I wish I had taken better photos when I was in Ithaca last week, but four days crashed by, and no more than a handful of blurry, haphazard photos to show for it. But from Sasha’s chickpea stew and marinated carrots to 2am quesadillas with Kathryn, I got exactly the relief I needed from a week of restaurants in Portland.
A roast chicken, spotted with sage, stuffed with garlic and quartered lemons, and served over scarlet carrots, was an impromptu dinner party no-brainer; but marginally more delicious were the supremely fragrant wild leeks that I folded into a purple potato and fennel gratin. If you haven’t cooked with wild leeks — also known as ramps — take advantage of their brief spring season to experiment with them in your meals. They’re expensive (Around $25/lb at Wegman’s), but the slim, tender shoots yield the most extravagantly spring-like bouquet of flavor.
What’s more, they happen to be illegal to purchase in Quebec — apparently, ramps are overforaged to the point of extinction in this province, so people tend to drive to Ontario to stock up — so I was beyond stoked to cook with them in New York. (Side note: while ramps are illegal to buy in Quebec, it is not against the law to forage for them yourself. Future field trip!)
For this rich gratin, thinly slice purple fingerling potatoes (I love their mildly sweet, nutty flavor) and one fennel bulb. Alternate layers of each in a buttered baking dish, fanning out the shapes into green and purple spirals, pausing to add a glug of heavy cream and chicken stock, which splashes and soaks into the vegetables in the most decadent of ways. (Other variations: I love veal stock in a potato gratin; it would also be nice to add minced garlic, a splash of white wine, or some chopped herbs like thyme or sage in with the mix of vegetables).
Mince the ramps as you would a bundle of scallions, and scatter on top. The garlicky smell should be bracing, and intoxicating. Finish with half of cup of grated Parmesan and a few pats of butter, and pop into oven for 45 minutes, or until tender, golden, bubbling, and irresistible. I know my photo doesn’t look like much, but trust that it is the most spectacular explosion of flavors, thanks to the wild leeks.