Springtime is here. The weather warms and layers of clothing peel off like the husk from corn. The world is growing all around us after a long winter’s sleep. There’s a sense of liberation in the air, breaking free from the chains of winter to revel in the warm air and sunlight and the bountiful harvest of fresh food from the land.
We are lucky to live in Minnesota.
Well, you might not think so if you don’t care about food. But if you don’t care about food then you shouldn’t be here anyway. Minnesota has its pros and cons, its ups and downs, but what this state has to offer your dinner table is unparalleled.
Brandon Randolph is the expert, a culinary enthusiast who works as Sous Chef at Heartland Restaurant and Wine Bar, a St. Paul establishment that has paved the way for local, sustainable, farm-raised eats for years. In his spare time he coaxes the goods from Minnesota’s fertile lands, and though a gentleman never kisses and tells, here he shares a few of his secrets.
On a sunny spring Thursday after a long Minnesota winter is perfect day to head out in search of ramps. That beautiful, black soil (black = rich and fertile) where the ramps grow is waiting. But, due to the lack of snowfall this year, there is a bit of a drought in Minnesota and its pretty dry day. The the soil is dry; the ramps are a little brittle, when normally they would be tender and supple. It feels as though these are already nearing the end of their lives.
Like a great Norse warrior we want to send these ramps off into the afterlife with all of the dignity that they had in life. What better send off a pan over flames, like a funeral pyre, in a sweet and sour sauce?
A fitting tribute.
With a free-range, grass-fed, sustainable veal roast? A mushroom crust around the meat, using forest mushrooms also found while foraging?
Then we have these root vegetables that have been in the cellar since winter. Coupled with the epitome of spring, these beautiful ramps, the winter harvest both contrasts and complements; in color, in smell, in taste.
Minnesota’s temperamental weather put on a plate.
Ramps in sweet and sour sauce
The ramps are the real star of this spring meal. As ramps have an Asian quality/note/flavor to them, they are a perfect match for sweet and sour. The sauce is equal parts raw sugar and organic vinegar, boiled down until nice and sticky with the ramps in it and let the ramp’s flavor take care of the rest. Ramps have a nice little funkiness to them – fresh from the earth. Simply cook them whole, and they look so sexy in the pan. If you’re looking to preserve them for later, pickling is a great option as well.
“This is something to get excited about every spring.” Brandon says, “Something that a lot of people don’t know about.” While ramps aren’t specific just to the Midwest, they don’t grow in too many places around the United States. Thanks to the fertile soil found here, Minnesota has plenty.
Pro tip: Don’t leave anything behind. Make a pistou out the leaves, treating them like you would basil. You can enjoy the entire plant without any wasting any part of it.
Veal in forest mushroom crust
Is there anything better than having local, sustainable, grass-fed veal? The benefits of having this local meat extend beyond its oh-so-tender qualities. The nutritional value is amped by being grass-fed; grass-fed beef is lower in total calories, lower in fats and saturated fats, and higher in those good unsaturated fats such as omega-3 fatty acids (about 5x more than corn-fed). It’s also higher in iron, protein and potassium. Grass-fed beef is eating a natural diet, and so their bodies are healthier and are producing, then, a healthier protein. Cows don’t normally eat corn, as in nature they are grazers eating grasses, weeds, herbs, and alfalfa, not grains that have been stored like “silage,” or corn which is mostly composed of starch. They simply aren’t going to be as healthy on a corn diet.
Grass-fed also means no E.coli. The enzymes in grass kill the E.coli that grows in corn. If a cow eats grass even for a little while, it will kill the E.coli, and, well, that’s good for all of us.
Winter harvest with wild rice
On the side we have a few leftover from the winter harvest: Mushrooms, heirloom carrots, sweet onion, and wild rice cooked in a Sumac broth. Sumac can also be gathered locally, found at the edges of the forests all around the state, its red color bright against the darkness of the trees.
Forest Mushrooms are great no matter what the season, and something of which Minnesota has abundance. As Brandon will tell you, “Mushrooms are nature’s treasure.”
This. This is what is special about Minnesota. The miles of open fields, lush forests, azure lakes, and overgrown wetlands. Yes, the crazy weather. All of this creates Minnesota’s sexy state of food.
An intimate display.
You can, and should, get out there and do it yourself. Don’t rely on untrustworthy food sources. You can get everything you need right here. Go out and get lost in the land. Find some love for yourself. You just might get lucky.