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Pros - Well written, useful information on unique ingredients
Cons - Some parts of the country may have difficulty finding these ingredients
The romance of wandering into the woods to gather food for a meal is alive and well in Connie Green’s book “The Wild Table”. Connie has been foraging food, especially mushrooms, for well-known chefs for many years. She has put together a collection of recipes, with the help of Sarah Scott, former Exectuive Chef at the Robert Mondavi Winery. The recipes are organized seasonally, with multiple options for each featured ingredient.
Connie is noticeably passionate about the topic and it was contagious for me as I read through her description of hunting Chanterelles. There is a wealth of information on handling ingredients that many cooks, even professional ones, may not have encountered before. There are charts for when the wild items are in season and tips on how to clean and store them.
This book seems targeted to a specific audience. Though she says she chose ingredients that can be found in widespread areas of North America, I know many home cooks would have difficulty locating such things as fresh morels, huckleberries and stinging nettles. I checked my local farmers’ market and two Whole Foods locations, without luck. Though I was seeing fresh ramps at the restaurant where I worked, I had to make an effort to buy some for my own use. But, let me tell you, it was well worth it. Ramps are a type of wild onion that have a flavor and a very strong smell that is distinct from cultivated onions. The season is short and I had never cooked with them before.
I tried the recipe for Ramp Pesto which was delicious on its own, but even better in the Ramp and Shrimp Grits recipe. The smell of fresh ramps is so pervasive I was a little concerned that the flavor of the pesto would overwhelm the shrimp. Not at all, the balance was just right and the pesto added a vibrant green color to the grits that looked lovely with the shrimp.
Connie did an excellent job providing suggestions for substitutions wherever possible. I feel I will use this cookbook as much as a reference as I will for its recipes and think many cooks wanting to follow the farm to table trend will be pleased to find such a great starting point.
[Makes ½ cup]
½ pound ramps with greens, washed and patted dry, root ends trimmed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoons grated Parmesan
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
Cut the greens off of the ramps. Dice the bulbs into ¼-inch pieces.
Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Have a bowl of ice water next to the stove. Drop the greens into the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Lift the greens out of the water with a strainer and plunge them immediately into the ice water. Drain and squeeze dry. If they are still moist, roll them up into a kitchen towel and twist the ends tightly to squeeze out all of the excess moisture. Coarsely chop the greens and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the ramp bulbs, ¼ teaspoon of the salt and the pepper. Stir together and cook until the bulbs are tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature.
Place the ramp greens and bulbs in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to chop them together, then process continuously for 1 minute. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Process for 1 more minutes, or until the ramp mixture is very finely chopped. Add the pine nuts, Parmesan, remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, remaining ½ teaspoon salt and lemon juice and process until smooth. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or lemon juice as needed. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.