Ramping Up For Spring

Warm weather, daffodils and my raging allergies are all indications that spring is finally here. Another sign is that ramps are now appearing at local markets. When I spotted them at Whole Foods last week, I feverishly grabbed up a few handfuls, and while their $20.00 a pound price tag was a bit steep, I knew I couldn't let the season pass by without having a go with them.

Ramps

Ramps, also known as wild leeks, have a mild, sweet onion flavor with a subtle garlicky undertone. They are native to eastern North America and are one of the first spring greens to appear each year. Ramps have a very short season and are only available from mid March through early June.

Because of their sweet, mild flavor, ramps lend themselves to a variety of preparations including pizza toppings, adding them to pastas, grilling them and serving alongside meats, and making them into condiments or sauces, such as pesto.

I decided to use the different parts of my ramps in different ways. I pickled the stems and bulbs and then blanched and chopped the leaves and added them to homemade pasta dough. For the pickles I chose two very different recipes just to see how the ramps would lend themselves to each. The first was a spicy, Asian influenced recipe by Momofuku chef David Chang. This recipe used rice wine vinegar, Korean chili powder and spicy Japanese togarashi seasoning, all of which gave the ramps a nice kick, but did not overpower with acidity or heat. The second recipe was adapted from a Tom Colicchio recipe and incorporated white wine vinegar with spices such as coriander, pink peppercorns, bay leaf and mustard and fennel seeds. The blend of flavors in this brine complemented the sweetness of the ramps beautifully and offered different bursts of flavor depending on which spices were bit into. Both types of pickled ramps were great with grilled steak and burgers and a perfect accompaniment to charcuterie and salumi.

For my pasta dough, I turned to a recipe from Hank Shaw of the blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. This recipe couldn't have been easier to make and unlike some flavored pastas, the delicate oniony flavor of the ramps really came through. Once cooked, I kept the pasta simple so that the ramp flavor would shine, and just tossed it with extra virgin olive oil and Parmesan cheese. The taste was divine and a really lovely accompaniment to the grilled pork tenderloin that I served it with. I knew it was a real success when the usually picky five year old that I served the pasta to not only told me how much she liked it, but even asked for seconds.

Ramps will only be around for a few more weeks so if you’re interested in giving them a try, you’d better act fast, or you’ll have to wait until next year.