A couple weeks ago, our friend Gail brought us some ramps. She had carefully pulled them out by the roots in the woods at the corner of her yard, washed them off, and double bagged them. They sat in our fridge and I wondered what to do! Wild ramps are delightfully potent, sweet and tender but with a good kick, just like the good cousin of a leek would be. In sweet and early spring they are an incredible find. Come late and they will most certainly kick you on your ass. So they sat in the fridge while I thought of pestos and pastas and sauces and stuffings and such things.
Then one morning the asparagus shot straight out of the ground, their thin, emerald stalks announcing spring has sprung. So we picked ‘em and made an asparagus and ramp tart with cannellini spread and kalamata olives. The oniony lick of ramps contrasted with the delicate sweetness of those tender asparagus stalks all floating on a buttery crust is a spring I’d like to wake up to. You can make this tart way more decadent – with fancy cheese, fresh, pastured eggs, milk or cream, store bought puff pastry, and cuts of sausage or prosciutto. Me, I like this delicate side of spring – where patient observation is transformed into something delicious and new.
The recipe below is not complicated by any means, just a healthy description for anyone who is a pie crust newbie. Read on and enjoy!
Making the dough
Pie crust is damn easy, but you do have to be organized, work quickly and with light hands, and not fuss. If you get in hysterics because the dough split while you were rolling your crust, your butter is going to get warm and ooze all over your work space and you’re to have a dense, chewy crust.
I generally like working with my hands. This time we followed most of Julia Child’s Baking with Julia recipe, and on her suggestion used a blender to mix the flour, fat, and water. It worked quite well. Instead of using 4/5 all-purpose flour and 1/5 pastry flour, we opted for 3/5 pastry flour and 2/5 whole wheat, which gave the crust more flavor but with none of the toughness. We were also incredibly pleased to find out that we could substitute ghee for vegetable shortening directly, just by putting the ghee in the freezer for 15 minutes. Seriously, I will never, ever have to look at that partially hydrogenated garbage again. If you have animal shortening, by all means!
1 cup whole wheat flour*
1 1/2 cup pastry flour*
1 stick butter, cut into bits and stored in the fridge
1/4 cup ghee, placed in the freezer until hard, (takes about 15 minutes)
1/2 cup water, placed in the freezer to keep cold
Place the flour in the blender and pulse a couple times (pulse 1—- pulse 2—, like that). Remove the butter from the fridge and add to the blender and pulse three times more. Take out the ghee and the water. Add the ghee to the blender and turn on. While it’s blending, pour the water in through the chute in the top in a steady steam. Turn off. Pulse five times more. Open up the lid and grab a handful of the dough. It should easily form a clump in your hand.
Dump the dough out onto parchment paper on your work surface. Working quickly and making sure not to overwork the dough, form into a mound. With the heel of your hand, push the mound backwards once or twice until it’s evenly flat. Place on a piece of parchment, form into a mound again and wrap in the parchment. Store in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
*Note: We usually measure with a scale, but wanted to be consistent with Julia’s suggestion of using a cup, and found it to work out perfeclty. Open up the flour, fluff it up with a spoon, use your spoon to fill up your measuring cup lightly, and then level it off with the back of a knife. You can sift the flour to make it even more fluffy, but do it after measuring.
1/4 lb ramps, roots removed and washed
1/2 cup reggiano, grated
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted in an oven at 325 on a cookie sheet for 12 minutes, turned once
1/4 teaspoon salt
Add all ingredients into a blender or sumeet and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Store in the fridge for a few days. You can also store the pesto in an ice cube tray in the freezer for up to 1 month – just remove a little portion as needed!
Cannellini ramp spread
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed
1/4 cup reggiano
2 tablespoons ramp pesto
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Add the beans, reggiano, pesto, and oil to the blender. Blend until smooth and the consistency of a thick hummus. Add more oil as necessary. Add in the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Can be made a couple days in advance. Store in the fridge for up to 1 week. Take out and bring to room temperature when ready to use.
Making the tart
15-20 asparagus, washed and ends snapped off
1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and quartered
Extra virgin olive oil
Blanch and dress the asparagus. Blanch the asparagus in boiling water for 30 seconds, then remove to an ice bath and cool for 2 minutes. Lay out on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss asparagus and set aside.
Get your workspace ready. Turn the oven on to 450F. Make sure your workspace is clean, and cover it in flour. Get out your rolling pin and cover it in flour also. Get out a cookie sheet, some tinfoil, and a spatula or knife for spreading, and place them nearby. Take the dough out of the fridge.
Roll out the dough in a rectangle until it’s 1/4 inch thick. Roll the dough out into a rectangle. To do this, lightly roll it crosswise and lengthwise, then turn it over, roll again, and turn over. If there are cracks in the dough as you roll, just squeeze them together with your fingers. If the ends of the dough splay out, press them together and gently roll over them. Once it becomes too cumbersome to turn over, make sure there’s enough flour underneath and continue rolling on a single side until the depth is a little bigger than your average asparagus and the thickness 1/4 inch.
Make a lip with ripple and prick the dough. Fold it in half and then half again and place it on the back side of the cookie sheet. Unfold. All around the edge, make a lip about 1/2-3/4 inch high by folding over the dough. Then, with the thumb and index finger of one hand and the thumb of the other, pinch with the latter on the outside of the lip and press in with the thumb of the other hand to create a ripple in the crust lip all the way around. Using a fork, prick gently in rows all over the crust.
Add the pie weights. Grease a piece of foil large enough to cover the inside of the tart crust plus some edges. Green the underside and place it into the tart, folding up the edges. Pour in the pie weights or beans. Fold some foil into a frame around the tart to keep the sides from collapsing.
Blind bake. Place in the oven for 15 minutes. Take out and re-prick gently. Place back in the oven until starting to change in color (ours was only in another 2 minutes). Remove the tart and let cool for 5 minutes. Turn the oven down to 350.
Assemble the tart. Using your icing spatula, knife, or what have you, spread a good layer of the cannellini ramp spread onto the crust (we used all of ours). Then using the knife or a pastry brush spread a tablespoon of the ramp pesto thinly over the top.
Align your tart horizontally and lay down the asparagus, pressing them into the spread, and alternating the direction of the tip in each row. Then fill the empty space in the row with a couple pieces of chopped olive. Continue.
Bake the tart. Put back in the oven at 350 for 25 minutes, or until golden and the asparagus is starting to wrinkle and brown. Remove and let cool 5 minutes. Cut and enjoy!
Tip: If you’re going to eat the tart within a couple days you can leave the leftovers out, just loosely covered with a plate.