Summer and Scallions

Hard to believe it’s the end of August and summer is coming to an end. We have been spending most free Sundays out at the park. Sarah has been attending the free yoga sessions while I grapple with my new Brazilian jiu jitsu crew across the grassy field from the peaceful yogis. Other groups of people comprised of an impromptu drum circle; acro yoga practitioners and some picnickers complete the picture.

Summer also happens to yield quite the bountiful harvest of fruits and vegetables. We have gone out to the farm a few times for berry and peach picking. When we haven’t made the journey out of the city, we’ve been restocking our peach stockpile at the farmer’s market.

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Check out the assortment and color!

At the end of June, my family visited for graduation. When it comes to nostalgic and home-cooked foods, one of my favorites still happens to be scallion pancakes (蔥油餅). I never seem to be satisfied with the orders that I get when I go out to restaurants. I find that they either tend to be too doughy and thick, lack sufficient scallions, or lack the layers. None of those are a problem when you make them yourself.

Before we start this recipe a reminder to not skimp on the seasonings (there are only a handful but they pack a punch)! That’s how you get jam-packed flavor into each and every scallion pancake. Oh and don’t try to be healthy with this by skimping on oil – just embrace it as a savory, fragrant, carbohydrate-laden, guilty pleasure.

Scallion Pancake (蔥油煎餅)

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Ingredients

  • All-purpose flour
  • Water
  • Scallions
  • Sesame seeds
  • Salt
  • Five-spice powder

For the dough, take 2 cups of flour and gradually add warm water (~1 cup) until you get a nice uniform dough. Cover and let rest for up to 1 hour.

Slice your scallions thinly and toast your sesame seeds to really pack on the flavor.

Divide your completed dough into 8 parts then we start to work. For remainder of directions, scroll through the pictures below.

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Enjoy the aroma that lingers in your kitchen.

D

 

 

 

Lean, Green, Protein Machine

GFor the last month or so, Dennis and I have been using the app ‘MyFitnessPal’ to track our daily caloric intake. While this sounds like a sort of compulsive or self-flagellating exercise, we have both found it weirdly addictive. For me, a perpetual grazer, it has been interesting to see how all of the little handfuls and bites I grab over the course of the day add up – I frequently reach the end of the day and think I have several hundred calories ‘left over’ (the app has you input your weight and activity level to produce an approximate baseline goal) only to suddenly have flashbacks to the random handful of cheese cubes I grabbed from the tray in the physicians lounge, or the half donut I snagged from the nurses station in the middle of the night. I’ve been tempted to lie to the app a few times – does it really need to know that I ate an entire bag of gummy candy in one sitting?? – but I’ve mostly found it fun and interesting. In Dennis’ case, the app has cemented his status as a protein monster. Despite starting most days with a smoothie containing two scoops of protein powder, he often finds himself short of his daily protein goal by the end of the day. We were short on meat last week, so many evenings Dennis would resort to roasting and consuming an entire block of tofu or can of beans.

Beyond holding up a mirror to our own individual eating habits, the app has also revealed the super powers of certain foods we already love. Last week, I finally got around to making a dish that I’d been meaning to try for awhile – the ‘Saag feta’ from Priya Krishna’s new book Indianish. I had somehow forgotten what a powerhouse spinach is – when we plugged our dinners into the app at the end of the day we were reminded that spinach is an awesome source of iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, and, somehow, protein. Even without knowing the nutrition breakdown of the spinach, we would have loved the recipe, but knowing just how good it was for us definitely cemented its status as a keeper.

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Saag feta/paneer, lightly modified from Indianish

  • 2T whole coriander seeds
  • 2 green cardamom pods
  • 1T cumin seeds
  • 1/2 t red pepper flakes
  • 4T unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 lb spinach (we used a bag of frozen)
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
  • Lemon juice (squeezed from 1/2 lemon)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 oz feta or paneer, cubed

In a mortar and pestle, gently grind coriander seeds, cardamom pods, and cumin seeds until lightly broken up – no need to turn spices completely to powder. Remove crushed cardamom pods once seeds are released. In a large skillet or dutch oven, melt butter. Add onions and cook until translucent. Once onions are translucent and beginning to brown, add crushed spices and red pepper flakes and cook until spices are fragrant. Add spinach and cook until spinach thaws and wilts (if frozen) or wilts (fresh). Transfer mixture to the bowl of a food processor. Add jalapeno, lemon juice and salt. Pulse gently until spinach is broken up into small shreds – do not turn completely to paste. Return spinach mixture to original skillet/dutch oven on low heat. If using feta, add feta directly to spinach mixture and cook for several minutes until warmed through and beginning to melt. If using paneer, first brown paneer in additional Tbsp of butter in a separate skillet before adding to spinach mixture. Serve!

S

(Sl)Awesome Spring

Back when I worked in Oakland, CA, one of the big perks was access to a lot of great lunch spots within walking distance. One of them just happens to be an Oakland institution renowned for its baked goods and delightful fried chicken sandwich (they had a brisket sandwich with horseradish that was amazing as well). If I ever wanted to spoil myself, I would just wander a block away to Bakesale Betty for a lunchtime treat.

But this post isn’t about the fried chicken sandwich. Rather, it’s about the slaw that paired so brilliantly with the crunchy, moist chicken.

Now that is is finally spring in DC, our typical meals at home have deviated from soups and broths into lighter fare (helps trim down the winter waistline as well). Conventional salads just get boring at some point, so I took the opportunity over Easter weekend when our friends, Josh and Eileen, had us over to recreate and modify the slaw from memory. Josh has since asked for the recipe and made it again.

It’s a very simple recipe that creates a large batch. It is delicious to eat by itself, but we’ve also been using it as a topping on tacos.

Veggie Slaw with Honey Dijon Vinaigrette

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Slaw:

  • Cabbage (half)
  • Medium red onion
  • Carrots x3
  • Jalapenos x2 (seeded and sliced thinly)
  • Parsley  (1/2 cup, chopped)

Dressing:

  • Dijon/Honey mustard (4 T)
  • Apple cider vinegar (2 T)
  • Olive oil
  • Pepper

Mandolin cabbage, red onion, and carrots. In a large bowl, combine cabbage, red onion, carrots, jalapenos, and parsley.

In a separate bowl, combine mustard, apple cider vinegar. Mix well with egg beater. Gradually drizzle in olive oil and continue to mix until uniform. Add cracked black pepper to taste.

The ratio for vinaigrette classically is 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil, but I tend to do a bit less oil because I want the slaw the marinate in it and absorb lots of flavor.

Add dressing to slaw and toss well to incorporate. Let sit and chill in fridge before serving.

-D

Livin’ la Pura Vida

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We recently returned from our annual international anniversary trip. This year, we decided to travel to Costa Rica, which apparently contains 6% of the world’s biodiversity. Given our trip was limited to just 1 week, we chose to rent a car from San Jose and go south. We spent a few days hiking the trails and taking in the wildlife in Los Quetzales National Park. We took a day trip to Santa Maria de Dota and did a coffee tour of Coopedota where I had a chance to pick and eat some coffee berries while learning about the process of coffee making. After a pit stop at the beach in Dominical where a friendly local with a machete approached us and opened two coconuts we found while strolling on the beach, we finished off our trip by heading to Manuel Antonio National Park where there were sloths aplenty. Then we beach hopped our way back to San Jose airport.

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Even though we were only in Costa Rica a week, we managed to hit a wide variety of ecosystems and micro-climates. Though we tried our best, our photos barely do the beaches justice.

Of course, no trip is complete without a healthy dose of food nostalgia. As usual, we had some of our best finds at local markets. The seafood soup at a soda (Costa Rican eatery) in Mercado Central was incredibly rich and generously studded with tuna. The fruit was amazing, and vast majority of places we went made it a point to only serve what was in season. I discovered this after requesting mango and being rebuffed by a local.

One thing you simply can’t miss is a dish called gallo pinto which translates to “spotted rooster.” Although seemingly just a humble rice and beans recipe, this particular dish is more than the sum of its parts. Its exact origin in debated. Both Costa Rica and Nicaragua lay claim to it, although its roots may actually stem from Africa. Regardless of origin, the combo of rice and beans seen in many Latin American (or New Orleans red beans and rice wink wink) cuisines provides complete protein. Gallo pinto is commonly served as part of a Costa Rican breakfast along with eggs, plantains, and fresh fruit.

Gallo Pinto

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Ingredients:

  • white rice*                2 cups, cooked
  • beans**                      2 cups, cooked
  • red bell pepper         1 large, diced
  • onion                          1 large, diced
  • garlic                          3 cloves, minced
  • cilantro                      1/2 cup, chopped
  • Salsa Lizano***        To taste
  • Lime

In a large pan, heat up oil on medium high heat. Add diced red bell pepper and onions and saute until lightly browned. Add minced garlic and cook until aromatic. Add beans followed by rice. Add Salsa Lizano and incorporate all the onion, pepper, and beans uniformly with the rice. Mix in the cilantro then give it a squeeze of lime juice to brighten up the flavors. Enjoy!

-D

*For this particular recipe, day old rice is actually easier to use than freshly cooked rice.

**I happened to use dried black beans that I soaked and cooked. I think the texture of dried beans is better than canned, but feel free to use canned if you’re in a rush. You can also substitute pinto beans or red beans.

***We bought a small bottle of Salsa Lizano while in Costa Rica and brought it back with us. I have yet to find a store in DC that sells it. If you’re in a bind, you can use Worcestershire sauce and add a bit of smoked paprika/cumin to try to replicate some of the smokiness and vegetal notes

 

Shrimply the Best

We’re back after a brief hiatus. December and January were jam packed with life things. We found out that I will be staying for fellowship in DC (woohoo!) and hosted a string of visitors through the holiday season and beyond. We got a decent amount of snow and frost but were fortunate that it did not drop to the below freezing temps that plagued many Midwest regions. Recently, we got a 3-4 day sneak peek at spring in the past week with very temperate weather but alas it was too good to hold (yet another cold front coming). And yesterday, we hosted another Lunar New Year get-together to welcome in the year of the pig and had many friends and their families join us to celebrate.

All of the cold temperatures around the country got me thinking about how people survived the winter back before we were able to import/ship/grow vegetables and fruits year round and the techniques of preservation, fermentation, and pickling. Nowadays, I think there is a perception that preserved foods are not healthy for us, but it is important to remember the context in which many of these practices originated. During the winter, it was difficult to grow crops and the chill would severely hinder hunting, fishing, and gathering activities. Unfortunately, this winter-induced lack of dietary variety (and quantity) could lead to malnourishment. The technique of pickling arose to preserve some of the summer bounty (and vitamins) for the harsh winter months.

The technique of pickling can be found worldwide. It is the act of preserving food in a solution of brine/acid. We know that certain microbes have different tolerances to the acidity or pH of an environment. The complex media of the pickling solution creates the perfect environment for preservation by preventing the growth of micro-organisms that may spoil food while allowing for the growth of beneficial organisms like Lactobacillus. Lactobacillus is responsible for creating lactic acid and may also be responsible for creating B vitamins. Pretty neat stuff.

Our recipe today features a classic Chinese preserved vegetable suan cai which literally translates to “sour vegetable.”  Combination of suan cai with shrimp in a quick stir fry makes for a very tasty, quick, and beneficial probiotic-containing dinner.

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Ingredients:

  • Suan cai                         1 pack
  • Shrimp                           1 lb, peel and devein
  • Garlic                              2 cloves, sliced
  • Thai chili (optional)     1, chopped
  • White pepper                1 tsp

Start by taking the suan cai out and giving it a good squeeze to get rid of as much excess pickling solution as possible. Then roughly chop it. In a wok/pan, heat up some oil on high heat. Add in suan cai, garlic, and chili. Cook until fragrant. Add peeled shrimp and cook until pink (don’t overcook of they turn into rubber). Season with white pepper and serve.

You might notice that there’s no need for additional salt to this recipe as the suan cai provides enough salty and sour flavor itself.

-D

The Star(ch) of the Show

We recently spent our 6th Friendsgiving in Rochester with our friends Michael and Amanda. This year, instead of over-zealously waking up everyone in the dark and wee hours of the morning to get prime ingredients at the public market, I toned it down a little and realized that there really weren’t any crowds to beat. The morale improved significantly.

I picked up some bunches of palm-frond sized collard greens, apples (apple pie recipe to come), and leeks which have become a sort of new obsession for me. They belong to the Allium family which also include garlic, onion, shallots, etc. So naturally, they have a really nice aroma while maintaining a much more mild flavor.

Amanda made it her mission this year to make lighter, whipped mashed potatoes. The ideal mashed potato texture and consistency tend to be an area of debate. Personally, I prefer a lighter version as opposed to the thick, starchy, pasty, home-improvement-project consistency. If you just want the recipe, skip to the bottom. Otherwise, I’m going to nerd out for a bit.

I briefly touched upon the science a while back in another post about potato leek soup. The bottom line is that it comes down to release of starch. More starch=thicker consistency. You can control this a few ways:

  1. Potato Selection
  2. Soaking
  3. Preparation method

When it comes to selecting potatoes, Russets (think classic baked potatoes) tend to fall apart easily after boiling so you need to work them a bit less to get a more fluffy mash. While red/yellow potatoes tend to be a bit tougher and require longer to boil and a bit more mashing. More mashing means more starch release.

Soaking cut potatoes prior to boiling is a nice way of getting rid of some of the starch.

Depending on your mashing method, the more aggressive you are, the more starch cells you break and the thicker consistency you get. A hand masher/ricer will do less damage to the starch cells in comparison to running them through a food processor (you’ll get something to Spackle your wall with…yuck).

Airy Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Leeks

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Ingredients:

  • Leeks                         3, trimmed, cleaned, and sliced
  • Butter                        12 T (4T for leeks, 8 T for potatoes)…it’s a lot. Live a little.
  • Salt                             1 t
  • Heavy cream            1/4 cup
  • Potatoes                     2 lb, peeled and sliced into 1 inch cubes

Start by peeling and slicing your potatoes. Then rinse potatoes with cold water. Place in large pot of cold water and cover and let sit. You can start this process early in the day and replace the water a few times when it gets cloudy. In a pan, heat up 4 T of butter. Then add leeks and season with salt. Cook until leeks are golden brown then remove from heat and set aside. Fill another large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add in drained potato cubes and boil until tender. Drain boiled potato cubes in a colander and rinse with hot water one final time to remove more starch. Add potatoes, heavy cream, butter, and caramelized leeks into one pot and gently fold together.

You could add some more salt and pepper to taste or there’s always gravy!

-D

 

Back to my roots

As October comes to an end, I will be finishing up my trek around the country for fellowship interviews. It has been an incredibly reaffirming experience to have had the chance to meet so many cool people along the way. Recently, I returned from a trip to the west coast and took the opportunity to take a brief respite at home to hang out with family (and of course enjoy some delicious food).

One of my favorite food memories as a child was eating fresh lotus seeds or 蓮子 pronounced “lian zi.” I would pick them straight out of the lotus pod that my mom would buy for me. I still recall the satisfying freshness, sweetness, and crunch as I bit into them.  To this day, I have never had fresh lotus seeds in the States as it only seems to exist in dried form here (still tasty but not the same).

We had a chance back during the summer time to visit Kenilworth aquatic gardens in DC in time to see the lotus blossoms. Lotus has a rich background in Chinese culture and cuisine. It is the seat of Buddha. It represents purity, perfection, honor. All parts of the lotus are used in tea, soups, and various dishes. Lotus root powder can be used as a thickener. Lotus paste is used in desserts. I still routinely buy lotus root or 蓮藕 pronounced “lian ou” (quite a pain to harvest) from our local Asian grocery store for stir fry and soup. A quick stir fry renders lotus root flexible yet crunchy while stewed lotus root delivers a texture more similar to taro or roasted potato.

Stir Fried Lotus Root with Garlic and Green Onions

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Ingredients:

  • Lotus root                                           3 segments, washed, peeled, and sliced thin
  • Garlic                                                   2 cloves, minced
  • Green onion                                       2 stalks, sliced
  • Cooking oil                                        1 T
  • Salt and white pepper                     TT

In preparing your lotus root, first slice off the ends. Then rinse thoroughly under cold water and peel it. These things grow in the mud so can be a bit dirty. The underlying flesh is white. After peeling, slice into thin pieces. Rinse the slices under cold water again and dry (I like using a salad spinner for this to get rid of the residual water). This step helps reduce a bit of the starchiness and gives the lotus root a bit more crunch. In a wok/pan, heat up 1 tablespoon of neutral oil on medium high. Stir fry sliced lotus root until slightly translucent and outer edges slightly caramelized. Add in minced garlic, sliced green onions, salt, and white pepper and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes until garlic is fragrant.

Stir-fried lotus root easily takes on any flavors. Experiment with different glazes and sauces. Lotus know what delicious variations you come up with!

-D

Fifty Shades of Green

I sat here for about an hour trying to think of something clever about green, spring/summer, and new beginnings, in an effort to try to give this post a nice thematic arc, but the reality is that it is super swampy here, totally not spring, and really not noodle weather.  I still want to talk about fresh starts though, and some awesome green noodles, so themes be damned. Here we go!

As Dennis mentioned, I have started my anesthesiology residency. If I’m being totally honest, I’m a bit tired of career transitions, first days, unfamiliar routines, and constantly feeling like the new girl. I am not really someone that loves change, and I’ve put myself through rather a lot of it over the past few years. As transitions go though, this one has been pretty smooth. My new department has been welcoming and I’ve had fun reuniting with my old surgical colleagues from the other side of the drapes. Overall, I’m very glad to be back to practicing medicine, and Dennis is excited about the endless potential for jokes about me passing gas, so everyone wins.

On a not-particularly-related note, we found an awesome recipe for noodles! Dennis and I were thrilled to discover that we could find packaged ramen noodles that pretty closely approximate the springy texture of the noodles we’ve had in our favorite ramen shops. We were equally thrilled to stumble upon a Bon Appetit recipe for a green miso ramen sauce, giving us a way to make eating ramen more palatable on a hot DC summer day. We tweaked the original recipe a bit to cut down on the oil and to use up some of the basil that was actively outgrowing the pot on our windowsill. We have modified this recipe slightly each time we’ve made it since, using different blends of green herbs. Each has hit the spot in its own way.

S

Green Miso Ramen – modified from Bon Appetit

  • 4 cups spinach
  • 1 cup cilantro
  • 1 cup basil (thai or otherwise)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced (roasted, caramelized garlic is also awesome here)
  • 1 T white miso
  • 1/4 c neutral oil (vegetable, canola, etc.)
  • 1/4 c chicken broth (or vegetable broth if making vegetarian/vegan)
  • 1 t sesame oil
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 packages fresh ramen noodles – we love Sun brand
  • toasted sesame seeds, for serving

Put all ingredients (except noodles & sesame seeds) into a blender and blend at high speed until smooth. You may need to add the spinach and herbs in batches if you, like us, lack a Vitamix. In the meantime, cook the noodles according to package directions. Put sesame seeds in a small saucepan and cook, stirring frequently, over medium high heat until they begin to take on some color. Drain noodles, transfer to a large bowl, and toss with enough sauce to form a light, even coat. Top with toasted sesame seeds. Slurp!

 

For all you Fungi’s and Girls

We’re back and still alive! Rest assured that although we haven’t been posting as much, we’ve still be testing out and refining some new recipes.

In the past two months, we hosted yet another string of visitors including my friend Jim and Sarah’s parents. Sarah has started up her anesthesia residency (let the farting and gas jokes commence!) As of few weeks ago, we replenished our herb collection and now have beautiful sage, rosemary, Thai basil, and basil plants back on our windowsill that fill me with joy.

Today’s recipe features a rather polarizing ingredient: the mushroom. My relationship with mushrooms has been rather tumultuous. I used to love shiitake mushrooms as a child. Later, I refused to eat any mushroom or anything with mushrooms in it. Now, I’ve found myself back on the mushroom train, enjoying all types and varieties. Mushrooms are fascinating given the shear spectrum of texture and flavor that different types exhibit ranging from the meaty portobello to the nutty chanterelle to the feathery maitake. In a mostly plant-based diet, mushrooms provide a much-appreciated depth and heartiness, qualities I attribute to their explosive umami flavor.

Umami can be defined as “savoriness” which we taste through glutamate (MSG anyone?) receptors. It is prevalent in many foods including fermented products, seaweed, soy sauce, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese to just name a few. It also just so happens that breast milk contains high amounts of glutamine and glutamic acid. So one could possibly conclude that we are conditioned very early on to love this flavor. I often incorporate ingredients with high umami content in cooking to reduce the amount of salt I have to use to flavor a dish (Disclaimer: I do not cook with breast milk).

I credit my mom for introducing me to the regal mushroom used in this next dish – the king oyster mushroom aka king trumpet mushroom. Sauteed, this mushroom ends up with an unique, slightly chewy texture.

Sauteed Oyster Mushrooms with Chinese Leeks

 

Ingredients:

  • King Oyster Mushrooms                                2 
  • Chinese Leeks                                                   2 stalks, sliced
  • Oyster sauce(veg version optional)              1 Tbs
  • White pepper                                                    1 tsp
  • Salt                                                                     To taste

Start by tearing the oyster mushrooms into small strips. In a wok/pan, heat up 1/2 tablespoon neutral oil on high heat. Add mushroom strips with white pepper and oyster sauce and cook until slightly soft. Add Chinese leeks and saute until translucent. Salt to taste and serve.

This recipe serves as a nice base to riff off. The two pictures show a version I made with some chicken and one with hot peppers for a bit of a kick.

There’s so mush room for your own customization.

-D

Ramping it Up

Seems like we just went through an abrupt transition from the biting cold, snow, and rain of winter straight into the glorious sunshine and heat of summer with just the faintest glimpse of spring through the cherry blossoms.

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Jefferson Memorial through the cherry blossoms

Along with the change of seasons, Sarah and I begin our own transitions: the last year of residency training and fellowship application; beginning anesthesia residency training.

We were fortunate in the last few months to host a slew of guests including our friends, Michael and Amanda, from Rochester followed by my parents from California, and then my sister from Boston.  As the occasion demands, each of these visits obligates a few celebratory feasts.

Which brings us to the main feature of today’s blog: the ramp.

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Sarah and I discovered ramps last year, courtesy of Spring Valley Farm at DuPont Circle Farmer’s market. Naturally, we were curious and had to purchase a few bunches to experiment with.

Ramps aka wild leeks aka spring onions are like a cross between a leek/scallion/garlic (this is totally NOT a scientific statement). The texture of the root is not unlike a green onion which then ends a few broad green leaves. The flavor is more of a cross between garlic and onion. Ramps are foraged and not grown. The season is also fairly short which makes them a bit tricky to get. If just used raw, it has a very strong garlicky odor and sharp bite to match. But any amount of cooking really mellows them out.

Definitely quite a treat to try out if you ever happen to come across them. We’ve used them on pizza and made them into pesto for pasta. Ramps are incredibly versatile and can be roasted, grilled, pickled, pureed, etc.

 

Ramp Pesto

  • Ramps (half raw, half sauteed)                            2 bunches (about 10)
  • pine nuts/almonds                                                 1/3 cup
  • Parmesan cheese                                                    1/2 cup
  • olive oil                                                                     1/2 cup
  • salt                                                                              To taste

In a pan on medium heat, gently saute one bunch of ramps until lightly golden brown. In a food processor, combine raw and sauteed ramps, nuts, Parmesan. Run food processor while slowly drizzling in olive oil until at desired consistency. Salt to taste. Top it on pasta, toast, or flatbread. Enjoy the taste of spring.

D