Gibson. But what if that delicately savory, crunchy onion happens to be a ramp? Earlier this week I attended a class called “The Bartender’s Garden: Cocktails from the Greenmarket” at NYC’s Astor Center, which was first in a series of hands-on workshops (the next one’s May 18) led by the center’s General Manager, Jenn Smith. This early spring session featured now-in-season ingredients such as farm-fresh eggs (both the whites and the yolks for texture and flavor in cocktails), fresh sprigs of thyme (for garnishes and aromatic infused syrups), and richly flavorful local honey. But the highlight of the evening, for me, anyway, was one of the local greenmarket’s current shining stars: The Ramp. Jenn pointed out that while these wild delicacies can be on the pricey side (I’ve seen ramps go for $10+/lb in NYC), a cocktail is the perfect way to showcase and make the very most of a small quantity of such a special ingredient. We sampled raw, pickled, and home-canned ramps, and then chose which type we’d use to garnish our Gibsons. Pickled was my pick - after tasting one, I thought to myself I could easily down an entire jar in one sitting. Tender and flavorful with a hint of pale green and rhubarby-red edging the young, white stalks, these delicate beauties were a real springtime treat.
Jenn then got started on the Gibsons, mixing them up “dirty” - that is, with a splash of the pickling juice added to the vermouth and gin. Each cocktail was beautifully presented with a few aromatic seeds (mustard, fennel, coriander) nesting prettily at the bottom of the glass like grains of caviar.
Pickling the Ramps To demonstrate just how easy pickled ramps are to make, Jenn whipped up a batch for us right on the spot. (For a full recipe, you can go directly to Tom Colicchio's Think Like a Chef version, posted here at Serious Eats.) To get things started, each class member was given a paring knife and a few whole ramps. We then proceeded to trim them, cutting away the roots and slicing off the green, leafy tops (these were set aside and saved for use in other dishes). Jenn gathered up the trimmed ramps and dropped them in a pot of boiling, salted water for about 30 seconds to blanch them, then deposited them in a bath of ice water to keep the tender shoots colorful and crisp. Next she heated up a mixture of vinegar, salt, sugar, and water, along with some aromatics (bay leaf, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, and peppercorns). She poured this mixture into a mason jar containing the ramps, and the process was complete (the pickles had only to sit in the fridge a few days to achieve peak flavor).
Lady’s Thumb (a.k.a. Gibson garnished with a pickled ramp) makes one cocktail 2 1/2 ounces gin (Jenn used Plymouth) 1/2 ounce dry vermouth 1 pickled ramp 1 dash pickle juice Stir gin, vermouth, and pickle juice with ice until the mixture is well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a ramp. Have you ever tried a ramped-up Gibson? How has your local greenmarket (or home garden) inspired your cocktail-mixing? Further Info: The Celluloid Pantry: Gibson Cocktails and All About Eve (Images: Nora Maynard) -Nora Maynard