by Sarah Lagrotteria
At Babbo, we know spring has truly sprung New York-Style when the menu features bits of verdant ground produce from the Union Square Green market. Though each distinct in flavor, ramps, green garlic, and sweet onions are all members of the allium, or Lily family, and bring much desired freshness and bite to the palate, like colorful buds against a winter-weary sky.
The Babbo kitchen relies on two New York Farms for these spring greens. The first, Blooming Hill Farm, is located in Blooming Grove, NY. This all-organic farm is a family-affair; owned by the brother and sister team of Cindy and Guy Jones. The second, Mountain Sweet Berry Farm of Roscoe, NY, is owned and operated by Rick Bishop, a strong voice in the New York state faring community.
Often called wild leeks, ramps grow in abundance all along the Appalachian, Catskill, and Berkshire mountain areas. Ramps are not, in fact, wild leeks. The latter is a more mild tasting member of allium family that grows in the great lakes region of the Midwest.
Ramps are easily identified from above ground, by their smooth, Lily-of-the-Valley like leaves. Below ground, the ramp greens are purplish in hue and the bulb is slender and sloped. If left in the earth to develop, the bulb will blossom into a beautiful white summer flower. The bulbs themselves taste sweet, like a super-strong sweet onion. With ramps, it’s a matter of love or hate; there are those who adore the strong, earthy sweetness and those who reject it at first sniff, unable to move past the ramp’s very pungent, garlicky aroma. At Babbo, we think ramps are divine. Added to any spring dish, both the bulb and the ramp greens impart an exceptionally earthy flavor.
Sweet onions, such as the Vidalia variety, are also a Babbo favorite. True lovers of this sweet, white-white bulb often eat them plain, munching away as one would with an apple. Unlike the more mature, wintertime onions, sweet spring onions won’t cause you tear as chop them into fresh salads or into a hot pan. Of the three alliums mentioned here, sweet onions are truly the most sweet in flavor, and become only more so when cooked until soft and golden. Use sweet onions just as you would regular onions. It’s incredible the way that the sweetness of spring can alter your favorite dish.
Rarely appearing in grocery stores, green garlic is reason enough to head the market early. Green garlic is actually white garlic that has been picked while the long stalks are still tender and green (adolescent, if you will), and before the bulb has had a chance to fully develop into common garlic. Much more mild than mature garlic (one stalk of green garlic is equivalent in pungency to about 3 cloves mature garlic), green garlic stalks can be used much like any other greens. Resembling leeks in their round layers of green, young garlic stalks must be well cleaned before being sautéed as a side dish, pureed into soups, or thinly sliced raw and added to salads.