On a recent trip to the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market, we were thrilled to see that one of the vendors was offering ramps. Ever since we picked up a copy of the recently re-issued “Think Like a Chef” by Tom Colicchio, I have been waiting for spring to roll around to try them. In the book, Colicchio describes ramps as “wild leeks, harvested only in the spring, and I prefer them for the reason I prefer wild varieties of almost everything: they taste liike the cultivated variety, only more so.” These cousins of the onion combine the best notes of onion and garlic flavors and aromas, and we felt like we just had to give them a try.
So we shelled out the $5 asking price for a small bunch of lightly purpled stems with broad, flat leaves and we took them home, eager to put them to use as a component in one of Chef Tom’s “trilogies” – combinations of three ingredients whose flavors, textures and seasonality make them natural partners. In the case of ramps, Colicchio pairs them with asparagus and morels, two more harbingers of spring whose earthy, woodsy flavors go well together. For our dinner, we decided to use some red snapper filets in a dish that sautees the fish in a beurre fondue with a ragout made from the trilogy.
But I cannot tell a lie – we weren’t about to drop $15-$20 on a small carton of fresh morels. We used reconstituted dried morels, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. The flavor was there, and the fact that the recipe had us cooking the morels until soft meant that their initial texture was irrelevant.
Details on prep, including what the hell beurre fondue is, after the jump.
As it turns out, beurre fondue is a great way to say “a ton of butter masquerading as a sauce” in French. Fondue means melted. Beurre means butter. And I am both thrilled and horrified to admit that it doesn’t really get much more complicated than that. To create a beurre fondue, you simply melt about two sticks of butter into a small amount of water simmering in a saucepan. That’s it. That’s a sauce. A butter sauce, with a rich and silky texture and exactly the flavor you would expect. It’s a great (if disconcerting) way to sautee vegetables into a ragout, and it works well with lighter meats and fish, as well. Just try not to think about the fact that your sauce used to exist as a whole stick wrapped in wax paper and you’ll be fine.
The key to making a beurre fondue work is to go slowly…cut the butter into chunks and whisk them into the water a little at a time. If you go too quickly, you end up with an oily mess instead of a well-incorporated sauce. And once the sauce is made, it has to be kept warm. Let it sit and cool, and it separates. So if you’re not using it right away (as we were in this case), you may want to think about setting the saucepan atop a bath of warm water or in the upper portion of a double boiler until you need it.
Once the beurre fondue was ready to go, it was a pretty easy step-by-step process to work the vegetables and fish into the sauce. The rehydrated morels went in for a long, slow bath (10 minutes if fresh and firm; ours took about 5) to soften up, and I set about cleaning and chopping the ramps to separate the leafy tops from the fragrant stems. They were followed by 3/4 of a pound of asparagus (roughly a dozen stalks) chopped into small pieces and 1 1/2 pounds of snapper cut into thin strips and seasoned with salt and pepper.
The ramps followed the morels into the saucepan, where they softened for about 5 minutes and released a great garlicky aroma. The asparagus and the snapper went in after this, and the heat was turned all the way down (the recipe calls for the fish to be cooked “at barely a simmer”) for the final five minutes of cooking. When everything was ready, we had four servings of tender, succulent fish in a sauce that tasted like something out of a restaurant kitchen. The depth of the flavors from the morels and the ramps was complemented by the fresh, lightly sweet note of the asparagus, and the whole dish was topped with some chopped chives and tarragon to give it one last note of mellow sweetness. And we were gratified to note that our finished product looked quite a bit like the image in “Think Like a Chef” – always a great feeling at the end of an experiment with new ingredients and techniques.
Was it a great way to taste Colicchio’s ‘trilogy’ of ramps, asparagus and morels? Absolutely.
But would we spend $5 on such a small bunch of ramps again? Probably not. They were good, but they weren’t the revelation that they had been built up to be.