Exhaling at Last

It seemed like winter would never end. Then the Greenmarket burst into spring.

It was pouring down buckets my first Saturday back home after almost three weeks away. I made my way to the Greenmarket anyway, feeling dutiful, only to find that Spring had arrived behind my back. The first sign was the sight of Rick Bishop, down from Sullivan Country with a table full of ramps, and I whooped with joy. Pastry chef Larissa Rapahel from the restaurant Telepan was looking slightly dazed by the abundance. “Two weeks ago there was nothing. Now there’s… I mean it’s, it’s… well, I just have to buy some stuff.” Warmer weather and rain have brought the farmers back to year-round markets, and the seasonal markets all around the country are opening too. It’s as sure a sign of change as the flowering crabapples lining my block. This winter has seemed exceptionally tough, and at last we can exhale and eat a little fresh food.

I spent a fortune on ramps, of course, and we have eaten them every night this week, our house filled with their particular smell, sharp and mean, like green onions that have joined a biker gang. The first night I pan-roasted them just to taste them on their own, the sweet carmelization playing off the feral bite, and served them with poached mackerel and herby whole wheat Israeli (large-grained) couscous. The next night I used them in a clam-and-ramp pasta, and the night after that I wilted them gently to serve with pan-seared sea scallops. I can feel my spirits lifting higher each night.

But it’s not just the ramps that bring relief. I bought two kinds of spinach – small leaves from young plants raised under cover, and tough, thick bunches from plants left out in the field over the winter to resprout during the first warm days. The latter are so rich with iron they’re almost meaty. The tender leaves I cook fast or not at all; the old ones get cooked twice, first wilted in a wide, covered pan over gentle heat with a little water until they’ve collapsed, then wrung out thoroughly and cooked again in very hot olive oil in which I’ve browned a couple of whole cloves of garlic. The result is silky and concentrated, with a mineral depth and the flavor of life eked out of the season’s lengthening days. It only gets better from here.

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