Some people find pleasure in going out in search of rare one-of-a-kind rocks. Others relish the chase of discovering the tiniest of antique stores to score an old-timey relic.
Me, I seek the natural beauty in the world of cookery.
Bulbous artichokes the shade of mulled wine. Crisp spheres of freshly shelled English peas. Feathery flakes of Turkish Aleppo pepper.
These are the things that excite me.
The moment I lay my hands on them there’s no turning back. I have to have it.
Call it an obsession or neurotic craze but I prefer to think of it as a spell-binding love affair. What ever Magi is responsible for this kind of fodder-induced bliss can continue with his black magic. In fact, spike the potency of that potion. I want more, more, more.
I don’t sound like a lunatic, do I?
Don’t answer that.
So, naturally when I came across the season’s first bounty of ramps I flitted to them like an overzealous bumble bee.
What does an overzealous bumble bee look like, you ask?
She is alarmingly huge. Like the size of a lime huge. And she’s crazy! She darts around manically never staying in one spot long enough to even be considered being there and sometimes she zips right in front of my face and says something in bee-aleze that I swear should never be uttered to small children and then I quiver my lips and huddle in the corner rocking to the the beat of my own prayers.
This is all hypothetical of course.
Back in the safety of my kitchen, I ruminated on what to do with the ramps. This would mark the commencement of my relationship with ramps. I’d heard of them and seen pictures of them but never actually tried them. I bit off a little of the stem.
Very nice. Strong onion flavor but kind of refreshing in a sense. I was getting excited.
At the market, I also picked up a bunch of fresh spinach and a small wedge of Raclette cheese that looked good. I also snagged a bag of baby Yukon golds that were just too cute to pass up.
It turns out I had all the makings for a gratin.
Remembering a leek and potato recipe I had seen from Melissa Clark a few months ago, I decided to do a riff on that using ramps, spinach, and Raclette cheese. I wanted to keep it super simple to bring forth the pungent flavor of the ramps.
After slicing the potatoes thin and sauteing the ramps and spinach, I arranged them all in a dish in typical gratin fashion. I poured the garlic-infused cream over the top dousing them with that luscious liquid heaven and then sprinkled the Raclette cheese to cover before stowing it in the warm oven.
Forty minutes later, she emerged even more beautiful than I had anticipated. The cheese was melted and the cream was bubbling. The bright green flecks of ramp and spinach were strewn haphazardly like graffiti art at its finest.
Ramp, Potato, Spinach Gratin with Raclette Cheese
Serves 4-6; prep and cook 1 hour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter + more for greasing pan
1 pound baby Yukon Gold potatoes; washed
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 bunches ramps*
3 cups spinach
Â½ cup heavy cream
1 garlic clove; minced finely
A pinch of nutmeg
Â¼ – Â½ cup Raclette cheese; shredded**
*Ramps are wild onions that usually become available in the spring. Check your farmerâ€™s markets and local specialty produce grocer starting in April. If you canâ€™t find any ramps, leeks would be a fine alternative.
**Raclette cheese is a good melting cheese that has a mild nutty flavor similar to a Fontina or Taleggio. Either of those would be great substitutes if you canâ€™t find Raclette.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease an oven-proof 1 â€“ quart (approximately) casserole dish with a dab of butter. Set aside.
Using a mandoline, thinly slice the potatoes and overlap them in the casserole dish. Season each layer generously with salt and pepper. You should have about 2 layers of potatoes.
In a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter and let brown until it smells nutty and the foam has subsided a bit, about 1 minute. Meanwhile, chop up the ramps and spinach roughly, separating the bottom white bulb of the ramps from the delicate greens. Toss the chopped white bulbs into the browned butter and sautÃ© until softened, about 30 seconds. Add in the rest of the ramps and spinach, stirring and sautÃ©ing until they wilt slightly, about another 30 seconds.
Spread the ramp and spinach butter mixture over the potatoes.
Using the same saucepan, add the heavy cream, nutmeg, and garlic and simmer for approximately 3 minutes. Pour the mixture over the ramp, spinach, and potatoes. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the top and cover with foil.
Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender.