Summer has arrived early in Cambrige. This past week was stifling hot. Just walking around outdoors required willpower and a strong, clear focus on one's destination. The ambling days of spring are gone -- heat waves and mosquitos will dominate for the forseeable months.
So there won't be any baking in my house for a while. If the temperature dips back down to a reasonable level, and I'm able to get enough of a breeze in our top-floor apartment, I might attempt a cherry clafouti in the toaster oven while June lasts. But the full oven will be better used for storing pans than baking come July.
So pizza on our pizza stone was out of the question last week. When you're making pizza, you ideally want the oven blazingly hot. Up the 500 degrees F. Then the stone retains that heat and you don't need too long before the dough is transformed from elastic goo to crisp crust. Better to make this in January, when the extra heat is needed.
My friend has been hosting spring backyard pizza grills for a few years, and this got me thinking about trying it out on our own bbq. In our case, we used a pizza pan to avoid the dough sticking the the grill too much. And we floured the dough with cornmeal. After some experimentation, we arrived at the ideal, late-spring toppings: ramps for dinner; grilled peaches with ricotta for dessert.
Ramps are wild leeks that grow throughout eastern North America, from Québec in the north to Appalachia in the south. When you harvest the plant, you pull up the entire root stem. Once that bulb it gone, the perennial wild plant will not grow again.
Ail des bois -- garlic of the woods -- is a household name in Québec, and the plant is popular to the point of over harvesting In response, the provincial government banned the sale of ramps in 1995, and limits harvests to 50 per person annually. Given the current trends in food culture, I imagine over harvesting will start to happen throughout North America.
I've never harvested ramps before, but if I do, I'm just going to harvest the leaves. Much like foraging for fiddleheads, if you pick all the stems from a plant, no fronds will appear in summer. So with ramps, if you're using them, perhaps treat them with the delicate respect they deserve and use in moderation. Leave a leaf or two behind, and don't bother with the bulbs.
In the future, wild leeks could be cultivated directly. I am thinking about buying some seeds or bulbs to try planting under the trees in our backyard this fall or winter. Cultivation is probably the answer to increasing capitalist demands. The wilderness is consistently telling the boundaries of civilization that it cannot handle much more encroachment. And yet the human spirit keeps drawing us back, in greater numbers, to the woods.
But if you have some ramps, and it's hot outside, and you can't take on capitalist overconsumption today, then make yourself some pizza. You should cook the ramps first in a pan with some butter. This will dull the sharpness somewhat. If your grill isn't hot enough, cook one side of the pizza dough, then flip. Add tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and the ramps. Cook some more. That's it. Chili flakes are an optional addition.
The peaches and ricotta are somewhat less complicated, politically and practically. Just get yourself some peaches, cut them in half, and grill those while the dinner is cooking. Then put the warmed, sugary pieces onto some half-baked crust and bake it some more. When fruit is cooked, it increases the sugar content, so unripe spring peaches will work just fine. Add some ricotta on top, and a swirl of honey. And ideal spring dinner when climate change has forced you outside for dinner, in late-May's unwanted imitation of summer heat.