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.
Last night I was supposed to meet friends in Prospect Park for a screening of The Muppet Movie. Mother Nature had other plans. I’d been prepping for a picnic, but a blanket over the coffee table would have to suffice. On the menu: a Pressed Picnic Sandwich, Quick-Pickled Kale and Beets, Potato Chips (lifted from Thursday’s Prospect Park Alliance fundraiser) and a boatload of rosé.
Pressed Picnic Sandwich
This isn’t so much a recipe as a concept. The idea here is to layer a bunch of tasty ingredients in a logical order and then to press the sandwich with a weight.
I started with a round, day-old olive loaf from BKLYN Larder, but imagine you could use any rustic loaf with a nice crust. I sliced the loaf in half horizontally and scooped out most of the soft stuff with my hand, leaving about 1/2 inch all the way around. I then slathered the inside, top and bottom with a homemade tapenade (oil-cured black olives, anchovies, basil, garlic scapes, almonds, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, capers, and whatever else was lurking in my fridge.). You could use prepared tapenade or pesto or even some herbed mayonnaise. The key is that you need a layer with some fat in it to prevent the bread from getting soggy.
I then added a layer of browned onions followed by strips of grilled summer squash. (I like to do this in a hot cast iron pan and then sprinkle the vegetables with smoked sea salt to give them the depth that comes from outdoor grilling). Next up was an Italian cow’s milk cheese. I’m blanking on the name, but it was creamy and a little tart, which provided a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the veggies. Then layers of hot sopresatta, prosciutto and peppadew peppers.
I wrapped the sandwich in a couple of layers of aluminum foil and placed a cast iron grill pan over the top. Periodically, I would flip the sandwich and apply pressure to the pan until the sandwich looked like a UFO. I would guess that you want this to sit for at least an hour. (Had we been successful in dining outdoors, I would have stuck the sandwich in the bottom of the picnic basket, allowing the weight of the other items to do the pressing.)
As you can see, it sliced beautifully.
Quick-Pickled Kale and Beets
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2-3 Tbsp combined of whole pickling spices (such as coriander, fennel, allspice, cloves, cumin, fennel, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, mustard seed, etc.)
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 thinly sliced red onion
- 4 large beets
- Small bunch kale including stems, roughly chopped
Combine all but the last two ingredients along with ½ cup of water in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and let simmer for 20-30 minutes to give the spices a change to release their flavor into the brine. In a separate pot, add the beets, cover with water, bring to a boil and cook until they give when pierced with a fork (approximately 30 minutes). Pull the beets out and add the kale, starting with the stem pieces. Let this boil for a few minutes and then drain. When beets have cooled, peel and slice them. Combine beets, kale and brine in a jar or plastic container and let sit for at least one hour, making sure to stir if the brine doesn’t fully cover the vegetables.
The living room picnic continued with a trip to the wine shop for reinforcements, a Barbie styling session and fresh nectarines and rum over salted caramel ice cream. Regrettably, it did not conclude with any efforts to clean up.