It is wonderfully once again time for ramps, a benefit of Gourmandistan’s close proximity to Appalachia. (Other benefits are elk viewing tours, excellent attorneys/former judges and enormous amounts of dirty, dirty coal money to support Steve’s beloved UK Wildcats.) Michelle bought some ramps immediately upon spotting them at our first spring farmers’ market, and we happily enjoyed them in several dishes before inspiration struck twice and we ended up with what may be the best sandwich on earth.
It started when Michelle began to worry about some fast-fading ramps remaining in the refrigerator while simultaneously deciding we needed to re-up our supply of duck stock. While she pondered the fate of the ramps, Steve dutifully defrosted and roasted our lone duck. Michelle, meanwhile, determined that some surplus Fontina cheese and the soon-to-be-spoiled ramps might pair nicely in a fluffy biscuit. She set out to see if she was right as the duck slowly cooked in the oven. After the carcass cooled, Steve came back to the kitchen for dissection. Seeking to separate the breast meat as whole as possible, Steve carefully peeled back the roasted duck skin in large pieces. That’s when the second inspiration for one of the world’s best sandwiches came about.
Remembering a marvelous crispy chicken skin appetizer we enjoyed in Chicago at Yusho, Steve decided to try it at home. After stripping the carcass, separating duck fat and setting up the stock pot, Steve slowly rendered the skin in a skillet, turning up the heat on occasion until both sides were crackly and bubbly. At the same time Michelle made a sweet and sour slaw with sugar, mayo and cider vinegar, seeing the possibilities for a slow-roasted duck sandwich.
We stacked shreds of duck and a little slaw on top of a skin slab, slathered on a little sweet-hot mustard and HOLLA! Nutty from Fontina, gar-leeky with ramp, sweet, hot and tender with a stunning sparkle of crispy duck skin. They may have biscuits along with ramps back in the mountains—but they’ve damn sure never seen anything this good up in Rough & Tough Holler.
RAMP AND CHEESE BISCUITS
(adapted from the Savory Cream Biscuits in Lauren Groveman’s Kitchen)
- 2 TB butter, for sautéing the ramps
- 1/2 c. finely chopped ramps (or substitute scallions), white and green parts separated
- Black pepper
- 2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 TB baking powder
- 1 TB sugar
- 1-1/4 t. salt
- 3 TB cold butter, cut into small dice
- 1-1/3 c. heavy cream (maybe more)
- 2 TB melted butter, for glaze
- 1/2 c. shredded Fontina or other melting cheese
- Grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 425°. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a small skillet. Cook white parts of ramps over low heat. Season liberally with pepper. Add green ramp leaves. Toss, then remove from heat.
Combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut cold butter into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter, a fork or your fingers.
Add ramps to cream. Add cream mixture to flour mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until moist and holding together. Add more cream if necessary. Turn the mixture out on to a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly a few times, then roll out to a thickness of about 1/3″. Cut out as many biscuits as you can, in the size you want. (Ours were 2-1/2″, but you can make smaller.)
Place half the biscuit rounds on the prepared baking sheet. Top each with shredded cheese. Then, top with the remaining biscuit rounds, pressing the tops down gently.
Brush biscuits with melted butter and sprinkle lightly with some grated Parmesan.
Bake in center of oven for 15-17 minutes, until nicely browned.