Last week a friend shared her wild leek patch with me. I had to agree to the code of conduct concerning wild leeks: keep the location secret, pick only what you need, tread carefully so as not to damage the plants, take from the middle of the patch – thereby essentially thinning only, and in the event of somebody finding us – sit down on a log and pretend we were simply admiring the forest.
I drove an hour to get to my friend’s house and then she drove us the rest of the way, another half hour. Then when it was all over – I did the trip in reverse. The whole time I was fighting a migraine.
Our dogs got into a bog. My dog, Lola, also known as Swamp-Girl because of her propensity for lurking about in filthy, wet muddy spots of any kind (she’s white with long, shaggy hair) was thick with slime. White dogs, it seems, have a special affinity with mud. My friend lost her dog’s handsome leash. The sun was blazing hot. We were on our hands and knees on the forest floor carefully rummaging in the dirt, uprooting wild leeks, sweat dripping from our bodies. My friend lost her glasses and we had to abandon the leeks to hunt through dirt and sticks and plants. We eventually found the glasses sitting neatly on a rock. Once we thought we heard someone coming and bolted to a nearby log to act out our innocent sitting admiring the forest scenario. That’s when the leash went missing. We never did find it.
This is what you do to get your hands on wild leeks, also known as ramps, or more officially, as Allium tricoccum.
The season for wild leeks is short. The locations are sacred. And because of their increasing popularity and the particular circumstances they require to grow in – they are becoming a threatened species. In several places, including Quebec and parts of the USA, wild leeks are protected. The law in Quebec states that persons may harvest Allium tricoccum “for the purposes of personal consumption in an annual quantity not exceeding 200 grams of any of its parts or a maximum of 50 bulbs or 50 plants, provided those activities do not take place in a National Park.” Don’t get caught in Quebec with more than 200 grams on you!
Tonight I cooked the wild leeks for dinner. I considered making pizza but in the end decided on making a wild leek crostata. I searched the Google-able universe – no such thing. Perfect, I thought, I’ll invent one. It was beautiful but very rich. If you make this – serve small slices, along with a green salad, and perhaps some pickled beets or sliced tomatoes or something simple as a side. I served the crostata for dinner but I think it would make an incredible appetizer, cut in very thin wedges.
I have a few wild leeks leftover and I’m going to make them into pesto and freeze that for future use. For now – here’s my Wild Leek Crostata. If you don’t have wild leeks, substitute 1/2 cup chopped green onions and one clove of garlic minced. But try to get your hands on wild leeks if you possibly can….
Wild Leek Crostata
pastry for two – 9 inch pie crusts
24 wild leeks, washed and dried
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup ricotta
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 large egg
salt and pepper
Lightly grease a large baking sheet.
Roll the pastry into two circles approximately 10 or so inches in diameter. (Just guess here – I did not measure.)
Cut the ends of the ramps and discard. Separate the ramp greens from the white bulbs. Chops the bulbs finely. Chop the greens coarsely. In the olive oil, sauté the chopped bulbs until they soften and begin to brown. Add the greens and cook a minute or so longer – they will wilt quickly. You want them just slightly wilted.
Mix together the egg, ricotta, cheddar and parmesan. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add the wilted ramps. Stir gently.
Spread half of the filling onto each pastry circle, leaving an inch or so at the edge. Fold the pastry over to form an inch overlap.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the pastry is browned and the filling is golden and slightly puffed.