Friday, May 8, 2009
Spring Greens...and Purples...and Reds...and
Just a day or two ago, the Union Square green market was ablaze - not only with green, but with flowers like the lilacs and the purple tipped asparagus above, as well as any number of young, tender spring vegetables that are always an inspiration to me as a cook. Let's take another look at that asparagus...and radishes...and ramps...
And here's what I like to do with them. First of all, as little as possible - remember, these are delicate young vegetables, and they don't need a whole heck of a lot to make them delicious. One of my inspirations for preparing vegetables has been the restaurants Lupa and Otto. At each of these wonderful places, there are usually any number of vegetable antipasti, some prepared just like I've done the asparagus and radishes. First off, notice I've trimmed the asparagus (to about a 6" length) and peeled the bottom 2". Cooking school will do that to you. Then, slice the vegetables very thinly (if you slice the asparagus on an acute diagonal, it will look very cool). Next, toss the vegetables with a bit of kosher salt about an hour before they'll be served - this serves to draw out some of the water and partially "cooks" the vegetable as well.
When ready to serve, blot the vegetable dry - you'll be surprised at how much water has leeched out, and that water tastes like, well, salt water. Then, give them a toss with some good extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper - taste and make sure they're good. Sometimes, I'll top the salads with a bit of shaved pecorino or shaved parmesan; others just a sprinkling of crunchy sea salt for contrast. Maybe a bit of parsley...you be the judge. This is what I ended up with the other day...crudi of asparagus and radishes.
For the ramps, I decided to do a little riff on a favorite pasta, spaghetti aglio e olio e peperoncino, or spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and hot chili pepper, substituting the ramps for the garlic. So, once the heavily salted water is rolling and you've added the pasta, saute the thinly sliced ramps in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, adding a 1/2 teaspoon of chili pepper flakes or to taste.
When the pasta is almost al dente, toss it in the pan with the ramps and oil - save a good cup of the pasta cooking water, though. I never drain pasta by dumping it into a colander; instead, I remove long pasta with tongs directly into the saucepan and if I'm cooking penne or some similar shape, I remove the pasta with a Chinese bamboo strainer right into the pan.
Toss it up really well and when it's just about cooked perfectly, turn off the heat and add a nice handful of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (and I hope you're not using that stuff in a can, or your pasta can never rise above the level of meh) along with a couple of tablespoons of minced parsley. If it's too "tight," add some of the pasta water. You don't really want it saucy, just dressed. Remember, the dish is about the pasta, everything else is a condiment. And here's what we ended up with...a delicious green market dinner.