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Ramp Goat Cheese Crostini

Ramp Goat Cheese Crostini

When I was a kid my Dad frequently travelled to New York City on business. It was not unusual to see him climb down the stairs from the Eastern Air Shuttle lugging all manner of things that he either couldn’t find in Massachusetts, or thought he could get at a better price in New York. Occasionally my Mom or I will still invoke his promise, “I’ll get it in New York.”

(Yes, he flew the Eastern Air Shuttle, and yes, he climbed down the stairs. I have vague memories of propellers. The whole scene is very “Mad Men.”)

(A shoe textile engineer, it was also not unknown for my Dad to climb down the shuttle stairs lugging a shoe that had been sawed in half lengthwise. Ah, glamorous New York.)

I’ve made New York my home for many years, but I wonder if my Dad’s idea of New York as a great source for any and all things may have become musty with time. Or is it that the rest of the world has caught up?

I should perhaps cut New York a break here as I have been searching for something that is generally considered hard to find under any circumstances: squash blossoms. (C’mon, sooner or later you knew I would bring the conversation back to food.) The problem is that squash blossoms are as rare in New York as garden space. Squash blossoms are exactly what they sound like: the flower that grows on top of the growing squash. Considered a delicacy, they are slightly sweet and “squashy”, and they have a very brief shelf life. You literally need to eat them the day they are picked or “pffft” they’re gone.

Squash blossoms are usually stuffed with cheese and fried, although recently on TV I spied Frontera Grill Chef Rick Bayless chopping them (from his own garden) and mixing them with Queso Blanco, then using the mixture as a loose quesadilla filling. Later, as summer settles in I’ll have to try haunting the local greenmarkets in search of my elusive prize.

This past weekend I found myself in rapt conversation with the mother of a friend of mine. The subject? Gardening, something that to this urban dweller seemed as distant and far away as mining for rocks on the moon. I’m the first to admit that I don’t know if I have the right stuff to be a gardener. I hate bugs flying around my head (cows handle this better me: they swat them with their tail.) I prefer air conditioning (mine has three settings: “cold”, “colder”, and “meat locker.”)

The flip side to this spoiled city boy rant is that folks with gardens eat enviably well, my definition of eating well, in this case confined to flavor. Everyone and their mother know that veggies fresh from the garden taste better. Tomatoes are the prime example of this. I am very happy when friends with gardens shove paper bags full of tomatoes fresh off their vine into my hands. I’ve never found anything comparable at the supermarket, although every now and then the Greenmarket delivers the goods. But how many tomato “frogs” must be kissed before one finds the Prince?

Amongst her other bounty, my friend’s Mom also grows her own Watermelon. Imagine that drippy, chilly seed spitting fest on a hot July Sunday afternoon. If that doesn’t cool you down you’re beyond saving.

She informed me that they are just now coming into lettuce season. Speaking of seasonal items, I gently prodded her about those squash blossoms, my ulterior motive droolingly obvious. (No luck.) Taking a different tack, I asked her if she also grows Ramps.

Ramps are this year’s arugula. That’s not my quote. You can read it in Time Magazine. While it seems that I’m edging into true “foodie” territory here, my interest in Ramps is more due to their seasonality – my inner Alice Waters at work. Ramps are also known as Wild Leeks and have as short a season as squash blossoms – albeit with a longer shelf life. Calling them Wild Leeks is perhaps a bit misleading as their raw flavor favors their close cousin garlic in pungency. Their perfume straddles the fence between onion and garlic.

I’m not a huge raw garlic fan, but sauté it with a light touch so that its sugar caramelizes and its spiky “pepperiness” mellows out and I’m in love. Ditto Ramps. The good news is that due to Ramps’ new found fashion they are easier to find. I happily scored some over the weekend at Whole Foods.

Ramps

Ramps

I wanted to do something quick and simple with the Ramps so that I could eat them in the aforementioned mellow state, but not drift too far from their natural state. This is just like when you find really good berries: you don’t want to bake them into a pie. A quick, cool rinse and a dab of loosely whipped cream is all you need.

So I sliced the Ramps into rings, and sautéed them very briefly in good Extra Virgin Olive Oil. They have a lot of natural sugar, so the intense heat of the pan gave the smaller pieces a sweet crunch. Store-bought Crostini served as a stage for the sweet, mellow rings, and I used a drip or two of goat cheese thinned with Greek yogurt to glue the Ramps to the Crostini. The goat cheese / yogurt mixture was totally unnecessary, although it added a creamy counterpoint to the sautéed Ramps. A quarter pound of the pricey Ramps (mine were $9.99 per pound) will make enough of these little forshpeisen to keep four cocktail revelers happy.

Anyone got Squash Blossoms?

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