Despite spending the better part of this weekend in Ontario tasting through a couple hundred Niagara wines, I woke up this morning with ramps on the brain. Not Pinot, Riesling, or Chardonnay…..just ramps. Each spring I’ll trip over an early seasonal ramp at some “farm to table” spot and turn fanatic securing a personal stash before the rapid wind down of ramp season. Right on cue, this weekend placed me in the middle of a full-on, Ontario style, BYO dinner at Treadwell, an absolutely serious farm to table restaurant that deserves a spot on every dedicated foodie’s Niagara wine travel itinerary. While I got focused on ramps, thirty reveling winos proudly poured from more than seventy different bottles that we all carried from hometown vineyards, favorite bottle shops, or personal wine cellars (I brought the brightly fruited and structured 2008 Avanthia Godello and a very serious 2005 Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve).
Thanks to the skilled kitchen team at Treadwell and to Rick VanSickle for snapping this shot of the the best piece of lamb I ever ate, only to be topped with my inaugural crispy, garlicky, and leafy Spring 2011 ramp:
Ramps steal my attention with their garlic character, lower-stem crispness, and edible tip-to-stem leafy greens. They are muli-talented performers and I am obsessed by the way only one vegetable can cover all the garlic, onion, crunch, and bitter green requirements of this compelling ramp and fresh tomato pasta sauce I conjured up. A little olive oil, butter, salt, pepper, small tomatoes, rigatoni, and parmesan completes the ingredient list of this simple yet addictive pasta dish. Here is a photo of the finished sauce I pulled together today with my freshly secured batch of ramps:
1 lb. ramps
8-12 oz. grape or assorted small tomatoes
5 tbls. really good olive oil
3 tbls. unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated quality Parmigiano Reggiano
1 lb. fresh (dried will also do) Rigatoni
Clean and separate ramps, rinsing thoroughly. Then rough cut cleaned ramps from stem to leaf tip in three to five evenly spaced chops depending on size of ramps. Heat olive oil and butter in large saucepan over medium heat until butter foams. Add chopped ramps and tomatoes and cook over low-medium heat until tomatoes are ready to burst, but still whole, and ramps have softened with some firmness left in the stems (the tomatoes and ramps should finish cooking simultaneously). Mix in half the grated cheese, reserve the rest for individual service. Finally, over low heat fold in rigatoni, prepared al dente, serving individually on white plates, topped with a couple pinches of parmesan.
The wine of choice for this evening was Alain Coudert’s 2009 Clos de la Roilette Cuvee Tardive. Besides loving this Fleurie for its acidity and metallic mineral profile, this weather-perfect Beaujolais vintage produced a plumper, rounder, more textured wine than usual with an alcohol level approaching 14%. Clos de la Roilette’s traditionally mouthwatering saline and steely character was not lost in 2009, working so well with the tomatoes’ acidity, ramp infused garlic and onion aromatics, and rich butter and olive oil base. It is a spot on choice and it was so refreshing reemerging from a terroir focused Niagara wine immersion weekend with a wine that powerfully defines its own old world Fleurie/Moulin-a-Vent borderline terroir.
Enjoy some tasty spring ramps while you can and if you are inclined to give this simple recipe a try, please let me know what you drink with it. Now that my vegetable bin is brimming with a couple pounds of fresh spring ramps, I am going to refocus on organizing and sharing some observations about the energetic, young, and developing Niagara wine community I discovered before I lost my mind to Ontario’s first ramps of the season.