Nothing says 'spring' like ramps. The first time I encountered ramps was when I'd just finished college lived with a couple who graciously took me in to their house in a suburb outside of New York City for a few months while I hunted for an apartment of my own. That spring I was treated to the fruits of David's labors; he would regularly comb the forest floor for culinary morsels, most notably, ramps.
Alice Feiring, in her article in last Friday's NY Times (Into the Woods, on the Trail of the Wild Leek), tells her own story of meeting up with ramps. In beautiful prose, she gives a thorough run-down of the tiny little harbinger of spring.
Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are essentially wild leeks, although not technically. They have tiny white bulbs and long, tender greens. Ms. Feiring describes their scent as an "earthy oniony smell... topped off by a high note of white truffle." Feeling spring-fever yet? If you should go hunting for ramps, you'd be on the lookout for smooth leaves, much like those of Lily-of-the-Valley. Below ground, the greens are purple and the bulb is thin and often sloped.
Now the nutritional report: Ramps are high in vitamin C and in many cultures are used to make curative tonics. Their popularity in our neck of the woods has increased dramatically in the last decade, thanks in part to farmers like Rick Bishop of Mountain Sweet Berry Farms (Roscoe, NY). Ramps grow in abundance all along the Appalachian, Catskill, and Berkshire mountain areas, and so they are dependably featured at NY-area farmers' markets this time of year.
Their taste is often a point of debate - not everyone loves their pungent flavor, others, like Ms. Feiring, find their sweet, onion bulbs addictive.
The easiest preparation is sautéing them in olive oil with a sprinkle of salt. I enjoyed numerous plates of sautéed ramps at David's table. They are often paired with eggs. Ms. Feiring offers a recipe for a Ramp and Potato Gratin with lots of aged Cheddar, which doesn't sound half-bad either.
Here are a few other recipes to consider:
Ramp Risotto (from Alto and L'Impero chef Scott Conant)
(photo: Babbo NYC)