Well, folks, I'm pleased to say that the ramp-alicious dinner party went off without a hitch! We sipped our Gibsons, nibbled our toasts, slurped up our pasta and devoured our lamb. (And the strawberry-rhubarb crostata wasn't half-bad, either.)
Most of what I made last night were tried and true favorites, starting with the Gibsons, which I garnished with pickled ramps in lieu of cocktail onions (click here for the recipe) . (Gibsons are just Martinis with onions instead of olives.) I enjoy a wet Gibson, with four parts gin to one part dry vermouth. A couple dashes of bitters don't hurt, either. The slightly sweet, sour ramp pickles go gorgeously with the spicy gin and herbal vermouth - altogether a truly elegant cocktail.
The Gibsons worked very nicely with the only new recipe I cooked up for this dinner: ramp toasts with Parmesan. The toasts are based on a favorite recipe of mine from the Gourmet cookbook, which is one of the easiest, most basic, most delicious concoctions known to man: finely chopped sweet onion mixed with mayonnaise, spooned onto cocktail bread, topped with cheese and black pepper and toasted in the oven for a few minutes.
I subbed in ramps for the sweet onion and decided to go all out and leave the ramps raw rather than blanch them. The result? A spicy, pure-ramp flavor and general awesomeness. One of these goes a long way, which is really what you want from a cocktail nibble, right? (The new recipe is all yours at the bottom of this post!)
Next up came my personal favorite, fresh fettuccine with ramps and bacon (I left the egg off of this version, since we had small, appetizer-sized helpings.). I made the sauce ahead of time and just warmed it up and tossed it with the freshly cooked pasta when the time came. Super easy, and a huge crowd pleaser, especially when topped with dangerous amounts of Parmesan cheese.
Earlier in the day, I marinated a boneless leg of lamb in olive oil, salt, pepper, smashed garlic and a splash or two of vermouth. I roasted it while we drank our cocktails and ate our pasta, then served it topped with some ramp compound butter and alongside some sugar snaps. (I blanched the sugar snap peas in salted water in the afternoon, then warmed them up in some of the ramp compound butter and a handful of minced chives before sliding them onto the plate next to the lamb.)
After a simple green salad, we moved onto dessert: strawberry-rhubarb crostata with some softly whipped cream. (I threw some dark brown sugar into the cream before whipping it, the better to complement the rhubarb's tang.) This crostata is one of my favorite desserts of all time. It's insanely easy to make, presents beautifully, and is really, truly satisfying to eat. The only change from my original recipe? I subbed in vodka for half the water in the crust recipe, which definitely helped keep things tender and flaky instead of tough and chewy. I'm a convert.
I sent everyone home with a little container of ramp compound butter for their own personal, private consumption, though what we really needed were entire rolls of Certs. Ramps: delicious and delightful, though possibly not for the person sitting next to you on the subway on the way home.
Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook
2 bunches ramps, well washed and the root ends trimmed
1 cup mayonnaise (Hellman's is my favorite for this; homemade is too thin)
1/4 tsp salt
25 slices cocktail bread
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice the ramps crosswise, as thinly as possible. Place in a medium mixing bowl along with the mayonnaise. Stir to combine until the ramps and mayonnaise are evenly mixed. Mix in the salt.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, then fill with as many slices as cocktail bread as possible. Top each slice with a tablespoon or so of the ramp-mayonnaise mixture, then top that with a generous pinch of the cheese. Finish each toast off with a few grinds of pepper.
Toast for 5-7 minutes, checking occasionally, until the bread begins to darken and the cheese is melted and golden-brown. Serve immediately.
Makes 25 toasts.