Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Grilled Squid & Ramp Salad with Chili & Lemon
The ramps are here. I spied a small but impossibly lush heap of them yesterday morning at the northwest end of the market. I think a small “Oh!” actually escaped my lips at the sight. It’s one of my favorite moments of the year, I’ll confess, and this is one of my most beloved ramp recipes, inspired by my time in the Greek islands. I thought I’d excavate it from the archives for those of you who are new to the blog or who may have missed it the first time around:
When I was last in the Greek islands, most of the restaurants and hotels had already closed for the winter. It was late autumn, and the rhythm of life had finally slowed back to normal.
Strolling the near-deserted streets, it was hard to believe that a few weeks before the beaches had been packed and the nightclubs throbbing. In fact the only evidence of the now absent tourists was the pack of lonely, love-starved dogs that followed us wherever we went – sad cast-offs of travelers gone to sunnier shores.
Eating was a quandary. The focus of life had turned from keeping restaurant inventory stocked to finishing the olive and potato harvests and hunkering down for the often-bitter winter. When we found an open taverna, the proprietor would usually shrug at the sight of us. But perhaps he could rustle us up a plate of spaghetti Bolognese or a couple of cheese sandwiches, drizzled with the ubiquitous (and heavenly) lemon juice and olive oil. In other words, we ate what they ate, which is just one of the reasons I love off-season travel.
One outdoor establishment, situated at the base of a cliff that plunged into the Aegean, told us they had just caught some kalamari, or squid. Someone fired up the grill at the end of the seating area, and the kitchen staff stood by the bar, smoking their cigarettes and shaking their heads at us. It was high tide, and waves driven by the November winds slapped up onto the floor of the taverna, sending small but regular surges of seawater under the plastic tables, one of which occasionally hydroplaned past.
We put our feet up on chairs and stared in amazement as a lone squid, it's body the size of a football, was laid out in front of us. Lightly charred where the grill had seared the flesh, this creature from the deep was substantial and meaty, a completely different prospect from the petite, tender miniatures we buy at home. Eating that exceptionally unadulterated meal was an oddly visceral experience. Delicious, but one hell of a lot of squid.
We doused the plate with fruity olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt, and I’ve never forgotten the warm, briny sauce that formed as the squid juice mingled with that simple vinaigrette.
Ramps have arrived, thanks to the Bishops at Mountain Sweet Berry Farm. Not just one lone basket, but a whole table piled high at the greenmarket. If you can’t find ramps near you, or if they’re not in season where you live, scallions will make a fine substitute – just grill them a little longer before you start the squid. Or in the States, you can search for potential vendors at Pure Food.
Serves 4 as an appetizer.
1 lb squid, cleaned, patted dry, and slit down one side so they can open out in one flat piece
1 lb fresh ramps or scallions, root end trimmed, rinsed and patted dry
1 fresh red chili, seeded and minced
extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 or 2 lemons (depending on juiciness)
good sea salt
Heat your grill on high or your grill pan over high heat, and have ready a large bowl. With a sharp knife, score one side of the opened squid in a crosshatch pattern being careful not to cut all the way through. Lay the squid and ramps on the grill. The squid may curl up on their own, or you may need to loosen and flip them. They are ready as soon as they’re lightly browned where the grill has touched them – 1 or 2 minutes at most. The ramps will be ready in the same amount of time – just flip them once during the cooking process. Work in batches if necessary until all the squid and ramps are grilled. Reserve in the bowl.
Sprinkle in the minced chili. Douse the grilled squid and ramps with a good amount of the olive oil, the lemon juice, and a generous pinch of sea salt. Toss and arrange on 4 plates. Sprinkle with a little more sea salt and serve hot.