Tony Stallone's Ramps and Fiddlehead Ferns

May 4, 2008 8:15:36 AM PDT
Notes from the desk of Tony Stallone, produce expert from Peapod:We are going to talk about ramps and fiddleheads on this Sunday's show. Ramps and Fiddlewhat? No, I am not going to strap on my skates and start doing one-half pikes while playing a banjo in the studio, instead we are going to treat our consumers to some of the more adventurous treats in produce and one that has a strong connection to Chicago! Both ramps and fiddlehead ferns are produce crops that are only harvested in the wild. These are not cultivated plants lined up in nice neat rows planted by a farmer. No, these are wild plants that grow along river beds in wild forests or in open fields tucked up on mountain slopes that remain elusive to all but the most experienced foragers. It's time to strap on the hiking boots and go ahunting for some of nature's produce bounty. Let's start with ramps, also called wild leeks, which have a strong connection to Chicago because the name Chicago is said to originate from "Checagou," which in the Potawatomi language means "wild onions" or "skunk". The area may have been so named because of the smell of rotting marshland wild leeks (ramps) that used to cover it. So our great city is named for this wild leek, and today we are not only going to show our viewers what it looks like and how it tastes, but we are also going to do a simple recipe to enjoy this elusive vegetable that is available for only a short period of time.

Let me forewarn you, ramps are not for the faint of heart or stomach, this wild leek packs a potent punch of huge garlic & onion flavor, aroma and taste that will have you reeling for days! It also packs an equally potent punch of healthy vitamin A and C and has legendary medicinal properties, from blood purification, and curing colds, coughs and flu to a bee sting and pain reliever. You can use them as you would use garlic or onion in any recipe and they can be eaten raw, but let be warned that the taste and smell will linger, and from personal experience I can tell you the saying "Don't sweat it" does not apply here. You will even exude the smell as you perspire for days afterward! There are whole festivals devoted to this wild leek on the East coast, particularly in the Appalachians (I am not sure why Chicago does not have its own ramp festival?). The preferred method of cooking at these festivals is to fry in bacon grease with potatoes, they also like to mix them with eggs for a hearty mountain breakfast. For this Sunday we are going to try a different recipe that will help tame some of the wild flavor, Tony's Famous Pasta & Ramps, a play on the famous Italian dish Aglio E Olio (pasta with garlic and oil). Now we come to fiddlehead ferns. Yes, it is a fern; technically it is the front of the fern plant just before it begins to unfurl, but don't go out picking fern fronds, bringing them home and trying to eat them. The edible fiddlehead fern comes from the Ostrich Fiddlehead fern plant and is quite edible and delicious when picked by experienced foragers. Some people say they are similar to asparagus in flavor (I might disagree, but let's eat them on Sunday and see what you think) and can be cooked the same way. They are also popular in the eastern part of the country, particularly in Vermont where the best quality fiddleheads can be found, but are gaining in popularity in this area. Vermonters like to serve them with butter and apple cider vinegar. We will taste this as well on Sunday and I have included the recipe. You can also use the ramps recipe and simply substitute fiddleheads for ramps. They are great in salads with a nice vinaigrette dressing too. I like to pair seasonal items together, and these make a wonderful side dish to fresh Alaskan Halibut which is in now season as well.

Buttered Fiddlehead Ferns

1/2# Fiddlehead Ferns

2T Butter salted or unsalted

1T Apple Cider vinegar (optional)

6C Water salted

Salt and Pepper to taste

Clean the fiddlehead ferns thoroughly soaking in cold water several times brushing off any brown leaves and rinsing. In a large pot heat water to boiling. Place fiddlehead ferns in water cook 3 to 4 minutes until al dente. Remove and immediately rinse with cold water. You can refrigerate until you are ready to use them or in the same pot or sauce pan melt butter over medium high heat add fiddlehead ferns sauté until warmed through, salt and pepper to taste, if desired vinegar add now swirl and serve as a side dish to game, beef or fish. I particularly like it with fresh Alaskan Halibut, pairing seasonal items together.

Tony's Pasta and Ramps

6oz Ramps

1lbs Pasta

1/2C Pasta cooking water

6T Extra Virgin Olive Oil 3T reserved

1/2t Red Pepper flakes

1/3C Parmesan cheese

1

Clean ramps thoroughly, brushing of dirt and trimming roots, rinse and dry. Cut bottom white part from top leaf and chop. Julienne top green leaves. In a large pot cook pasta in salted water, just before draining pasta reserve 1/2C of water, Drain and reserve pasta. In a large skillet heat 3T olive oil over med heat, add chopped white part of ramps and sauté 2 to 3 minutes, then add julienne leaves and stir until wilted. Finally add pasta, red pepper flakes, remaining oil stir in then add water stir ring until heated through, then add cheese, mix and serve immediately.

Wild Ramp Dip

1# Fiddlehead ferns clean

1/2C Yogurt Plain

1/2C Mayonaise

1T Lemon Juice fresh

3t Dijon mustard

3T Ramps (wild leeks) finely chopped no leafing part

Drop cleaned fiddlehead ferns into boiling water and cook 1 to 3 minutes until still crisp tender immediately drain and rinse with cold water to prevent further cooking. Place in a bowl for serving.

In a small bowl whisk remaining ingredients until smooth. Salt and Pepper to taste. Serve as a dip to fiddleheads.

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