Friday, April 22, 2011

Buttermilk Ramp Biscuits

Buttermilk Ramp Biscuits with Coriander and Pecorino Cheese
 When I was 23 I was working as a pastry cook at Tabla- my first experience with life in the professional kitchen.  It had been a rough start but I’d survived the long cold winter living in my parent’s basement, and by spring I had emerged triumphant, moving back into the city with plans to start culinary school in a few short months.  I was discovering my love for working the line, and new beginnings were in the air. 
  One slow Sunday in April before service, a burst of activity at the pass caught our attention over in pastry- a couple sous chefs had come in with four huge plastic Lexans full of what looked like dirty overgrown stinkweeds.  It was the arrival of the first ramps of the season, and their pungent wild oniony smell invaded the kitchen like clouds of tear gas. 
  Before then, I'd never heard of a ramp, and I watched Chef show us how to clean them.  He grabbed a slim leafy bulb and sliced off the tangle of dirty roots by the end, then peeled off the slimy outer layer- voila.  It seemed like a lot of work for a stinky little weed.  For the next two weeks the big tubs of ramps kept pouring in, and cleaning the grimy shoots became a daily activity, even in pastry.  Their stink permeated my every pore and even after work I could smell it on my hands and in my hair, and my fingernails were constantly dirty no matter how much I scrubbed.  I’ve always been a hard-core Allium lover at heart- the more pungent the better- but as far as I was concerned if I never saw another ramp again it would be ok by me. 
  And then I actually tasted one- grilled on the flat top and sprinkled with sea salt- and I finally got what all the fuss was about.  In flavor they are compared to a cross between garlic and onions, but they have a funky earthy quality all their own.  
  Ramps only grow wild, and their season lasts but a few short weeks at the dawn of spring.  Back then, the only people who noticed or cared that the ramps had arrived were the chefs who scoured the green market at dawn, buying up every last crate before the sun had reached its high point in the sky. 
  But thanks to their being the very epitome of seasonal New York, it seems every over-blogged eater who calls himself a foodie is suddenly an expert in this “trendy” little plant.  In this city where I can buy an avocado on any corner in the middle of January or pop into Whole Foods for a mangosteen twelve months of the year, the ramp remains seasonally out of reach.  There’s an impenetrable velvet rope around ramp season and we all know how New Yorkers just love to line up.  Some have compared the recent popularity of the ramp with the arugula boom of the 90’s, already forseeing it as a passing fad, and others ask, are they really worth the hype? 
What kind of a question is that, people?  We’re talking about a vegetable here, not some summer blockbuster!
In their delicate flavor there is something fleeting and reckless, bold and young and unapologetic.  Their silky leaves are among the first real green things we see in the spring market and their arrival brings the uncultivated promise of good things to come.  They aren’t the prettiest to look at but they clean up nice, and they seem to say: “Take us as we are, or leave us be!”, and you gotta respect that. 

Buttermilk Ramp Biscuits
2 cups         ramps, bulbs and leaves
                   cleaned and sliced
1 ½ cups     buttermilk
1 T              heavy cream
3 ½ cups      AP flour
1 ½ T          baking powder
1 T          baking soda

1 T              salt
2 tsp           coriander seeds, crushed
6 oz             butter, cold and cubed
                   Pecorino cheese

1. Preheat oven to 425° F.  Combine buttermilk, cream and ramps and soak for up to an hour- this will allow the ramps to steep into the buttermilk and intensify their rampiness
2. In a food processor or stand mixer, combine flour, baking powder, salt and 1 tsp coriander seeds. 
3. Cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients with a few pulses, until the mixture is mealy but still a bit chunky.  Add the buttermilk mixture and combine just until the dough comes together. 

4. Turn out onto a floured surface and roll to about ½ inch thick.  The dough might be tacky- dust with more flour to keep it from sticking as you roll.  Cut out circles with a cookie cutter or  use a knife for a more rustic look.

5. Place onto a lined baking sheet, brush with heavy cream and top with crushed coriander and shredded cheese.  Bake for 16-20 minutes, until the biscuits are risen and golden brown on top.


  1. Question from a novice: Out of season, can I omit the ramps? Or should I substitute in something else?

  2. Thanks for the question! You can certainly omit the ramps, or out of season you can sub scallions, chives or spring garlic. But this is a great basic biscuit dough that works well with pretty much anything you want to throw in. So experiment away, and let me know how it goes!

  3. this looks so delicious, I'm going to give it a shot!

  4. Hi Archana!

    It's Hana - just had to let you know I've bookmarked this recipe. I'm beyond excited to try it with chives or even garlic chives soon... these are my weakness! Come visit me sometime at :) xo