Now that Spring has — finally — officially sprung and we are luckily being flooded with new fruits and vegetables coming into season, we wanted to take a closer look at these ephemeral ingredients that herald the start of the harvest. Each week we will look at what they are, how to use them and what some of our favorite chefs and the Cooking District team are doing with them right now. Got a favorite ingredient or preparation? Let us know. First up, ramps, which are just starting to show up in our greenmarkets and on our menus.
What they are:
A wild allium native to North America that resembles a scallion but with a pinkish stem and broad green leaves. Ramps have a garlicky-onion flavor. The plant proliferates in wooded areas from Canada to Georgia. Fun fact: The humble ramp may have given the city of Chicago its name; chicagoua appears to be a native Illinois name for what French explorers referred to as ail sauvage, or wild garlic. They are mild, sweet and have a pronounced funk to them. They are in season for just about 6 short weeks, so get'em now.
How to find them:
Ramps are not cultivated, and must be foraged. Though some groceries may have a limited amounts your best bet is the farmer's market. Or forage for them yourself. They can be found in wooded areas and often you can follow your nose to find the sweet garlicky perfume. Make sure you sniff before you pick — the scentless lily-of-the-valley is quite similar looking but very deadly. Once you have found pungent gems, be a responsible forager and follow the advice of Meghan Boledovich, the forager at PRINT. restaurant in NYC who wrote in a recent blog post
"The increasing interest in and popularity of ramps over the past few years has raised concerns about overharvesting. At PRINT. we purchase ramps from farmers and foragers in NY who only cut off the top part of the bulb, leaving the bottom part and the roots in the ground and intact for next years ramps, to avoid depletion. If you are looking to forage for some ramps of your own over the next few weeks, don’t just yank them out of the ground, roots and all. The most responsible way to harvest ramps is to gently dislodge the soil from one side of the bulb and then slice the stem at the base. Take the stem and leaf and leave the bulb and roots in the ground." Leaving the bulb and roots intact allows the ramp patch to repopulate itself for next season.
How to use them:
You can refrigerate ramps in a plastic bag up to one week. Trim root ends just before using. Uncooked they are like a pungent cross between garlic and scallions. Grilled or roasted they take on a mellower tone. Pickled they are tart and tangy. Try ramp butter, pickled ramp bottoms, grilled ramps, roasted ramps, raw ramps in a salad. Creamed ramps. Ramp pesto. Also fabulous in a potato gratin.
What some chefs are doing with them right now:
they are using ramps in a number of dishes: In a goat cheese gnocchi dish with asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and pancetta; alongside a pistachio crusted halibut with favas, fingerlings, and arugula pesto, and in a super springy dish of seared branzino. sauteed ramps, rhubarb, fiddleheads, and asparagus with a morel sauce. Other great ramp dishes we have spotted in NYC include the ramp gnocchi with guanciale, Comte cheese and an egg yolk from Chef Matt Conroy at Little Prince
. All' onda
recently featured a ramp ramen, with charred ramps, garlic, Parmesan dashi and spicy breadcrumbs. At Family Meal
in Baltimore, Bryan Voltaggio is serving up trout, ramps, sunchokes, in a crayfish butter sauce. At Southern California's the hungry cat
Chef David Lentz is celebrating Spring with slow roasted salmon crusted w/ Dijon & herbs, farro, ramps, favas, fingerlings & green goddess dressing and a Maryland Crabcake over fava bean purée with ramps, crispy fingerlings, pancetta, & king trumpet mushrooms with a fried caper aioli.White Oak
in Chicago a new ramp dish just hit the menu — Grilled ramps, with ricotta and pickled fennel. District Table & Bar
in Stuart, Florida is featuring Day Boat Scallops with Artichokes, English Peas, Heirloom Carrot, Black Olive, Ramp Aioli, Raddichio and Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette.