Ramps on Toast with Poached Egg & Ajvar

by Maja Lukic


This is a sit-down, knife-and-fork kind of sandwich. You could try to eat it with your hands but I think it's too messy. I've always loved open-faced sandwiches and tartines. There's something about the generous ratio of filling to bread in an open-faced sandwich that I prefer. And you get to see everything, which, if you're at all visual like me, is important in a dish.  

It's a perfect light and filling dinner but not a breakfast item. Ramps are far too pungent for the early morning hours. For days, the garlicky scent of charred ramps lingered in the air in my apartment.

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Ramps (allium tricoccum), also sometimes called wild leeks, grow wild on the East Coast, in certain parts of the Midwest, and in Quebec. They're available for a brief period in the spring. As soon as winter recedes, Twitter and Instagram feeds on the East Coast explode with photos of ramps as chefs, magazine editors, and food bloggers race to the markets to grab bunches of the wild alliums. At the farmers market a few weeks ago, the chef in front of me was informed that he could buy no more than 25 bunches for his restaurant. 

I can't account for the fascination with these wild delicacies or their extravagant popularity but I can confirm that they're delicious. They have a pungent garlicky odor and an assertive flavor -- use sparingly. The one thing that everyone helpfully neglects to mention while Tweeting photos of these wild plants is that ramps can be extremely difficult to clean. Ever clean a bunch of leeks? Consider that a mere prelude to what you might encounter when cleaning ramps. 

They're slim, delicate, and slippery, which makes them hard to handle. When you buy them at the market, their roots are covered with mud, and bits of soil are lodged in the inner crevices beneath the slippery red skin of the stem below the bulb. I typically chop off the root, and rinse the rest, sometimes slipping off the filmy red skin of the bulb to clean the interior folds. Another safeguard is to rinse again after slicing (this is also a great way to clean dirty leeks, coincidentally). Set aside about thirty minutes and take your time to clean them throughly. 

And so, ramps have the distinction of being both difficult to source and impossible to clean. Are ramps worth the effort? Fortunately--or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it--yes. Absolutely. 

Once prepped, try to use them sooner rather than later. Ramps work well in any dish that would benefit from an infusion of alliums -- all egg dishes and soups, for example. You can even use them raw. But this poached egg toast is how I will be eating them now and for the rest of ramp season -- crispy bread, a runny egg yolk, creamy sweet ajvar, garlicky charred ramps, and a flake or two of Maldon. 

Finally, a brief note on ajvar, which is a Serbian (or Croatian/Bosnian/Macedonia/Bulgarian/etc.) roasted red pepper and eggplant spread. It has a softer texture than harissa or salsa, a sweetness from the peppers and eggplant, and an unparalleled smoky quality. I'm obsessed with ajvar and put it on everything. I won't even give away my favorite brand because I'm worried they'll sell out. I use a store-bought version here but I've been dying to work out my own recipe, which will end up being my summer project. (Having consumed it for about 28 years, I am very particular about my ajvar so it will be a challenge). But even without the ajvar, the combination of garlicky ramps, thick, runny yolk, and good bread is spectacular. Give it a shot while ramps are still available. 

Ramps on Toast with Poached Egg and Ajvar (gf)

Adapted from Bon Appétit

Serves 4 

2 tbsp avocado oil

2 bunches of ramps

4 pieces gluten-free bread (I like Canyon Bakehouse)

1/2 cup ajvar (or other condiment, see Note)

4 eggs

1 tbsp white vinegar

extra virgin olive oil, flaky sea salt, black pepper

Clean the ramps well: remove the roots and rinse the leaves and the stem beneath the slippery red skin. Cut the dark green leaves from the red stems/bulbs and slice crosswise into 1-inch slices. Cut the white bulbs and stems into 1/4-inch slices. 

Heat the avocado oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced bulbs and stems, season with salt and pepper, and cook on medium to medium-low for a few minutes until the bulbs soften. Add the sliced green leaves and cook for a few more minutes until the leaves wilt. 

In the meantime, bring water to boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add in 1 tbsp white vinegar. Stir the water to create a light whirlpool. Crack an egg into a small bowl and then gently slide it into the simmering water. Poach until whites are set (the yolks will be runny) for about 3 minutes. Repeat with remaining eggs. (To poach multiple eggs at the same time, follow BA's guidance and wait until the egg white turns opaque in the water before adding the next egg. Basically, space them about 30 seconds apart.). 

Grill or toast the bread. Spread each slice with a tablespoon or so of ajvar (or other condiment). Top each slice with ramps and a poached egg. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse sea salt (like Maldon) and black pepper. Serve immediately. 

Note: If you can't find ajvar, substitute harissa, salsa, tapenade, or any other vegetable condiment of choice. Or, prepare it the Bon Appétit way with creamy goat cheese.  



Spring Vegetable Frittata w/Pea Shoot Salad

by Maja Lukic


It sort of feels like spring, by which I mean, it's almost warm outside and there are yellow daffodils near my office. To be fair, there have been signs of a new season in the market for quite some time: fresh peas, fresh asparagus, delicate herbs, sorrel, all manner of lettuces and greens, spring onions, new potatoes, and green beans. (This is also the year that I am determined to move beyond my standard pink radishes and conquer ramps, baby artichokes, and fiddlehead ferns).

But I felt pretty listless and uninspired a few weeks ago and I took an extended break from the kitchen/blogging. I find that a break and a change of focus can spur creativity and renewed interest sometimes. I went on vacation and when I came back, the city was a lot brighter, a little warmer. It's not quite there yet but with the sunshine and warmer air, I'm starting to feel excited about cooking again. Because, really, now that winter is over, I'm in for six or seven months of Saturday morning trips to the farmers' market and lazy Sunday night dinners. To prepare, I've been rereading Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy  and other vegetable-minded books. And before you ask, yes, I do have the new Deborah Madison cookbook The New Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone, which features over 1600 new (to me) vegetarian recipes and weighs about sixty pounds. (Look, I'm a huge nerd.). 

I walked into the kitchen one Sunday morning, grabbed a cast-iron skillet and some fresh vegetables and pulled together a delicious frittata brunch in about 30 minutes. I like lazy, spontaneous meals like this. 

This is a delicious frittata, notwithstanding the lack of cheese (though some of you may argue that cheese is vital and, if that is the case for you, go ahead and add some cheese to your frittata). The texture is perfect and has a clean cut. And because I tend to underbake it, it remains moist. Dry eggs are a sin. 

It's also a flexible, adaptable recipe -- feel free to substitute other vegetables or herbs for the ones listed here. Despite its claim to spring and fresh vegetables, it's kind of a pantry meal even if you don't have access to fresh produce. Frozen sweet peas taste sweeter, in my opinion, so if you only have frozen peas, use frozen peas. If you don't have fresh herbs, try dried oregano or herbes de provence. (And frozen asparagus or frozen green beans are decent substitutes for fresh asparagus but fresh asparagus is everywhere right now). The lemon zest is my secret ingredient and it makes the whole thing shine -- please don't leave it out. 

And pea shoots. Pea shoots are lovely. If I'm using peas in a dish, I typically try to include pea shoots as well. Pea shoots are the delicate leaves and tendrils from pea plants (any variety) and are distinguishable from pea sprouts by their longer, more mature stems and leaves. They're flavorful, nutrient dense, and widely available this time of year. I like to dress them simply with a burst of lemon juice, a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and some good salt. 

Before you go, I have some interesting/absurd/exciting blog news. My Mushroom Socca w/Rosemary and Blistered Tomatoes is featured in the April issue of the Russian edition of Saveurs. It's a French magazine and I don't think it's available in the USA but if you find yourself walking the streets of Moscow (or Paris) without any reading material, please pick up a copy. 

Spring Vegetable Frittata with Pea Shoot Salad (gf)

Makes 1  10.25" frittata (serves 4-6 approx.)

Frittata:

1 tbsp avocado oil (or other cooking oil)

1 large shallot, sliced crosswise into rings 

1 lb. asparagus (approx. 1 bunch)

1 cup fresh shucked peas (or frozen peas)

6 large eggs

1 tbsp fresh chives, minced

1 tsp fresh tarragon, finely chopped

3/4 tsp sea salt

1 lemon, zest only

Salad:

4-5 cups fresh pea shoots

olive oil

lemon juice

sea salt, black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 F degrees (or turn on broiler). 

Trim the asparagus and slice diagonally into 1-inch pieces. If using fresh peas, rinse and drain the peas. 

Heat a cast iron skillet (or other oven-safe skillet) over medium heat. Saute the shallot and asparagus in the avocado oil with 1/4 tsp sea salt until cooked through and lightly browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the peas. If using fresh peas, saute for a few minutes until the peas are cooked through. If using frozen peas, move on to the next step. Stir in the zest of 1 lemon. Save the rest of the lemon to dress the salad below.

While the vegetables are cooking, whisk the eggs with 1/2 tsp salt and add the fresh herbs. Add the beaten eggs to the skillet and stir the vegetables a bit to make sure everything is evenly distributed. Cook over medium heat until the eggs are just set, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Move the frittata to the oven and either broil or bake at 450 F degrees until cooked through, about 5 minutes. For a crispier top, you can continue to cook until the frittata is browned and caramelized. (I like to pull it out earlier so that the eggs do not dry out. Also, the eggs will continue to cook in the pan.). 

Allow the frittata to cool a bit and then gently loosen the edges and the bottom with a heat-proof spatula. Transfer the frittata to a serving platter. (You can try to slide it out and hope it stays intact. But the best way to do this is to grab two plates, cover the skillet with the first plate, carefully flip the skillet over, and then cover the first plate with a second plate and flip again.). 

Dress the pea shoots with a squeeze of lemon juice and olive oil, to taste. Season with a healthy sprinkle of sea salt and cracked black pepper. Toss with your hands.

To serve, arrange about a cup of pea shoots on each plate and top with a slice of frittata. Serve with a dollop of harissa, crème fraîche, or other condiment of choice, and more fresh chives. 

Leftover frittata can be stored in the fridge and can be served either cold or at room temperature. Avoid reheating.

Note: I use a 10.25-inch cast iron skillet for 6 eggs and about 3 cups of vegetables. For a heartier frittata, add two more eggs. You can either bake or broil the frittata to finish it off (I tend to bake because my broiler is unreliable). 


Spiced and Caramelized Sweet Potato Fries

by Maja Lukic


It's not always about juices, hemp seeds, and kale salads here. Sometimes a girl just needs fries. Sweet potato fries, to be exact.

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Actually, I seem to go through a lot of sweet potatoes every week. They're a great pantry staple to have on hand for easy and comforting but healthy meals. I almost never do more than slice them into rounds and then roast with a little bit of olive oil and sea salt. If I'm feeling inspired, I'll throw in some curry powder and turmeric but, generally, I keep it pretty simple.

This recipe is the one exception to the rule but it's still embarrassingly simple. It requires a handful of ingredients you probably already have on hand (perhaps not the coconut oil but it is available everywhere now) and it always works. Every single time.

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There is something tantalizing about the combination of slightly sweet coconut oil and sweet potatoes and the maple syrup gives the fries a sticky, caramelized coating. It's just good comfort food.

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There is not much else to say about this little snack. It's absolutely delicious and can feed a crowd. Just double or triple the ingredients, as needed.

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Spiced and Caramelized Sweet Potato Fries (v/gf)

Adapted from Tara Stiles' Candied Sweet Potato Fries

Serves 2 to 4

2-3 large organic sweet potatoes, any variety, scrubbed but not peeled

2 tbsp maple syrup

2 tbsp organic virgin coconut oil, melted

a dash of cayenne pepper

sea salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Scrub the sweet potatoes well but leave the skin on. Slice them into thin French fries. Anything too thin because will dry out in the oven but if you cut them too thick, their texture will be soggy and soft. Try to cut them into a uniform thickness so that they bake evenly.

In a small bowl, whisk together the maple syrup and melted coconut oil. If the coconut oil is solid (which is its normal state at room temperature), simply pop it into the microwave for a few seconds until it becomes liquid.

It's best to do this next step on the baking sheet you'll be using to bake the fries. Spread the fries on the sheet, pour the maple-coconut mixture over them, and then, using your hands, distribute the maple-coconut mixture over the fries, coating them evenly. This is the part where you have to work quickly because as soon as the coconut oil hits the cold maple syrup and the potatoes, it will start to solidify again, making your task a little bit harder.

Lightly dust with a little bit of cayenne pepper. And I do mean "lightly." Don't be a hero - that stuff is potent and can be overpowering. We're aiming for just a hint of spice.

Sprinkle sea salt over the fries. The salt plays off the sweetness and is indispensable, in my opinion. Think of the combination of sea salt and dark chocolate or sea salt on the best chocolate chip cookies you have ever tasted. That is what we're going for here, too.

Bake the fries for about 20 minutes. Check them halfway to make sure they're not burning and give them a stir. After about 20 minutes, the bottoms should be browned. Turn your oven's broiler on and broil for the last 2-5 minutes, depending on the strength of your oven. Make sure they do not burn or dry out too much. They should be sticky, caramelized, and browned when they're done.

Hit them with a dash of sea salt as soon as they come out of the oven and serve right away. You could eat them the next day, of course, and the flavor will be there but they will definitely be day-old fries. Eating them right away should not be too difficult of a task, though. ;) 

And the track I can't stop listening to lately?

Dr. Dog have a sweet new song out. I've missed Dr. Dog but now they have a new album coming out in October.