The arresting yellow color and aroma of open daffodils beside me, the blinding white blossom outside, slowly giving way to green leaves and the fresh cool breeze entering through the just open window, is a delightful reminder of what’s to come. Since it’s still chilly out a comforting bowl of warm polenta topped with the unique flavors of early spring is just what I crave.
On my trip to the farmer’s market last week I picked up a couple of bunches of ramps and started dreaming about their possible marriage with soft cooked polenta. The smell of ramps sautéing in my kitchen instantly elevates my mood and signals the beginning of a new cooking phase. In their raw state, ramps smell exactly like the forest floor in which they grow. If you haven’t smelt them before, you will be surprised at their unique aroma. Yes, it’s pungent and garlic-y (since they are wild leeks) but it’s also damp, verdant, earthy and moss-like. Their short harvesting season only adds to their appeal and keeps them a special wild spring treat that is unique to the east coast mountains of North America.
After reading this article about the damage being caused to our local ramp population, I will be seeking out ramp leaves with no bulb attached, so they can continue to grow. Ramps are difficult to cultivate because they need shade and being the first local edible to hit the market in spring, they are a hot commodity.
My friend Susan Simon gave me this polenta from Wild Hive Farm, which is also a bakery and micro mill in Clinton Corners New York. They make great whole-wheat crackers too. You can find them and an array of their products at Union Square farmer’s market.
The texture of the Wild Hive Farm polenta is like coarse corn grits and makes a lovely sweet tasting polenta, without any of the pastiness you might experience from regular polenta.
To top off the ramps, I crumbled some lovely, fresh local goat cheese over the top, which melts slightly when it hits the warm polenta.
Without the goat cheese the dish is vegan and also delicious!
This week’s newsletter highlights tips and recipes from my cleasning diet plan. Sign up if you haven’t already!
Polenta with ramps and peas
There are no local peas available here yet, so I used frozen. If you use fresh, blanch them for a minute or two first. I bought 2 bunches of ramps and used them all. Be sure to wash them well, as they tend to be gritty. You could replace them with a couple of leeks, using the white and green parts.
4 cups filtered water
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs rosemary
1 cup corn grits
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling.
½ cup sliced ramp stems (1/2 inch pieces)
2 cups chopped ramp leaves (1 inch pieces)
1 cup frozen peas
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh goat cheese, about 3 ounces
Add the water, bay leaves, rosemary and ½ a teaspoon of salt to a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves and rosemary, raise heat and return to a boil. Slowly pour the corn grits in, whisking as you go. Continue whisking, once mixture is boiling, lower heat and cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until mixture is thick and creamy. To prevent lumps and the mixture sticking to the pot, whisk every couple of minutes.
Stir in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and additional salt to taste. Cover pot while you cook the ramps and peas.
In a skillet or frying pan, warm remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add ramp stems and a pinch of salt and sauté for 3 minutes. Stir in ramp leaves and peas and continue cooking for another 3 to 4 minutes or until leaves are wilted and peas are heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spoon polenta into bowls and divide the ramps and peas between the bowls. Top with crumbled goat cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.
Serves 2 generous portions, with a little extra polenta.
Printable recipe here