This time of year is very exciting if you are a fan of our area farmers markets. The bounties of spring begin to arrive at the market stalls, and usher in the best of produce and fruit from Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Over the course of this past weekend, I attended two markets- the Del Ray farmers market in Alexandria (grand opening of the 2008 season), and the Dupont farmers market in Washington D.C. Each market had the traditional harbingers of spring; asparagus, morels, ramps, and rhubarb.
Aubergine-tipped asparagus looked fat, fresh and delicious, selling at $3 for a small bundle. Green, red and crimson rhubarb fetched $2.50 a bunch. Morels from Spring Valley Farm in West Virginia were $16 for a small basket, and ramps cost $6 for a generous bundle.
Sounds a bit expensive? Yes-but this is why you should go and buy some for yourself. There is nothing like waiting for a crop to come into season and knowing it came from within 125 miles of where you live. While I do buy, for example, asparagus and tomatoes in winter (from Costco, gasp!), nothing beats the taste and nutrition of fresh, locally grown produce which goes from farm to fork, or grange to gullet as I like to say. A small box of morels, $16. Supporting the livelihood of our farmers and their workers, priceless. My motto is eat and buy local when you can.
My purchases at the Dupont market on Sunday included morels and ramps from Spring Valley Farm and Orchard. Morel mushrooms are egg shaped and consist of honeycombs and ridges. They are distinctively earthy in flavor, and a little bit goes a long way. Morels are prized by cooks, and are especially appreciated in French cuisine. Morels grow most prolifically in forests after a fire, and are associated with trees such as Ash, Sycamore, Elms and old Apple trees.
Ramps, or wild leeks, grow in spring from the Carolinas to Canada. They are cherished in West Virginia and many annual festivals are held to herald their arrival. Part of the onion family, ramps have a small white bulb attached to a leafy green end. Often times, an aubergine-tipped sheath covers the white of the ramp, similar to green onions, or scallions.
Although the ramp is thought to be strong in onion and garlic flavors, I found my ramps to be quite sweet and mild. They can be used in the same manner as onion and garlic, in preparations as simple as scrambled eggs, or tossed with pasta and freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese.
Here is a recipe for Ramp Crepes. If you have a crepe pan, or 6-9 inch non-stick skillet, you can make crepes. Crepes can be filled with most anything you desire. I would suggest smoked salmon and red onions, plain ricotta, shrimp scampi, ham and Gruyere, or sauteed mushrooms.
Crepes can be made up to 3 days ahead of time (refrigerated and covered with plastic wrap) and heated in a 200-degree oven, covered in aluminum foil. Crepes can also be frozen for up to 2 months.
Makes about a dozen crepes
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 cup All-Purpose flour, preferably bleached
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons melted butter, plus 2-3 tablespoons for coating the pan
- 8 ramps, ends trimmed and rough chopped
In a blender, add eggs, milk, water, flour, melted butter and salt. Blend for 10 seconds, or until smooth. Add ramps and pulse 5-6 times.
In a crepe pan or non-stick skillet, add a pat of butter over medium high heat and spread to coat fully. Ladle in enough crepe batter to coat the bottom of the pan. Swirl pan to evenly distribute the crepe batter. Cook on one side until just golden. Use a spatula to keep the edges from sticking, making sure that the crepe will release for turning.
Gently flip the crepe over using by a long thin wooden stick or wooden tongs, or flip over in the air to be caught by the pan. Cook on the second side for about 30 seconds, or until the crepe releases easily from the pan.
Remove crepe to a platter and stack as you cook the crepes.
Serve immediately, or store as described above.