Monday, May 19, 2014

New Spring Menu at The 404 Kitchen, a Discussion About Ramps, and a Recipe From Chef Matt Bolus

Posted By on Mon, May 19, 2014 at 6:20 AM

Spring Allium Soup at The 404 Kitchen
  • Spring Allium Soup at The 404 Kitchen
A couple of weeks ago, chef Matt Bolus introduced a new late spring menu highlighting all the goodness that this time of year brings to our tables. I stopped in at The 404 Kitchen — one of this year’s semifinalists for Best New Restaurant at the James Beard Awards — last week during a photo shoot to check out what’s new, including the Spring Allium Soup. The restaurant’s PR folks forwarded a recipe to me, so as I looked through it, I knew I wanted to talk about ramps.

Ramps — also known as wild leeks — have long been a celebrated delicacy that heralds the beginning of spring, though it's also noted as one of the most pungent of all the allium species. Ramps' popularity in the past 15 years has led to overharvesting, followed by bans on foraging ramps in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Quebec. Unscrupulous harvesters have made it difficult for the ramps to remain plentiful.

This led to a discussion of growing your own ramps, something I have contemplated since allium species are the only thing I can successfully grow in my own garden. Chef Bolus had the same idea and eagerly found a book about growing ramps, purchased seeds, and sought advice from friends at Bear Creek Farms. He then learned that in addition to needing the perfect growing conditions (a wooded, northern-facing hill), he’d also need lots of time and patience. The seeds require 18 months to germinate and then another seven years to mature for culinary use. Though Chef Bolus noted that he has foraged for himself (ostensibly while awaiting the maturity of his cultivated ramps), he relies on commercial suppliers for the restaurant.

Ramp greens are currently featured in the Spring Allium Soup — which is fantastic, by the way; rich and creamy and deep with flavor — as well as in the risotto on the new menu. The spring menu also includes a number of other springtime favorites, such as asparagus served with a Wedge Oak Farm poached egg, petite kale and rhubarb in the Insalata Langhe, Jerusalem artichoke (also known as sunchoke) and broccolini, pea tendrils, pickled strawberries, and French breakfast radishes. The menu evolves as available ingredients change, so look for other delicacies such as morel mushrooms to pop up on the menu, as well as early heirloom tomatoes and field peas.

Chef Bolus was kind enough to share the recipe for his soup. I spoke with him about it, and I’ve made some notes at the end for sourcing ingredients and substitutions for the home cook.

Spring Allium Soup
Yield: 3 quarts
The cream in this soup makes it very rich and creamy and quite filling for a soup. The complex flavor comes from using a variety of greens from various allium species. The zip from the lemon peel and juice complements the allium perfectly.

6 sprigs fresh thyme
20 coriander seeds
5 strips of fresh lemon peel
2 leeks, cleaned
2 green garlic heads and stalks, cleaned
4 petite spring Vidalia onions with the greens attached, cleaned
1 cup rinsed ramp greens, julienned (reserve the bulbs for pickling, if you have them)
1 cup white wine
2 quarts cream
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + more for frying and garnish
Lemon juice (from peeled lemon)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Rice flour

1. Toast the coriander, lemon peel and thyme in a pan over low heat until very fragrant.

2. Remove the bulbs from the Vidalia onions and reserve for the garnish. Rough chop the greens from the onions as well as the leeks and green garlic.

3. In a pot large enough to contain all the ingredients, combine the spices along with the chopped greens of the leeks, green garlic and onions. Add the 3 tablespoons of olive oil and sweat the ingredients over medium heat until they become tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Make sure no browning occurs.

4. Turn the heat up to a medium-high and add the white wine. Allow everything to cook together for another 5 minutes.

5. Add the cream and gently bring everything to a boil. Remove from the heat and allow the soup to steep and flavors to blend until it is room temperature.

6. Process the soup in the blender until smooth and strain through a fine chinois.

7. Slice the Vidalia onions paper thin crosswise, season with kosher salt and ground black pepper. Lightly coat with rice flour.

8. Heat a pan with a quarter-inch of olive oil over high heat until you see just a whisper of smoke. Crisp up the onions in the oil until just golden brown. Carefully remove them from the oil and drain on a paper towel.

9. Reheat the soup and season with kosher salt and lemon juice.

10. Pour the heated soup in a bowl and garnish it with julienned ramp greens, crisp Vidalia onions, and spots of olive oil.

Coriander is the seed of cilantro, but they are not interchangeable. If you are allergic to cilantro, substitute a pinch or two of cumin.

Use a vegetable peeler to make the strips of lemon peel.

Green garlic is spring-harvested garlic that hasn’t yet formed into a bulb with cloves and more resembles a green onion. It’s available at farmers markets and the produce sections of nicer/specialty grocers.

To make the recipe dairy-free (and vegan), you can substitute vegetable stock for the cream.

I use a stick blender to blend soups and don’t strain them. Since you’re not selling your soup, you can probably get away with skipping the “strain through a chinois” step as long as you otherwise remove or strain any solids that remain (e.g., coriander seeds).

Rice flour is gluten-free and makes a nice light batter, but if you don’t have any on hand, you can use a bit of all-purpose flour lightened with corn starch. Or skip the flour altogether.

If you have trouble sourcing any of the ingredients, Chef Bolus notes that you can use whatever you have on hand, including another allium species, the shallot. Other allium greens can be substituted for ramp greens, but will not be quite as flavorful.

This recipe makes three quarts, which is enough soup to have, freeze and share.

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