Ramps are one of those delicacies associated with the true south. Alongside grits, salted pork, crowder peas and hoe cakes, ramps fulfill the southerner's call for flavor and thrift, a food that is free, and geographically significant.
A foraged food, ramps historically represented some of the earliest available seasonal greens, free to anyone with a knowledgable eye and access to forrest land. After a winter of green-less eating, the nutritional value of eating ramps was as significant as its pungent flavor. After all, southern food does not stop at fried chicken and sweet corn. On the contrary, food of the south is complex, herbaceous, seasonally dependent, and, in many cases, highly nourishing. Ramps, a fine example.
But as onions and garlic have become commercially available year round, (along with every other imaginable perishable), ramps have come to represent something more significant. A food unwilling to adapt to the crude boundaries of industrial monoculture, ramps remain a wild food, a plant dependent on the forest biome, the forager's food, a true patriotic symbol, owned by mountain dwellers only. Ramps do not succumb to transport or long-term storage. They are seasonal and regional exclusively. And thus special. Very special.
Thanks to some friends who foraged for ramps with their native-born neighbor over the weekend, I somehow ended up on the receiving end of their bounty. This is the kind of offering to get sweaty about. You can't leave a gift like this in the fridge for a handful of days only to hope you'd eventually get around to doing something with it. No, this is a moment worth taking, as they do not happen often. Cooking with wild, native foods does something noteworthy for our sense of place, and equally so for our bellies.
Bless the ramp patch and those who watch over it, who take a bit, who share willingly and leave plenty untouched. This is the flavor of the south.
1 3/4 cups warm water
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
10-15 ramps, rinsed, roots trimmed away
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
flaky sea salt
Mix the water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Whisk until yeast is dissolved, and allow to sit until yeast foams, about 10 minutes.
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, add the flour, yeast mixture, salt and 1/2 cup olive oil. Mix at medium speed for about 5 minutes, adding enough additional flour to create a smooth, springy dough.
Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times, adding flour as needed.
Coat the inside of the mixer bowl with olive oil and return the dough to the bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and place in a draft free place until dough has doubled in bulk, about an hour.
Coat a jelly roll pan or rimmed baking sheet with the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil.
Place the dough onto the pan and press it out to fit the size of the pan. Turn the dough over to coat the other side with the olive oil. Continue to stretch the dough to fit the pan. As you are doing so, spread your fingers out and make finger holes all the way through the dough.
Meanwhile, place a skillet over medium heat coated with olive oil. Slice ramp bulbs and saute until golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to prepared dough, spreading eavenly over dough. Sprinkle dough with fresh black pepper and sea salt. Then saute ramp greens and stems until just wilted, but still bright green and arrange over dough pressing into to dough lightly.
Put the dough in the warm place until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour. While the dough is rising a second time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Sprinkle risen dough evenly with crumbled feta. Drizzle with more olive oil. Bake the dough until the top of the loaf is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove the focaccia from the oven and allow to cool slightly on a cooling rack before slicing and serving.