if you’ve never taken a shovel to the forest floor and pulled out dinner, the heady scent of deep and rich forest dirt flooding your nostrils, then i wish it upon you someday.
ramps in the northeast are the first sign of spring’s abundance. since my initial taste a few years back, not just of them, but of harvesting them in the wild, i wouldn’t miss it for the world. in fact, when i heard they were up in the berkshires this past weekend, a tad earlier than the norm, we jumped in the car and drove as fast as we could to our little farmhouse in the country.
this year in particular i couldn’t wait to see their bright green lily-like leaves perched upright amongst the crisp layer of last falls’ fallen maples and the like. because i had an idea up my paw just waiting to be tried. a couple of years ago at the spotted pig, and yet again at falai, i discovered gnudi, an italian pasta-like dish that kinda, sorta resembles gnocchi, but i like the more accurate description of a ‘nude’ ravioli better. in other words, it’s the middle without the casing. its decadence lies in the not-so-mere fact, that the good stuff isn’t rationed, it’s the whole damn thing. made even more decadent by the fleeting wild leek, this version might best be eaten laying down.
now, i’m not gonna lie, i had one of my catty pilgrim moments and i made the buttermilk ricotta from scratch, but that’s ’cause my idea of a good time is a sunday in the kitchen. you could certainly buy your ricotta from a good source, and while you’re at it, source those ramps and get this spring-time on your plate.
ramp ‘n ricotta gnudi
- 1/2 pound ramp greens (save stems & bulbs for another use)
3/4 pound fresh ricotta cheese*
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
fresh ground black pepper
- grassy extra-virgin olive oil**
grated parmigiano or aged pecorino
fresh ground black pepper
serves 2 as a main, 4 as a first course
- clean ramp greens by dropping in a bowl of cold water and giving them a swoosh. let sit for 30 seconds and lift out. place on kitchen or paper towels. bring a large pot of water to boil. drop ramp greens in and simmer for approximately 6 minutes, or until greens are completely soft. scoop out with a slotted spoon and place in a colander. important: do not throw away the water – and try to refrain from drinking it, the aroma will make you want to do so. turn the heat on very low, cover and step away from the pot.
- using a wooden spoon press the ricotta through a sieve into a large bowl. add 3/4 teaspoon sea salt, the grated nutmeg and a few grinds of black pepper. stir to combine.
- squeeze the boiled ramp greens of all excess water. chop very fine, they should be almost paste-like. add to the ricotta. add yolks and flour, stir until thoroughly combined, but do not over-stir.
- line a baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper. if you are cooking the gnudi immediately, add more water to the pot, plus 3/4 teaspoon sea salt and turn up heat to bring to the boil. use two of your dinner tablespoons to shape the gnudi into walnut or pecan size pieces – depending on the shape of your spoons. hint: press and roll between both spoons, and don’t be afraid to use your fingers for the final touch. plus, embrace rustic – they don’t have to be exactly the same size! place on baking sheet as you go. you could do this ahead and place the whole sheet in the refrigerator for boiling later.
- bring the water to a rolling boil. drop 10-12 gnudi in gently, i like to lower them in by the threes with a spoon. keep it at a high simmer, but not too high, they are delicate. they’ll rise to the occasion (top of pot) within seconds. don’t be fooled, they need to boil for a good 5 minutes – until they’re firm. firm for gnudi is very soft but not mushy.
- serve in bowls drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with cheese and black pepper.
don’t be discouraged if you see a bit of gnudi breaking from the pack here and there and floating up to the surface. the trick is to be as gentle as you can from pot to plate. serve with a crisp spring salad and an equally so white wine.
*if your ricotta is moist, it should be strained in a wet cheese cloth for 30 minutes until it is quite dry.
**you can certainly use any type of extra virgin olive oil here, or even a half ‘n half mix of browned butter and olive oil, but i think a pure grassy olive oil brings out the wildness of the ramps best.