Every spring, I lead an intrepid group of foodies out into the wilds of New York City to gather seasonal wild edibles like Ramps (wild leeks), Fiddleheads, Stinging Nettles, Violets, Field Garlic, Burdock and Japanese Knotweed. It’s as much about learning how to source your own food as it is about cooking it, and it’s a great way to become more familiar with the food you consume.

Despite a drizzly morning and cooler weather, we had a record turn-out this year, with over 20 people showing up to gather and prepare dinner. Food bloggers Stephane, Ulla, Jessica and Giff showed up to lend a hand in the field and in the kitchen, and “Ice” the Jack Russell even made an appearance to lend moral support.

The wet winter and warm weather we’ve had the past few weeks made for a strong showing of violets, and the ramps were more mature than usual for this time of year. Unfortunately, this also meant we missed the very short fiddlehead season, and most of the ferns had grown past the point of being edible.

After gathering a cornucopia of ramps, we returned to the Lab 24/7 Kitchen to come up with a menu, and cook a feast for all the hungry foragers. I’d placed a huge Fresh Direct order of local and seasonal produce and meats we could use, Ulla brought grass-fed beef from her family’s ranch, and Stephane showed up with a carload of less pedestrian ingredients like vincotto and tuile batter that took our meal to the next level.

Everyone brought a bottle of wine, or liquor and it wasn’t long before the thirsty foragers started making ramptini’s with Giff’s pickled ramps. Jessica came up with a delicious concoction of ginger liquor and muddled Japanese Knotweed that was served with a straw made out of Japanese Knotweed.

To tide people over after a morning spent working in the park, we threw together some pizza’s. This pizza that Di Ana made, had goat cheese, speck, grapes and ramps on top.

I improvised this braised lamb breast and artichoke dish. It started out as three racks of lamb breast, to which my helpers applied a coat of garlic and a rub. Then I browned them in a huge pot, added a mirepoix, equal amount of white wine and chicken stock, and some aromatics before letting it braise slow and low until the meat was pulling away from the bones. To finish it off, the breasts went on a platter and the stock was skimmed and reduced. For the sauce, I added some trimmed baby artichokes, white beans and cipollini onions, which all went on top of the fall-off the-bone tender lamb.

Stephane’s lamb started off in a similar way, with a rub and a sear, but then veered off in another direction with a twenty minute roast in the oven and a sweet and tangy vincotto/balsamic reduction which was applied at the end. The chops were amazing, but that dark glaze very nearly had me hunched over my plate, licking it clean.

Forage and Feast II Menu

Speck, Goat Cheese, Grape, and Ramp pizzas

Stinging Nettle and Fennel Green Arancini with Piquillo Sauce

Ramp Ravioli with Fresh Ricotta Fiddleheads

Boston Lettuce Salad

Roast Potatoes with Caramelized Ramps, and Asparagus

Roast Brocolini, Asparagus, Zucchini, Fennel, Grape Tomatoes

Rack of Spring Lamb with Vincotto Reduction

Slow Braised Lamb Breast with Baby Artichoke, White Beans and Cipollini Onions

Ramp Champ – Mashed Potatoes with Fresh Ramp Greens and Butter

Smoked Grass-Fed Brisket

Grilled Grass-Fed Ribeye with Ramp Chimichurri

Stinging Nettle Ice Cream with Brownies