It’s early spring.  Among other things, that means it’s ramp season — the springtime delicacy also known as wild garlic.

Last year I celebrated ramp season at the Hudson Valley Ramp Festival.  If you’re not too far, I highly recommend a visit.  This year’s festival is scheduled for Saturday, May 3, 2014, in the cute, little town of Hudson in Upstate New York.  The $30 fee is well worth it (and then some).  You won’t be disappointed. Arrive early and, of course, with a healthy appetite, as there will be a plethora of ramp-inspired dishes to taste and savor.

Spring’s come a bit early here in Ireland — wild garlic is abundant at the moment and at 2 euro for a nice sized bag, quite the steal.  Needless to say, I’ve snatched up a few bags, and will be headed back for more next weekend.  Since Ireland is also home to some amazing dairy, why not combine the two in the form of a ramp butter, served atop slices of brown soda bread, the latter which so happens to be the very first recipe I made at the Dublin Cookery School.  Enjoy as is or top with a fried egg — quail, chicken, or duck.

Hello spring, so nice to see you.

Making ramp butter…

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If you’ve thought about trying your hand at making homemade bread, but have felt intimidated by the process, an Irish brown soda bread is a good jumping off point.  Unlike yeasted breads, soda bread uses bicarbonate of soda (or baking soda) as a leavening agent to work with the “soft” wheat varieties grown in Ireland.

All you need is flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk.  From there, you can add nuts or seeds, oats, or even herbs.

First, add your dry ingredients to a bowl.  Next, make a well in the middle and work in the buttermilk with your hand until it forms a shaggy ball (making sure not to overwork the dough).  Finally, shape (in a loaf pan or free form) and bake.

With quail eggs…

Wicklow Ramps…

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Ramp Butter

Adapted from April Bloomfield
1/4 pounds ramps (wild garlic), roots trimmed, thinly sliced
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
Maldon or flaky sea salt
3 whole cured anchovies, rinsed and finely chopped
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil
red pepper flakes or dried pequin chiles
freshly ground black pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add the sliced ramps, sprinkle with sea salt, and cook about 2 minutes (until the ramps are wilted and have a hint of brown).  Scrape the ramps into a bowl.  Roughly chop.

Add the remaining 10 tablespoons of butter, anchovies, lemon zest and juice, a glug of olive oil, a few crumbled chiles, and a few twists of black pepper to a bowl.  Stir in the chopped ramps.  Mash and toss until everything is nicely mixed.

Brown Soda Bread

Adapted from the Dublin Cookery School
makes 1 loaf
1 pound extra coarse stone ground whole wheat flour
3 ounces all-purpose flour
1 rounded tablespoon oats
1 rounded tablespoon bran
1 rounded tablespoon wheatgerm
1 rounded tablespoon steel-cut oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 rounded teaspoon salt
1 rounded teaspoon sugar
2 cups buttermilk (more or less as needed)

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Brush a loaf pan with oil or butter.  Sprinkle in some of the stone ground whole wheat flour, move the tin around so its coated with the flour and shake out any extra.

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center and add the buttermilk a little at a time, mixing with your hands (you may not need all of the buttermilk) — making sure not to overmix.  The dough should be very moist (like porridge).

Scoop the mixture into the pan and flatten out slightly with your hands.  Bake in the middle part of your oven for 45 minutes.  Remove from the oven and run a knife along the edges to loosen.  Turn the pan upside down to tip the bread out.  The bread should be nice and brown.

Place the bread upside down on a slant, so that it’s resting against the side of the pan.  Place back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so.  Remove the bread from oven.  Tap the bottom of the bread.  It should sound hollow when it’s cooked through.  Place on a wire rack to cool.

Note: You can substitute equal amounts nuts and/or seeds for the oats, bran, or wheatgerm.

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