My mother knows it is spring when the deciduous trees lose their bare reddish buds and adorn themselves with a much fuller halo of light green that graces the New Jersey landscape (obviously between the scrubby, spindly sticks of the pine barrens and the tangle of petroleum refineries of Elizabeth). For me it is the appearance of Ramps, Fiddle-heads, and Spring Onions. Obviously I am a chef because most people look at me with blank stares when I mention that we had the first fiddle-heads of the year and I wonder when the ramps will be here. I often curse when it rains too much because Ramps or wild leeks can’t be foraged during or just after a rain.
I love to prepare these dishes as simply as possible, a quick sauté with garlic, butter, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Many other chefs do far more complex things with them, like pickling, but I just don’t understand that. Those are preservation methods which take several days to prepare. Fiddle-heads and ramps especially are some of the first foods that can be foraged in the cycle of growth and they should be eaten quickly and ravenously after the long winter. Imagine being a colonist, subsisting on 3 or 4 pints of thick strong ale and little else all winter and then suddenly the first tender shoots of fiddlehead ferns poke above the humus. Are you really going to pickle them for later? I think not!
Rush them home, wash them, perhaps a quick blanch in salted water and then right into the garlic butter. The same goes for ramps, they are delightful after a quick sauté. I usually sauté the bottoms a bit longer than the tops but I serve both with some grilled meat. Cut the tops off the spring onions and split the bottoms. Season with some extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and put on the grill. The meal is as simple as I can make it to celebrate Spring…it’s here now. They can be hard to find. This time I found them at Whole Foods. Look for them, ask for them, you will find them and be happy you did.