Crispy, Cheesy Polenta Cakes with Wilted Ramps

published May 4, 2021
Kitchn Love Letters
Crispy, Cheesy Polenta Cakes with Wilted Ramps

The tender-crisp polenta cakes are just simple enough to act as a backdrop to the wilted ramps, allowing their gentle flavor to shine.

Serves4-6

Prep1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes

Cook30 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Credit: Amelia Rampe

Every year, I cherish the mid-spring moment when ramps appear at the farmers market and on the menus of my favorite restaurants. During this brief, wondrous window of time, I eat all the ramps I can get my hands on, whether I’m out at my favorite sidewalk eatery or whipping up a dish at home.

The ramp recipe I’m sharing here was inspired by a meal I had at Via Carota, one of my favorite NYC establishments. Via Carota is known for their Italian fare and elegant simplicity (think: crab pasta with cherry tomatoes and mile-high green salads that don’t skimp on flavor). Even their vegetable crudité with a simple bagna cauda is delicious. I truly have never eaten a bad meal there, and the food often inspires how I cook at home. In fact, one Mother’s day, instead of waiting in the likely two-hour queue to eat at the actual restaurant, I cooked myself a huge Via Carota-inspired dinner.

But back to this dish — my favorite one of all. You’ll cook a pot of cheesy, buttery polenta, then pour it into a loaf pan and freeze until cool to the touch. Slice the chilled polenta into planks and cook in olive oil until golden-brown and crisp. When you’re done cooking the last batch, drop the ramp leaves into the skillet and allow them to just wilt. The resulting dish is the perfect way to celebrate ramps. The tender-crisp polenta cakes are just simple enough to act as a backdrop to the wilted ramps, allowing their gentle flavor to shine. It really is the loveliest treat to myself — especially because I haven’t eaten at Via Carota in well over a year. It might not be exactly the Via Carota recipe, but I think I got us pretty close.

3 Tips for Making This Dish at Home

  1. Use instant polenta if you’re pressed for time. Regular polenta takes about 30 minutes to cook. If you’re short on time, opt for instant polenta, which cooks in just five minutes.
  2. Opt for a metal pan. When the polenta is done cooking, you’ll transfer the mixture to a small baking dish or pan to chill, such as a loaf pan or cake pan. While either glass or metal will work, I’ve found metal pans will cool the mixture down more quickly.
  3. Garnish to your liking. Once the ramps are wilted, you’ll decoratively place them atop the crispy polenta. I love how this tastes just as is, but if you feel inclined, add more grated Parmesan or a glug of good olive oil.

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.

Crispy, Cheesy Polenta Cakes with Wilted Ramps

The tender-crisp polenta cakes are just simple enough to act as a backdrop to the wilted ramps, allowing their gentle flavor to shine.

Prep time 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes

Cook time 30 minutes

Serves 4-6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces

    Parmesan cheese

  • 1 bunch

    ramps (about 4 ounces)

  • 4 cups

    water

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 1 cup

    regular or instant polenta

  • 3 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 5 tablespoons

    olive oil, divided

Instructions

  1. Finely grate 2 ounces Parmesan cheese (about 1 packed cup). Trim the bulbs from 4 ounces ramps and reserve for another use. Separate the ramps leaves.

Option 1: Regular polenta.

  1. Bring 4 cups water to a hard boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt. While whisking gently, pour 1 cup polenta into the boiling water in a steady stream.

  2. Continue whisking until the polenta is thickened, about 10 minutes. Turn down the heat to low. Cover the polenta and continue cooking, stirring vigorously every 10 minutes or so and making sure to scrape the sides, bottom, and corners of the pan. Cook until desired texture, 30 minutes for softer porridge-like polenta or 40 minutes for thicker polenta.

Option 2: Instant polenta.

  1. Bring 4 cups of water to a hard boil in a large saucepan over medium- high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt. While whisking gently, pour 1 cup instant polenta into the boiling water in a steady stream. Continue whisking until a thick porridge forms, about 3 minutes or according to package instructions.

Finish the polenta:

  1. Once the polenta is cooked, add the Parmesan and 3 tablespoons unsalted butter and stir until combined and the butter is completely melted and incorporated. Pour into a loaf pan or 9-inch round cake pan and smooth the top.

Make the polenta cakes:

  1. Let the polenta cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and freeze until the pan is cool to the touch all over, about 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the freezer and run a thin knife or offset spatula around the polenta loaf to loosen. Invert the polenta slab onto a cutting board.

  2. If using a loaf pan, cut the slab crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices. If using a cake pan, cut into 1-inch wide planks, then halve each plank crosswise.

  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add 6 polenta cakes and fry until the bottoms are deep golden brown and crisp, about 8 minutes. Flip the cakes and fry until the second side is golden brown, about 4 minutes more.

  4. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat frying the remaining cakes, adding 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan between batches. Divide the polenta cakes among plates.

  5. Wipe out the remaining oil in the skillet and reduce the heat to medium. Add the ramp leaves, turn off the heat, and let the ramps wilt in the pan, about 30 seconds. Using tongs, transfer the leaves decoratively onto the polenta cakes and serve immediately.