Want to learn a wonderful recipe that perfectly celebrates the flavors of spring? The bright tang of lemon, smoothness of Parmesan cheese and earthy nuance of one of the season's most ephemeral and lovely stars, wild ramps — just a handful of ingredients come together to form a heavenly meal. One bite and you will transcend time, shooting straight through blurry thoughts into the present moment. Chef Timothy Wastell from DOC in Portland, Oregon, walks us through one divine plate of rice.
The ramps were harvested just this morning from Tim's forager, straight from the muddy hills of Portland. This chef prefers simple, perfect ingredients that really let the food stand 'naked,' meaning the natural flavors shine through without much adornment. Local produce and seasonality guide Tim's menu choices, not a particular region or trend.
What I appreciate about this risotto in particular is how balanced the bright seasonal flavors are — the acid of the lemon meets the fat of the local butter, nutty Parmesan, and delicate ramps head on — everything is highlighted, creating a dish greater than the sum of its parts. Eating in this way, punctuating each meal with just-dug-from the Earth ingredients, makes me feel full and connected to the place I live. It enlivens my tastebuds and calms the mind, knowing great food can come from the wet Oregon soil. It's also a sign that good things are on the horizon, in fact, they're already here. Hallelujah, spring has sprung!
1 quart vegetable stock
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 cup sliced ramps, thoroughly cleaned and the white and green parts divided
1 cup carnaroli rice (arborio or another short-grained, stubby rice is fine as well)
1/4 cup dry white wine
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Good salt and fresh black pepper
In a small saucepan bring broth to a simmer (you'll be using this in just a few minutes). Place a heavy bottomed, tall-sided pan or Dutch oven (as pictured in photos) over medium heat and add one tablespoon butter and the sliced white portion of the rams and sweat for two minutes. This is akin to sweating an onion, you want translucency, not golden color. Slightly increase the heat and add the rice, stirring frequently to completely coat the rice with the hot butter, cook for a few minutes until the rice is no longer opaque. Cooking the risotto rice and ramps in this way adds texture and flavor to the final dish.
Next, add the dry white wine to the rice and cook until it has completely evaporated. Lightly season the rice with salt, and then add enough hot stock to just barely cover the rice. Stir, letting the rice absorb the liquid almost entirely before adding a small amount more. The rice should be cooking at a moderate temperature and slowly bubbling as you continue stirring and adding liquid. This will take about 15 minutes total. Taste the rice for doneness: it should have lost its "raw" crunch , but still be firm in the middle.
Cook for a minute or two longer, then add the remaining butter, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir in the ramp greens and season the risotto with more salt and fresh black pepper. Adjust the consistency with a little more hot stock if necessary (the finished dish should be smoothly emulsified and pourable without being watery).
Finally, grate some Parmesan into the risotto and gently give it one or two stirs to incorporate the cheese without creating a stringy texture. Serve immediately.
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(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)