Ramp it Up for Spring Savory
By Caitlin Brown
I happen to be the kind of person who gravitates to the pockets of “special” and “seasonal” in the produce section. If there is a strange-shaped something — or it’s just plain unfamiliar — I’m in and amped to try it.
So, last spring, my mood elevated by flowering trees and shoots of color, I bought some fiddleheads (they look just as their name suggests) and ramps to celebrate in high culinary style and add some new green goodness to my repertoire. But, to my chagrin, I spent too long searching for recipes, and nature’s bounty was hanging out in the fridge too long and grew wilted owing to my indecision. By the time I got back to the market, with recipes in mind, their season had ended.
As luck would have it, a few weeks ago I was invited to go on a “ramp forage hike.” I couldn’t help but think, this was meant to be — a chance to get out in the woods with a food-foraging enthusiast, redeem myself, and do right by the ramps.
I dressed down, prepared to get dirty, and up, to protect against ticks, which I was informed are particularly prevalent this season (that nearly ixnayed the adventure altogether for me). Optimistically, I set out with a big Whole Foods bag to fill. I was told to listen for running water, as that is where ramps tend to be.
About a quarter of a mile in, the sound of water beckoned, and within minutes we were in front of a ground layer of green plants. “There they are!” my friend said with excitement.
And so, we began, spreading the brush and gingerly pulling up the more mature looking plants (you know by the size of their leaves) from the bulb in the ground floor. It reminded me of going fishing for snapper with my dad, bamboo pole in hand when I was a child. The fish just kept biting and up we pulled them, exhilarated. The big difference is that you can’t just keep pulling up ramps, as it takes seven years for ramps to grow and they don’t re-seed.
If you pull a ramp up and cut just above the bulb — as the Native Americans customarily did —, you still get a bit of the allium (hence the flavor). And you can then return it to the soil, where is will mature and provide bounty for seasons to come.
Once home, the ramps needed to be washed thoroughly and the extra skin on the bulbs (the ones kept) peeled. If not using right away, cover in a damp cloth towel and refrigerate for up to two days.
There are so many ways to make delicious use of ramps, whether pickled, whipped into a pesto, turned into a butter, or sautéed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. The list goes on. There’s a reason for the ramp trend: cooked right, they’re delicious.
Here’s a delicious pesto I found on food52.com. A word of caution: Use about one-quarter to one-fifth of the bulb in proportion to the leaves. A little flavor goes a long way.
- 1 bunch of ramps
- ½ cup walnuts (toasted)
- 1/3 to ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Sea salt
- Ground pepper
- Squirt of lemon
Wash and cut off the leaves of the ramps.
Optional step: blanche the ramp leaves in boiling water. Some say this makes the pesto brighter and more vibrant. (I think it’s plenty beautiful either way.)
Chop the ramps and walnuts roughly and put them in a food processor. Add most of the cheese (save a sprinkle for serving) and a healthy dash of salt and pepper.
Pour the olive oil in slowly, process contents until they combine and look, well, pesto-y. Taste for seasoning and add a good squirt of lemon.
Use atop your favorite pasta or grilled bread.