Ramps are wild leeks. These lily-like plants are the harbinger of spring in the Northeast, the first new taste after a long winter of cabbage and root vegetables. They are a treat long before... the first local asparagus comes to our greenmarkets. This is a simple and delicious recipe for a cool spring day. The earthy taste of the mushrooms and the buckwheat noodles go perfectly with the sweet, oniony taste of the ramps and the sharp zing of lemon. In Japan, the cooking water from soba noodles is considered a healthy beverage. Here we will be using it as a delicious stock, with a grating of fresh Parmesan as a flavor and texture enhancer to finish the sauce. If ramps aren’t available, you can substitute with either 2 bunches of scallions or a bunch of leeks; the smaller and skinnier the better.
Cut the roots off the ramps and clean any dirt or old skin off the white parts of the stems. Rinse well and pat dry. Thinly slice the whites and stalks of the ramps. Shred the green leaves in a chiffonade (a style of slicing meaning to cut into long, thin ribbons). Set aside separately.
Put the olive oil into a wide skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is rippling, add the white parts of the ramps. Sauté until they start to soften, then add the thyme or savory. Cook for a minute. Add the sliced mushrooms and a pinch of sea salt. Sauté until the mushrooms have lost their water and colored slightly. Add the shredded ramp leaves. Mix well and continue cooking until the ramp greens have wilted, about 1 minute. Add the lemon juice, stir to mix and remove pan from heat and cover. Leave it to stand while you cook the soba noodles (click here for the recipe).
Uncover the mushroom mixture and heat through over a medium-high flame. Add half the reserved soba water, ground black pepper and grated cheese. Bring to a simmer and cook just long enough to melt the cheese, which will thicken the sauce. Add the drained soba noodles. Cook, stirring, until the noodles are heated through and well coated with sauce and vegetables, for about 1 minute. Add a little more soba water if the pan looks dry or the noodles start to stick. Serve immediately with a grind of black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Be careful not to overcook the soba noodles. They need to finish cooking without falling apart.
If you prefer, you can substitute the protabella mushroom for 12 ounces mixed oyster, cremini, and white mushrooms.