Spaghetti with Ramps, Breadcrumbs, Pecorino and Chilies

From Rob the Butch­er

I will always have a spe­cial place in my heart for ramps because of two won­der­ful expe­ri­ences.

One goes back to my sous chef days. Mar­ty Travis of Spence Farm invit­ed a group of Chica­go chefs down to his farm to dig for ramps. I got to tag along with my chef for a day of dig­ging and clean­ing ramps and eat­ing a fam­i­ly style potluck lunch with chefs and cooks from Lula, Black­bird, Vie, Fron­tera Grill and on and on. Mar­ty took us into the woods and gave us a crash course on har­vest­ing ramps, but before he let us loose, he asked us- insist­ed, real­ly, that we do one lit­tle thing for him. He said, “I want you all to close your eyes, take a deep breath and just…listen for a minute. Lis­ten to the wind in the trees, the birds, the unclut­tered sounds of nature you don’t hear in the big city.” It was a total reset. And that image is what, to me, ramps taste like.

The oth­er expe­ri­ence is even dear­er to me because it takes me all the way back to my days as a line cook in New York City when my wife, Allie, and I were still dat­ing. As young cooks, we rarely had time off togeth­er and were pret­ty much always broke, but on this occa­sion, we man­aged a day off on what turned out to be the most pic­ture-per­fect spring day the West Vil­lage had ever seen. Strolling through Wash­ing­ton Square Park, we came across Bab­bo, then only about two years old and impos­si­ble to get into. We walked in and man­aged to score a table. We were eas­i­ly the youngest, and poor­est in the room, but as cooks do, we ordered like kings. The man­ag­er, sus­pect­ing we were ‘indus­try,’ approached us and inquired where we worked and said he may send out a few things. One of those things was Spaghet­ti with Ramps, Chilies and Pecori­no. It was tran­scen­dent. And my first taste of ramps every spring brings me back to that table at Bab­bo with my beau­ti­ful girl­friend on the most pic­ture-per­fect spring day the West Vil­lage has ever seen.

Spaghet­ti with Ramps, Bread­crumbs, Pecori­no and Chilies

This recipe is my attempt to recre­ate that amaz­ing dish Allie and I ate at Bab­bo. It is such a sim­ple, ele­gant dish that good ingre­di­ents are key. Seek out some real­ly good dried Spaghet­ti. Some­thing import­ed or extrud­ed through a brass die. Use the best extra vir­gin olive oil you can find, and spend a lit­tle extra on a real Pecori­no. I added some toasty bread­crumbs for tex­ture and, real­ly, because Allie likes it that way. 

1 lb Dried Spaghet­ti
1 bu Ramps – Stringy Roots Removed, Greens Removed and Reserved for Anoth­er Use
¼ C Extra Vir­gin Olive Oil
½ C Grat­ed Pecori­no
¼ C Toast­ed Bread Crumbs
2 t Chili Flakes

Cook pas­ta in lots of very salty boil­ing water. Before you drain pas­ta, reserve 1 C of the cook­ing water.

In a large skil­let, cook the ramps in half of the olive oil with a good pinch of salt over medi­um heat until ten­der and just start­ing to brown. Add the chilies and ½ the bread­crumbs and cook a few more min­utes.

When the pas­ta is cooked to your lik­ing, drain and add to the pan with the ramps. Remove from the heat and toss togeth­er with ½ the cheese and the remain­ing olive oil. 

If it seems a lit­tle dry, add in a lit­tle splash of the pas­ta water until it looks pleas­ing­ly saucy. Taste and add salt and chilies as need­ed.

Divide among 4 bowls and top with the rest of the cheese and bread­crumbs.