The farmers’ markets are filled with the first signs of spring. Pungent ramps, tightly curled fiddlehead ferns and plump morel mushrooms should now be available. Having eagerly awaited something fresh besides kale all winter, these ingredients are greedily scooped up by all the greenmarket shoppers I know. Unfortunately, the prices reflect the short-growing season and limited availability.
To emphasize these fresh flavors, a risotto is the ideal template. The ingredients require minimal preparation and are only added during the last few minutes of cooking. Even if the fiddleheads seem intimidating, they’re very easy to work with, and the morels only need a minimal cleaning.
If you can’t locate all of these items, you can easily make substitutions. Try adding 1/2 a bunch of asparagus tips or 1/2 cup of peas for the fiddleheads. Use porcinis or portabellas for the morels. And arugula can be used for the ramps. For a vegetarian dish, omit the pancetta and use vegetable stock.
Or if it’s cost-prohibitive, besides substitutions, you can halve the recipe to serve as a side with pan-roasted cod, which seems to be on sale a lot lately (yes, a cod-related post is upcoming). Risotto is so versatile, you can’t go wrong. Unless you omit the cheese.
Essence of Spring Risotto
1 cup of Arborio rice
1 large scallion or small onion, finely diced
2 tbsp of butter
1/4 cup of dry white wine
5-6 cups of vegetable or chicken stock, warmed
1/4 cup of diced pancetta (optional)
1/2 lb of fiddelhead ferns
1/2 a bunch of ramps (~ 1/4 lb), chopped
1/4 lb of morel mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup of freshly grated parmigiana plus extra for sprinkling
1/4 tsp of fresh parsley plus additional for garnish
Pinch of Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Thoroughly rinse and then blanch the fiddlehead ferns (or frozen peas, if using) in a large pot of boiling salted water for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium to medium low. Saute the pancetta if using and onions in the butter until the onions are translucent. Then add the rice. Saute for about 2 minutes until you see the whites of the rice. Next, add in the wine and saute for another minute or so until it’s absorbed.
Then add the stock, about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring until it’s soaked up and adding more as needed. Continue stirring and adding stock for about 15 minutes in total or until the rice starts to become softer and slightly creamy.
Then add the ramps, mushrooms and ferns (or asparagus/peas) for the last 5 minutes of cooking time.
Once the rice is cooked to your liking (about 20 minutes), stir in the cheese and parsley. Add the salt and pepper to taste.
To drink: Whatever wine you used for the dish should be good. Or make a Pickled Ramp Martini!
For my version, I used about a pound of ramps and pickled them combining the traditional method with David Chang’s recipe by using rice wine vinegar, cumin, chile powder and mustard seeds. They should sit overnight and can last weeks to months depending on whether you include the greens. It’s a great way to make your ramps last longer.
When the pickling is complete, add one pickled ramp to a martini glass. In a shaker filled with ice, add a little brine juice to Tito’s Vodka, shake to chill and pour into the glass. Then try not to become addicted to this tangy cocktail!