Ramps, or what the French call l’ail des ours (bear garlic) has sprouted, flowered, and now is settling in as forest ground cover. Soon its pungent leaves will fade to a pale yellow, and then it will offer no flavor. For now, though, l’ail des ours is still ripe for the picking and eating.
This season has been particularly abundant, with the local forest literally blanketed with the dark green, spatulate-leafed plants. If you stumble onto a patch without realizing it, you find yourself walking in a garlic-scented wonderland, visions of deliciously garlicky dishes floating in your head.
There is no protocol for ramps in French cuisine, or at least none that I know of (they are a wild delicacy that hasn’t yet found itself in the pantheon of classical French ingredients), so I treat them the way I treat most vegetables, as simply as possible. I like to mince and sauté them in olive oil, then add them to an omelette or a quiche, add them fresh to a salad or, my best use of them yet, incorporate them into a dish of braised rabbit.
Ramps are fleeting, and they are truly delicious. Take advantage of them if you can. If you want to make this dish and you don’t have ramps, substitute young and tender spinach. (If you want to make this dish and can’t get rabbit, substitute chicken).
photo by Mathew Meehan
RABBIT WITH RAMPS
LAPIN AU L’AIL DES OURS
1 rabbit, cut in serving pieces lapin
1 cup white wine such as Sauvignon
4 cups (1 liter) water
1 white onion, cut in half
2 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut in thin rounds
2 fresh bay leaves (or dried, imported)
20 sprigs thyme
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 fresh rosemary branches, each about 3-inches (7.5cm) long
For the ramps:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 bunch (about 12 ounces; 360g) fresh ramps (or spinach*), rinsed, patted dry, minced
For the pasta:
1 pound (500g) best-quality dried farfalle or penne
To finish the dish:
1 cup (250ml) crème fraîche
The minced zest from ½ lemon
½ teaspoon black pepper corns
Fleur de sel
- In a stockpot, place the rabbit, the white wine, the water, the onion, the carrots, the bay leaves, they thyme, salt and pepper to taste, and the rosemary. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat so the mixture is simmering and cook, covered, until the rabbit is cooked, 35-40 minutes.
- Remove the pieces of rabbit from the cooking liquid. Strain the cooking liquid through a sieve into a saucepan. Place the cooking liquid over high heat and reduce to 1-1/4 cups (325ml).
- When the rabbit is cool enough to handle, remove all of the meat from the bones, and cut the meat into bite-sized pieces.
- Heat the olive oil for the ramps in a medium, non-stick skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the ramps and cook, stirring and shaking the pan, until they are wilted, about 8 minutes. Season them to taste with salt and pepper, and continue cooking another minute or so if necessary.
- To cook the pasta, bring a large pot of heavily salted water (about 3 tablespoons salt to 5 quarts water) to a boil over high heat. When the water is boiling, add the pasta of your choice (either farfalle or penne are great) to the water and cook until it is al dente, about 7 minutes. Remove from the water, but keep the water hot over low heat.
- To finish the rabbit, in a large saucepan over medium heat, place the reduced cooking liquid and three quarters of a cup of the crème fraîche, along with the lemon zest and peppercorns. Heat this together and cook without boiling, until it thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Fold in the rabbit and the ramps, cook for 10 minutes, until it is hot through, adjust the seasoning, then remove from the heat.
- To serve, place a mound of rabbit in the center of six warmed, shallow soup bowls. Top with equal amounts of rabbit, then drizzle each plate with an equal amount of the crème fraîche. Season with a bit of fleur de sel, and serve immediately.