IN SEASON: Ramps

Nothing makes local food lovers stampede like the arrival of ramps on the culinary landscape.

Like many others, I’ve been anxiously awaiting their arrival here in the Twin Cities.  My former CSA farm, Harmony Valley Farm, supplies ramps to the area co-ops and I’ve been reading their blog to track the progress of the ramp harvesting.

They finally arrived this past weekend, and I got my hands on some this past Monday at Mississippi Market.  I felt like shouting, “RAMPS! RAMPS!!!” and waving them around like a crazy person.

I’m not alone.  In recent weeks, there have been articles about overforaging of ramps, particularly on the East Coast, as foodies and restaurant diners clamor for them.   

Just what is it about ramps that inspires such ardent fervor?

First, ramps are a fleeting pleasure, a vegetable that’s foraged rather than cultivated and is only available for a few brief weeks in early spring.  After a punishing winter here in the Midwest, we’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of fresh, local food. 

Then, there’s the flavor and aroma.  Ramps are a type of wild leek with a pungent flavor that’s a mix of onion and garlic. They exude an earthy, musky aroma that stinks up your car the moment you put them in. When I picked up my son from preschool the day I bought the ramps, he wrinkled up his nose and said, “What stinks?”  For once, it was not the car.

But ultimately, the most exciting thing about ramps is what they symbolize – that spring has arrived.  Ramps are the first in the line of fresh, local spring foods that will start parading through the farmers markets and natural foods stores. 

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One of the cool things about ramps is that you use the entire vegetable, both the bulb and leaves; just trim off the hairy roots on the tip of the bulb and chop away.

Ramps pair well with pasta, eggs, bacon and other early spring vegetables like fiddlehead ferns and asparagus.  Since they’re more strongly flavored than green onions, it’s probably best to saute, roast or pickle them.  They also make a potent pesto. 

Ramps should ideally be used the same day they are purchased, otherwise the leaves go limp.  Unfortunately, something came up on Monday so I couldn’t use them that night for dinner; instead, I wrapped them in a damp paper towel and stuck them in a plastic bag and they kept okay for another day or so.

The rainy, cool weather this week inspired a craving for comfort foods.  So, I made a recipe for ramps with pasta alla carbonara

This was the first time I’d made pasta alla carbonara, and I was surprised how easy it was to make. You just fry up some chopped bacon until the fat is rendered, then saute chopped ramps in the bacon fat, add the cooked noodles to the pan (note that I drained most of the excess bacon grease before adding the pasta), and then quickly stir in beaten eggs and some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.  The entire meal took less than 30 minutes.

The eggs and cheese made the dish creamy without the use of cream and, combined with the salty, smoky bacon and garlicky pungent ramps, it was a bowl of comfort on a rainy evening.

Of course, my hands stunk like bacon and ramps; my hair stunk like bacon and ramps; and my house stunk like bacon and ramps for hours afterward.  But you know what?  I didn’t care.  I wasn’t going anywhere.

(Just an FYI, I wouldn’t prepare this meal before going out somewhere with others. Unless they are bacon and garlic lovers. Or you are bald / planning to take a shower beforehand.)

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Then, for the second bunch of ramps, we prepared a brinner (breakfast at dinner) of scrambled eggs with sauteed ramps and grated parmesan. Simple, easy and satisfying. 

Scrambled Eggs with Sauteed Ramps and Parmesan
(Serves 2)

Ingredients:
2 T. butter
1 bunch of ramps, thinly sliced
6 eggs
2 T. water

Salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Instructions:
Beat the eggs and water; add salt and pepper to taste. 

In a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and saute the ramps for about 2 minutes.  You can either pour the eggs right into the pan with the ramps, or set the ramps aside and cook the eggs separately. 

Cook the eggs until no longer runny but still moist, then add the cheese and allow it to melt.  Re-add the ramps if you removed them earlier. Eat.

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Here are some other recipes for ramps to inspire your cooking.

Ramp and Parsley Pesto (Simply Recipes)
Pasta with Ramps (Splendid Table)
Ramp Soup (Gourmet)
Ramp, Bacon & Ricotta Tart (Eggs on Sunday)
Scrambled Eggs with Ramps, Morels, and Asparagus (Bon Appetit)
Buckwheat Crepes with Ramps (Dog Hill Kitchen)
Pickled Ramps (Seasonal Chef)

And if you can’t get enough information about foraged foods, check out an earlier post of mine, IN SEASON:  Ramps and Fiddlehead Ferns.

Have you tried ramps? How do you like to prepare them?

Just in the nick of time…

Whew, just in the nick of time, I’ve finished off our box of CSA veggies from Week 1. It only took me two weeks to do it. We used the box ingredients in the following ways:

Sorrel

  • Chard Soup with Sorrel (Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone cookbook)

Ramps

  • Confetti Salad (HVF 5/07/09 newsletter)
  • Omelets with Ramps, Mushrooms, Spinach, & Parmesano-Reggiano (our own concoction)
  • Spaghetti with Ramp Pesto (Bitten blog)

Rhubarb

Spinach

  • used in omelets, made several salads with it, threw it into soup, used as topping for burgers

Black Spanish Radish

Sunchokes

Burdock

  • Stir Fried Burdock with Carrots, Red Peppers, Scallions and Toasted Sesame Seeds (Local Flavors cookbook)

Parsnips

Chives

Actually, I didn’t quite finish off everything, as I still have some sunchokes, and we’re getting more in our box today. So, I’m handing ‘em off to my CSA-sharing neighbor. I’m hoping to nab her sorrel from last week if it’s still viable because there’s still another soup recipe that I’d like to make with it.

Well, off to pick up this week’s box! Will post pics tonight or tomorrow.

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