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.