the chipotle, espresso, and bourbon barbecue sauce that I used to glaze a 14.5-pound brisket.
Life is beginning to return to normal, though I am a bit mystified by what everyone does in the hours between working and sleeping. The stress of holding down a full-time job while cranking out research papers seems to have transformed me into a (reluctant) morning person. I have been trying to make the most of this found time, particularly on Saturdays when the greenmarket near my house is open.
It turns out that the early bird gets the ramps. For those who are not familiar, ramps are an early spring vegetable much beloved by market-driven chefs, locavores, and those who like to fancy themselves in the know. (For an interesting summary of the arc of the ramp, check out Hugh Merwin’s recent Grub Street post.) Ramps taste like a cross between a leek and green garlic and make for a lovely pesto. But I like them best grilled whole.
Ramp, Fig and Ricotta Tartine
- Cut a thick wedge of rustic bread (whole wheat sourdough from Bread Alone in this case) and set it to toasting.
- Bring a cast iron pan up to medium low heat with a tablespoon of olive oil.
- Rinse your ramps and trim the very tip, then set them in the cast iron pan, leaving the greens hanging over the edge. (This technique is key in my opinion, as it allows you to get a nice sear on the white portion of the ramp without overcooking the delicate greens.)
- Once you have some nice color on one side and the ramps are starting to soften, use the greens as a handle to flip them over and sear the other side. Then shift them fully into the pan and briefly cook the greens.
- Spread a thick layer of ricotta cheese onto your toast, add a thin layer of fig preserves, place your grilled ramps on top and finish with a little salt and freshly ground pepper. Enjoy.
I find myself working from home today while trying to fend off an illness whose most notable symptom is the sensation that there is a vise across the bridge of my nose. I left work early yesterday and it was all I could do to swing by the drugstore for some (to be used for legal purposes only) decongestants.
I rolled out of bed this morning, made some coffee, and got to work. By 12:30 I had sent 43 emails and held two conference calls. (Remember when sick days were a thing?) The vise was tightening. I was hungry and I had failed to stock the fridge. It was chilly and gray and I had no interest in donning pants. I was going to have to make do with what I had.
There was some kale from my CSA, a quarter cup of ricotta cheese that seemed to still be good, and an open bag of whole wheat penne. While I am not above making this a meal, it seemed a little sad. Then I remembered that rosemary-basil pesto I had frozen during the last gasps of summer and it all came together. Twenty minutes later, I was sitting down to a delicious lunch – and my next conference call.
I’ve taken on a full CSA share this year. This is an ambitious quantity of vegetables, even for a serious vegetable lover. My goal is to keep some staples on hand that will allow me to convert pretty much anything into a quick weeknight meal. Whole wheat flatbread and ricotta cheese are on the list.
Tonight I seasoned the ricotta with nutmeg. I used a vegetable peeler to shave thin slices of zucchini and marinated them in lemon juice, fresh basil and a fruity olive oil. I topped it off with a few sliced cherry tomatoes and some scallions that I halved and grilled in the same cast iron pan that I used to toast the flatbread. When making something this simple, it’s important to season each element. I added salt and pepper as I went and then sprinkled a little fleur de sel over the top.
I ate this with some green leaf lettuce dressed with Greek yogurt, white wine vinegar, a minced garlic scape, pepper and a bit of honey. For dessert I polished off some strawberries that were definitely not going to keep through my long weekend in Sonoma. Then I turned a bag of leafy greens over to my appreciative neighbor and dragged out the suitcase.
Spending the better part of a day preparing a lavish dinner for friends is a meditative and restorative activity for me. But at 8:30 on a Tuesday night, I just want to get something tasty and nutritious into my stomach as quickly as possible.
I opened the fridge to discover that the greens atop these radishes were beginning to wilt. If you haven’t caught on by now, I am a bit obsessed with dark leafy greens. Last summer, unable to bear the thought of throwing out such a bounty of greenery (and after having Googled to ensure that they were not poisonous), I decided to try eating the radish greens. They’ve got a slightly rough texture and a bitter, peppery flavor similar to the radish itself, but much more subtle. That is to say, they are delicious.
Tonight I prepared the radishes and radish greens alla puttanesca, which translates as “whore’s style.” There are a number of variations on this, but they all include a variety of savory ingredients–including tomatoes, garlic, onions, chiles, anchovies, capers and olives. Note that these are ingredients that keep well in the pantry or fridge, ready to deliver a burst of flavor whenever you need it.
For this dish, I added a couple of anchovy filets, a tablespoon of olive oil, half a tablespoon of butter (to promote browning), one thinly sliced garlic scape (regular garlic would have been fine, but it’s what I had), and a big pinch of red pepper flakes to a cast iron skillet over medium heat. After a few minutes of stirring, I had a nicely seasoned browned butter. In went the radishes, cut into wedges. I was getting some nice color on them, but they weren’t cooking as quickly as I had hoped, so I added some water to help them along. When the water was nearly gone, I added the radish greens (which you want to wash a little more thoroughly than I did, as they tend toward gritty) and sautéed them. At the last moment, I threw in a tablespoon of capers and 10 or so oil-cured olives that I had chopped and pitted. I finished the dish with some ricotta cheese for a little protein. This would be awesome with some whole wheat pasta.
My local farmers market is really starting to pick up. Mindful of the excessive amount of kale still in my fridge, I limited myself to radishes, scallions, turnips, carrots and thyme. (More on those last three later.) Having hit the gym on the way home, I wanted a quick but virtuous lunch.
I started with half of a whole wheat flatbread. I am a big fan of these because they keep in the refrigerator pretty much forever and can be dolled up an infinite number of ways. I heated up my cast iron skillet and toasted the bread on both sides before applying a layer of ricotta cheese, which is a great source of quick protein that also keeps in the fridge. I added a layer of thinly sliced radishes. In a moment of inspiration, I decided to use the already-hot skillet to grill strips of scallion in a teaspoon or so of olive oil. Freshly ground pepper, fleur de sel and a light drizzle of truffle oil topped my springtime tartine.
It was fresh but lush, and it screamed out for a crisp white wine. Lo and behold, there was an open bottle of Gruner Veltliner on the top shelf of the refrigerator. OK, maybe lunch wasn’t all that virtuous.