Now that Spring has 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.
Very few vegetables inspire the passionate delight and hatred that ramps provoke. Are they a garlicky harbinger of the new season, or just an overrated onion? Chef Oliver Gift of Lowcountry in New York City knows which side of the fence he is on: "This vegetable is so versatile and delicious. It has become very cliche over the past 5 years but I don't care. I know people out there have never had it. Some of my servers have never seen or tasted it. So the term "cliche" is being used by elitist and snobby foodies. I know that once I make this soup, spring has finally arrived." So there.
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. There is only one known ramp farm in the world, in West Virginia. All other harvesting happens in the wild. 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 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: Soups seem to be all the ramp rage this summer. At Recette in NYC Jesse Schenker is featuring a ramp soup with chorizo, pickled ramp, olive oil and fresh basil. Rampant ramp fan Gift is also using ramps in a soup at Lowcountry which "is basically just ramps cooked and puréed into liquid. The soup is what I think exemplifies spring. It smells like the morning, tastes like you were deep in the forest foraging through thick brush." He explains. "I just try and showcase the ramps and that's what you're going to taste. So there isn't any cream or dairy just plain soup with a little ramp chiffonade for garnish."
Some other chefs doing things that intrigue us with ramps:
Chef Tony Maws of Craigie Street Bistrot in Cambridge: Fried Clams and Potato Chips with Ramp Salsa Verde. At Aria in Chicago, Executive Chef Beverly Kim is serving pork and ramp dumplings and a ramp kimchi. And at Ela in Philadelphia, Chef Jason Cichonski features a spring fest in a bowl with baby octopus, fava beans and ramps.
So what say you, yea or nay on ramps? And what is your favorite way to prepare them?