Seasons’ Eatings: Ramp Bread Pudding & Spinach Sunflower Salad
by Lauren Wilson
Yes, since blowing up on the food scene ramps have become one of the ubiquitous harbingers of spring for local eaters. And yes, many would yawn while proclaiming ramps are as hackneyed a culinary idea as, say, chocolate molten cakes, but I absolutely love them. Their intense onion meets garlic flavor and the versatility of bulb plus leafy greens makes for endless cooking possibilities.
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It is that passionate love and insatiable hunger the ramp inspires that got it into so much trouble in the first place. Ramps, or wild leeks as they are also known, began as a little-known forager’s delight. A wild edible that was pulled up from the spring earth in dense woodlands, ramps soon gained popularity among the culinary cognoscenti giving rise to many festivals, making appearances in restaurants, and most recently being prized by the locavore movement. And as the excited masses began munching on ramps, over harvesting became a serious problem.
Ramps are now protected in Quebec, where commercial harvesting is illegal and only a small amount (200g) of personal foraging is allowed outside of federal or provincial parks. It is also a species of “special concern” for conservation in Maine and Rhode Island, and considered “commercially exploited” in Tennessee.
So if you plan on enjoying the wild leek this spring, it’s probably smart to ask the farmer or supplier about where the ramps are from and what harvesting methods were used. Or, if foraging yourself, never take more than 1/3 of what you see in the patch. As the season for this fleeting spring ingredient draws to a close, you can easily substitute scallions or leeks in place of the ramp bulbs. For greenery, spinach, mustards, arugula or any fresh green you fancy would work nicely.
Being the spoiled consumer that I am living in New York City, all I have to do is walk over to the co-op where I shop in Brooklyn to find sustainably harvested ramps and a full selection of other local and/or organic foods. Since I had to whip up a quick brunch for out-of-town guests, I really didn’t have time to strap on the rubber boots and go out foraging.
But before heading out, a quick inventory of my food stores yielded some sliced whole wheat bread in the freezer, some eggs, some cheese (Pecorino) – all used in some capacity in Stephanie’s recipe. These ingredients, plus the ramps, some mushrooms, goat cheese, milk and cream would make a nice little savory bread pudding.
The spinach and sunflower seeds Stephanie used cried salad to me. With the addition of some sunflower greens, some mustard greens, cherry tomatoes and avocado we’d have a nice little side. Some tarragon I already had would make the base for the dressing. You could easily change up this side salad for your own garden greens or other local greens as they become available.
The recipe for the bread pudding yields about 8 portions. You could cook them in individual ramekins, or a single large casserole dish. The cooking time may vary depending on how you cook them. The key to knowing the bread pudding is done is browned tops and a firm bounce-back texture when giving them a poke.
Happy spring eating!
Ramp Bread Pudding & Spinach Sunflower Salad
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 40 mins
Total Time: 1 hour
Yield: 8 Servings
For the Bread Pudding
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ¾ cup milk (whole or 2%)
- 2.5 cups sliced shiitake mushrooms
- 1 cup ramp bulbs, rough chop leaving large pieces
- 2 cups sliced ramp greens
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup grated pecorino cheese
- 2 oz soft goat cheese
- 2.5 cups cubed whole wheat bread (1/2 inch cubes, day old bread works best)
- salt & pepper to taste
For the Spinach Sunflower Salad (serves 4)
- 2 cups baby spinach
- 1 cup sunflowers greens
- ½ cup mustard greens
- ½ avocado, cut into small chunks
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds
- ¾ extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 small shallot, quartered
- 2-3 sprigs tarragon
- salt & pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 375.
- Prepare the custard: lightly beat eggs, then add the milk and cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the custard into a spouted measuring cup. Set aside.
- Separate the ramp bulbs from the leaves. Sauté sliced ramp bulbs in a mixture of butter and olive oil over medium-low heat until soft and translucent, without adding any color. Add garlic and stir until fragrant. Remove from pan into a large mixing bowl.
- Turn the heat to high, add a little more olive oil and when the pan is nice and hot add your mushrooms. Sauté until nicely browned. Season with salt and pepper, stir to combine, let cool slightly then remove from pan into the mixing bowl.
- Add the ramp greens, cubed bread and pecorino to the large mixing bowl containing the sautéed ramps and mushrooms. Toss well. Season with salt & pepper. Crumble the soft goat cheese into the bowl and toss gently.
- Lightly butter or oil 8 ramekins (or one large baking dish if you prefer). Add the dry ingredients to each ramekin until just overfull.
- Pour the custard over the cups until about 4/5 full. Gently press down any bread on the top so it is coated with the custard.
- Put the ramekins onto a tray and bake for about 30-35 minutes, until the tops are nice and browned and the custard springs back when you press down the middle. (Baking time will probably be longer if you do one large dish.)
- Let cool 10 minutes before un-molding. Serve with a side salad.
- For the salad:
- Make the dressing: in a food processor blend the olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon, shallot, tarragon and salt & pepper.
- Toss with remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Garnish with some sunflower seeds.
Lauren Wilson is a jack-of-all-food-trades. After eating up all the good bits of Toronto, Lauren followed a trail of crumbs to Brooklyn, where she is cooking, eating, writing, and teaching at Rustico Cooking happily.