It probably goes without saying — but I will say it anyway; this is an internet weblog, after all — that a whole lot of the food I cook at home doesn’t make it onto this site. I like to use this space to talk about aspirational cooking — things that have fascinated me because they were different or better or even easier than I’d expected to make. At the very least, I hope they’ll have a good story to tell or get someone else as excited to cook as I was. The work-a-day cooking (pizza, lazy meatballs, oatmeal) that fills out our weeks is hardly noteworthy stuff.
I also prefer to avoid gushing about ingredients most people don’t have access to. No, I don’t mean truffles or anything so fancy — I’m not secretly flavoring my pasta water with fistfuls of the Himalayan pink salt I eschew elsewhere — I just mean something that especially short-seasoned and regional and it feels little will be gained by crowing about a dish that 95% of people can’t make.
At the top of this list are ramps, also known as wild leeks. They’re grown mostly in
the East Coast cooler climates, and are only available for a few weeks each spring. People get a little gaga over them — they have a reputation for being overhyped, which is a funny thing, don’t you think, that we live in a world where a leafy green onion can be given too much of a rock star status? — because they’re one of the first things to emerge from the soil after nearly a half-year freeze. I personally get a little gaga over them because I think they’re the perfect package; the bottom, slim, pink half is the ideal aromatic (sharp onion with a hint of garlic) and the top half is silky green. They’re a swirl of olive oil and a pinch of seasoning away from being a self-reliant dish. Maybe I envy them?
Thus, there are a lot of good reasons that I’ve only mentioned my three years strong obsession with the ramp pizza at Motorino on 12th Street in passing. Pizza? Boring! Ramps? Nice if you can find them! But as we tucked into our first annual pie last week and my preschool heartbreaker didn’t even pick off the green vegetables before eating his slice (gasp!) and I once again gushed over the perfection in its simplicity, I decided enough was enough: we all need a chance to make this at home.
Because it’s one of those perfect meals. Ramp bulbs are thinly sliced and sautéed until slightly sweeter, but still retaining a bit of a sharp bite. The leaves are sautéed until just wilted. They’re scattered over a thinly stretched pizza dough that’s been slicked with just the smallest amount of a tomato puree and that’s it. No pepperoni. No herbs. No nubs of bacon/bitter green peppers/charred pineapple/waxy white mushrooms/black olives. There isn’t even any mozzarella, although I tried the most scant amount on one pie last week and it wasn’t half-bad — but still not necessary. In the oven, the tomato puree cooks into a sauce. The ramps get even sweeter. The edges of the greens crisp like kale chips, but you know, more delicious ones. And when you take it out of the oven, you scatter the whole thing with a salty, nutty aged Romano cheese and wonder how pizza ever got so complicated. You might even wonder how life ever go so complicated. You might even decide that it’s time for a [Insert Name of Current Beloved Seasonal Vegetable] Pizza night every week. We salute this.
More ramp recipes: I haven’t done a lot with them on this site, but I highly recommend this ramp risotto we made a couple years ago; it was delicious. I’m also hoping to make us some ramp paninis this week. I’ll cook the ramps the same way I suggest below, but press them with some mozzarella. I am sure a slice of proscuitto would be delicious in there as well.
One year ago: Pasta with Garlicky Broccoli Rabe (we made this for dinner Friday; so easy, still delicious)
Two years ago: Heavenly Chocolate Cake Roll
Three years ago: Lime Yogurt Cake with Blackberry Sauce
Four years ago: Cinnamon Swirl Buns and Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper
Five years ago: Caramelized Shallots and Peanut Sesame Noodles
Six years ago: Black Bean Confetti Salad
Inspired by Motorino’s version
Yield: 1 thin 12-inch round or roughly 9×13-inch rectangular pizza; will serve 2 hungry adults (we double this for the three of us and end up with leftovers, which I call dibs on). I don’t usually double the garlic in the puree when I make two pizzas.
4 ounce, about half a bundle, ramps (see footnote for other suggestions)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Red pepper flakes (optional)
1 12-ounce pizza dough, ready to use (I default to my Rushed Pizza Dough in the book or this Really Simple one these days)
1/3 to 1/2 cup canned tomato puree or whole canned tomatoes
1 tiny garlic clove, minced
Pinch of sugar or drops of red wine vinegar (if needed)
3 to 4 ounces mozzarella, sliced into paper-thin rounds (optional)
1/4 cup pecorino romano cheese, finely grated
Trim hairy ends off ramp bulbs. Separate ramp bulbs/stems from darker leafy ends. Thinly slice the stem ends; cut the leafier ends into 1/2-inch thick ribbons.
Heat large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add a pinch of red pepper flakes if using, and the sliced bulbs and saute until translucent but still a little crunchy/sharp, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add ramp leaves and cook until just wilted, barely 1 minute. Season with salt and set aside.
Heat your oven to its hottest temperature. Coat a baking sheet or pizza pan lightly with cornmeal (so that dough doesn’t stick). Stretch pizza dough into a very thin 11 to 12-inch round or large rectangle with your fingers. Don’t worry if it’s uneven or misshapen.
If using whole canned tomatoes, either chop or puree them until you have your desired sauce consistency. In a small bowl, mix them with garlic, salt and red pepper flakes if using. Taste for seasoning. You can add a drop or two of vinegar for extra brightness or a pinch of sugar if it tastes like it needs it. Spread this mixed tomato puree thinly over your dough almost to the edges. You might not need a full 1/2 cup; I tend to use 1/4 to 1/3 cup.
If using mozzarella, spread thin slices over tomatoes. Scatter sauteed ramps over pizza. Season with additional salt and pepper (or pepper flakes) and drizzle with remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Bake in heated oven for 10 to 12 minutes (keeping an eye on it if this is your first time baking pizza in a very hot oven), until crust is golden all around and mozzarella (if using) has some charred spots. Remove pizza from oven, scatter it immediately with pecorino romano cheese and serve in slices.
But I can’t get ramps! Leeks seem like the obvious choice, and they’d be delicious, but they’re much heavier than their wild counterpart, and take much longer to cook. Spring onions would be a nicer replacement. So could a mixture of scallions and a handful of spinach. Mainly, you’re looking for something small and onion-y to saute until translucent, but retain some sharpness, and a green to lightly wilt. I think that whatever you choose will be delicious.