Thursday, May 5, 2011

Leeks, Ramps and Salsify!

I'm still on the hunt for fresh spring greens so I made a trip to the Dufferin Grove Market today, hoping to find early Ontario asparagus. No such luck but I did find some other lovely things to distract myself with for now.

The beautiful leeks are sweet and tender and best of all, locally grown! They were started in the field last fall, then dug up and moved to the greenhouse to over winter. Helga from Pine River Organic Farm mentioned that this was a first time experiment; they look pretty good so I'd call it a success! My plan is to marinate them briefly and grill them on the barbecue so the sugars caramelize.

Ramps, also known as wild leeks are a spring favourite and I was delighted to find them at the Forbes Wild Foods booth. You can also try foraging for them yourself but since their rise in popularity ramps are becoming overpicked and once the root has been removed the plant doesn't return. I prefer to obtain mine from a reputable source that uses sustainable foraging practises.

One the best things to do with ramps is make pesto from the leaves. Blanche the leaves briefly before processing to remove some of the pungency if you prefer; I didn't and my pesto has a very pronounced bite to it. I used tahini in place of nuts to make it a more creamy texture and add lots of olive oil and a touch of salt- simple and delicious on pasta or as a garlicky sauce to drizzle on other dishes. I also like to dry the leaves and use them in soups in the winter. The bulbs can be pickled or used fresh in any number of recipes.

The most exciting find was the salsify! Not being too familiar with it I had to ask what it was and how to serve it. The vendor from Greenfields was more than happy to fill me in on it's uses and suggested that it should be cooked in a white sauce to enhance the scallop-like flavour it's known for. After a bit of research I have determined that this particular variety is black salsify, also known as oyster plant because of it's similar taste to shellfish. I also found out that's it's very nutritionally sound.

Serving Size per ½ cup
Amounts Per Serving % Daily Value
Calories 50
Calories from Fat 0
Total Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 15mg 1%

Total Carbohydrate 12g 4%
Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
Sugars 2g
Protein 2g
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 8%

Calcium 4%
Iron 2%

To use salsify, wash it well, cut off the greens and peel the root - I found a small knife worked better than a standard peeler for this because the root was knobby and uneven.

Cut the root in small pieces and immediately place them in a bowl of water with lemon juice or vinegar added to prevent discolouration. The greens are also edible when they are young and can be added to salads.

You can add it to soups and stews like any root vegetable, or saute it in butter and/or mash it - it's very versatile! I went with the recommendation of the vendor and lightly pan fried it in butter and added it to a simple white sauce (which in my case was more beige than white since I only had Red Fife whole wheat flour on hand). It really does taste like scallops and was delicious! So delicious I forgot to take a photos of the finished dish before we ate it all!

This Sat May 7 is the The Horticultural Society of Parkdale and Toronto's Annual Plant Sale (affectionately known as the Hort Sale). This very popular event offers tons of lovely plants for sale; many are grown by the members themselves and there is also a number of local vendors like Urban Harvest and Sweetpeas. It's a great place to look for rare and hard to find varieties as well as popular annuals and perennials. There's a large area of native plants for sale as well as shrubs and vines. At the set up last night I spotted some gooseberry shrubs that I wish I had room for and I have my eyes on some Solomon's Seal and Virginia bluebells for my shade garden.

The sale takes place at:

Parkdale School and Community Centre

75 Lansdowne Ave at Seaforth,1 block N of Queen West

10:30 - 1:30

Get there Early!!


  1. ah, I missed the sale!!! did you get anything?

  2. I did and I'll be posting an update soon!