If you are in the business of reading food blogs, you know that the word of the moment is ramps. This much is clear. But perhaps less obvious is why on earth these weedy, reedy looking plants might cause such a stir. To me, ramps are like the poor man’s truffle. They’re elusive (their season arrives with the first inklings of spring and departs as soon as you realize how amazing they are). They’re unexpected (creamy is not be a word you’d be quick to associate with some haggard-looking scallion). They’re delightful (no parenthetical description needed).
When I discovered them last year at the farmer’s market, I was eager to buy a bunch, mainly because of the way people seemed to be gravitating toward them (my mind hearkens back to the excitement of seeing a Tickle Me Elmo on the shelf of a toy store, circa 1996). The simplicity of the word written on the cardboard sign, “RAMPS,” was minimalist enough to intrigue. Like the Madonna of spring onions: no explanation necessary. The helpful vendor told me to, “like, sauté them or whatever,” which was surprisingly adequate advice. It’s hard to mess these guys up. Just a rinse, a chop, and a 3 minute sauté, and you’re on your way to rampy bliss.
The magic of the ramp is that it’s many things rolled into one. It’s also known as a wild leek, and it does bear some resemblance to a leek, in its mild oniony-ness. But it’s far more delicate than a leek, its leaves much more ribbony and smooth. It’s almost scallion-like, yet without the layers and the same crispness. The leaves taste of garlic and the stems of a sweet onion. Raw (and I don’t recommend this) it has a sharp bite, but this mellows dramatically when cooked, becoming both tender and sweeter. The trick is to separate the leaves from the stems before cooking, because the leaves cook almost instantaneously. They’re so ethereal that, over heat, they begin to bubble like tiny parachutes almost immediately.
And so, now that I’ve hyped you all up, I give you some ideas for what to do with ramps, should you be fortunate enough to find them near you:
- - Make a pasta dish: Ramps over pasta with breadcrumbs (try half breadcrumbs and half grated parmesan)
- - Simply sauté: stems first, until tender, about 3 minutes, then add leaves for another minute. Salt lightly. Eat plain or tuck into an omelet with cheddar cheese
- - Infuse gin: OK, I shouldn’t make any promises about this one, but I have a mason jar full of ramp-infused gin brewing in my kitchen. This is my own little seasonal twist on garlic-infused vodka, most commonly used for Bloody Marys. For the record, I’m not completely crazy; this idea was inspired by a legitimate source (see the last section of this article, about ‘inoteca liquori). It may be a disaster, but it may be totally awesome. Will report back soon. Frontier Mixologist, I just may be stepping in for you…