By Edward Schneider
[Ed Schneider is a friend of mine, a contributor to the Times and the Washington Post, and among the best home cooks I’ve ever known. I love him, even if he does write about ramps. I remain unconvinced, but I’m going to try it – next spring. – mb]
I happen to agree with New York’s Newspaper of Record that Motorino’s is the best pizza in New York. I haven’t actually been to many of its competitors, but, since for Jackie and me pizza is a meal rather than a hobby, I’m happy to accept that as fact. Anyway, it is wonderful pizza.
Right at the very beginning of spring, however, they served a ramp pizza that we didn’t much like. For one thing, the chopped ramps were chewy and harsh-tasting, and for another it was a tomato-sauce-based pie, which I thought was a bad idea – I rarely like greens cooked with tomato, though I’m more open to the concept than I used to be. When I told Mark about this, he dared me (his word) to devise a ramp pizza that wasn’t a bad idea. I’m not one to rise to a dare merely to save face: I’ll do it only if I’m confident I can actually perform the stunt in question.
And I was, because I had a pretty clear idea of what I’d want to see in a ramp pizza: no tomatoes, for starters, and nothing chewy or too assertive. Something dressed in light spring colors if you can figure out what that’s supposed to mean.
I’d want, basically, a white pizza – a pizza bianca – that incorporated pre-cooked ramps rather than depending on the feeble heat of a home oven to cook them on the pie. And for me, cooking ramps means separating white from green, because the former takes a few minutes to get tender while the latter almost melts mere seconds after hitting the hot pan.
So, having made some pizza dough, I cooked the white bulbs in olive oil with salt and pepper, sometimes covered, until tender, reserved them and threw the slivered greens (from which I had taken the trouble to remove the tougher part of the central stems) into the same pan and stir-fried them for the few seconds it took for them to wilt and shrink to nearly nothing. I left the ramps to cool.
While my oven was pre-heating to its pathetic maximum temperature of 500 degrees F, I beat the ramp greens into some (drained) ricotta along with a little diced mozzarella and some grated parmesan. Plenty of salt and pepper, too.
I baked the pizza base, on a stone, without toppings – just a little olive oil – for six or seven minutes. Why? Because in a home oven pizza takes so long to cook that toppings inevitably burn or at least dry out by the time the crust is done. (If you have a pizza oven, vaya con Diós: you can bake the pie fully assembled.) I then spread it with the ricotta/ramp-greens mixture, topped it with the ramp bulbs and returned the pizza to the oven for another five or six minutes.
Mark: this recipe plus Motorino’s skill and equipment would convince you of the potential of ramp pizza. Even my ham-fisted technique and feeble oven produced a delicious thing: sweet rather than harsh ramps, which hadn’t lost their nice garlic flavor/aroma, on a gentle dairy base that set them off beautifully.
I only wish it had been a bet rather than a dare.