Ramp Udon Soup with Bacon Consommé and Asparagus Tempura
Everyone knows that ramps and bacon go well together. Everyone who knows about ramps, that is – and if you don’t, get down to the Union Square greenmarket or the Park Slope Food Co-op (if you live in NYC) or wherever your local source may be sometime in the next week or so before they disappear for the year!
Ramps are wild leeks, the incredibly pungent and delicious greens that appear for just a few weeks each spring. Even Wildman Steve Brill says that ramps are “simply the best-tasting member of the entire onion family, wild or commercial.” If he could take me on a foraging hike for them, I’d adore him even more than I already do.
The only cost (besides $3/bunch (at the greenmarket, at least)) is the
stench aroma. People who live near the mountains, where ramps are ubiquitous enough for there to be whole festivals dedicated to them, always seem surprised that us city dwellers see these stinky weeds as a gourmet delicacy. (Of course, they see them as worthy of festivals and getting kicked out of the house for the smell. There’s no arguing about it; ramps are delicious.)
Here’s a somewhat unusual ramp recipe for you, using the traditional pairing of ramps and bacon along with homemade udon, and taking advantage of that gorgeous local asparagus you can find this time of year as well.
As for the udon, well – when we served it at the restaurant, one diner told our waitress that it was the best udon he’s ever tasted in his life. Give it a try yourself!
Ramp Udon Soup with Bacon Consommé and Asparagus Tempura
Bacon consommé (recipe below)
Udon (recipe below)
Asparagus tempura (recipe below)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Start making the bacon consommé (recipe below) at least a week in advance. Start making the udon (recipe below) about 4 hours in advance. Make tempura batter about 1/2 hour in advance. You can even saute the ramps in advance, if you like.
Clean the ramps and cut off and discard the root ends. Cut each ramp into three sections by first cutting the leaves from the stems/bulbs, then cutting the stems/bulbs in half.
Saute in a bit of safflower oil, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Mix with udon in a bowl. Pour bacon consommé over the udon and ramps. Serve with asparagus tempura.
1 lb bacon
3 quarts or so of water
In a large pot, fry the bacon until delicious. Add the water and simmer for an hour or so. If the flavor isn’t sufficiently infused at that point, blend the bacon and water together.
Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Reduce the resulting liquid to taste.
Measure the weight of the liquid you end up with, and measure out .7% gelatin by weight. Take a cup of the liquid and set it aside to cool a bit, then stir in the gelatin. Stir back into the rest of the liquid.
Put the liquid in a ziplock bag and freeze.
Once it is frozen, set it up in your fridge in a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl. As the block melts, bacon consommé will drip through the cheesecloth into the bowl below. The gelatin that remains acts as a strainer so that the dripping liquid is perfectly clear.
You can make this in advance and freeze it until it is needed.
(recipe from Cook & Eat)
1 C lukewarm water
5 tsp salt
3 1/2 C bread flour
1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
Dissolve the salt in about 1 tbsp of the water, then add the rest of the water. Set aside.
In your Kitchenaid, combine the two flours and salt. Pour in the water. With the dough hook attachment, knead on the lowest speed until it is combined and ceases to adhere to the hook. If it stays as too ragged, sprinkle in a bit more water.
Once it ceases to adhere to the hook, remove the dough from the Kitchenaid and continue to knead by hand as hard as you can for about 10 minutes on a floured surface. If it’s too sticky, you can add in a bit more bread flour. (This is highly unlikely.)
The dough is incredibly stiff and hard to knead, so after about 10 minutes, just give up! Wrap the dough in a very sturdy plastic bag – or, better yet, several layers of sturdy plastic bags. On top of the plastic bag layer(s), wrap a large kitchen towel. Put the wrapped dough on the ground and stand on it.
Knead the dough with your feet by walking back and forth across on it for a minute or so.
Then unwrap the dough, give it a double fold, put it back in the bag, wrap it back in the towel and walk on it some more. Repeat this process about 4 times. Then, leaving the dough in the bag, let it rest for 3 hours in a warm place.
After 3 hours have passed, take the dough out and form it into a ball. Wrap it back up and walk on it one more time, trying to spread the dough out as much as possible with your feet.
Unwrap the dough and roll it out on a floured surface until it is a square about 1/8 inch thick. This is tough, but you can do it. If necessary, Cook & Eat suggests cutting the dough into 4 pieces and run it through the thickest setting of a pasta machine, giving them a good dusting of flour, but we didn’t actually try that ourselves.
Once the dough is rolled out thin enough, fold it in half, and then in half again. Then, with one of the long edges facing you, slice the dough in 1/8 inch wide pieces. Dust the sliced pieces with a bit more flour as you go to prevent them from sticking.
Boil the noodles immediately, or cover with a towel while you are waiting for the water to come to a boil. The noodles will need to boil for about 7 minutes, stirred with a chopstick to prevent them form sticking together.
for the batter
1/2 C ice water
1/2 C vodka
1 1/8 C all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
for the asparagus and the frying
Oil for frying (peanut, safflower, or corn oil, ideally)
Stir the batter ingredients together with a fork. Don’t spend too long on this, and leave the batter slightly lumpy. Stick it in the fridge to chill until cold, at least half an hour or so.
Clean and dry your asparagus, cutting off the woody ends. (I like to snap them off, then trim the ragged end nicely for serving.)
Heat up enough oil for deep-frying to 425 F.
Dip the asparagus in the tempura batter, one stalk at a time. With your fingers, scrape off any excess batter, such that the asparagus is only lightly covered. Fry just a few stalks at a time, such that the oil never goes below 375 F.
Deep-fry the asparagus until golden brown. This should happen very quickly, so don’t walk away! Then remove the tempura with a slotted spoon and set it on a rack or paper towel covered plate to drain.
Wait for the oil to come back up to 425 F before adding in the next batch each time.