Spring is an exciting time of year when all of nature wakes up and births hidden treasures and spectacular visuals. With that comes the opportunity to forage for those lovely morsels that grace our table and enhance our eating pleasure. Among those illusive morel mushrooms, and peppery watercress is a vegetable that until recent years has not recieved much attention in United States culinary world. That’s right, RAMPS! This wild onion or leek has an assertive garlicky-onion flavor and grows in early spring for a very short time. It can be found from Canada to the Carolinas and resembles a scallion with broad leaves and reddish stems. It is now all the rage among professional chefs and is seen often on the seasonal menus of fine restaurants.
I discovered ramps 13 years ago quite by accident. Recently relocated from California to South Central Wisconsin, I was walking in the woods when I was delighted to find what looked like lilly of the valley beginning to sprout. Upon further exploration and discussion with a local farmer at the market, I discovered they were wild onions or leeks. Since then my husband has made it his mission to dig those babies every spring and now has a delivery route of excited friends that anticipate their annual visit from the ramp king.
Ramps have a slightly stronger flavor than their cousins; leeks, scallions or onions, but can be used-raw or cooked-in may dishes as a substitute for all three. They pair well with morel or other mushrooms in chicken dishes, make a delicious compound butter and a delicious pesto.
24 ramps, trimmed and cleaned (cut off root end and slip off outer skin if loose)
1/2lb +2T unsalted or lightly salted butter (softened to room temp)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Separate bulbs from leaves. Slice bulbs thinly and cut leaves into a chiffonade (small ribbons achieved by rolling several leaves together and slicing thin). Heat the 2T of butter in a large skillet and saute the bulbs with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper, until soft. Stir in the leafy parts with the water and cook for 1-2 minutes until water is gone and greens are wilted but still bright green. Transfer to a plate and allow to cool a bit. Add to the softened butter and mix well. I like to do this with my clean hands but you do what makes you happy. When well mixed, place on a piece of parchment or waxed paper and roll into a log twisting the ends. Refrigerate until it is set.
There are many uses for this butter. It can be used for finishing sauces, cooking eggs, spread on bread or topping off steaks, dressing noodles or potatoes or whatever comes to your mind.
This is a great way to preserve the ramps as the butter can be wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to a couple of months.
One additional recipe sure to please.
1/2 lb ramps, leaves and stems
Zest of one lemon, finely grated
1/4c extra-virgin olive oil
1/4-1/2c parmesan cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Trim off root end and slip off outer skin if it is loose. Blanch the ramps in boiling salted water for 2-3 seconds. Transfer to cutting board, and coarsely chop. Place in a food processor or blender, add lemon zest and drizzle oil in while processor is running. When a smooth paste is accomplished (add a little more oil if necessary), stir in the Parmessan cheese. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
Serve as a sauce for pasta or spread on a toast for crostini.
This also freezes well. I freeze portions in ice cube trays and then place them in zip lock bags. Drop a cube or two in any soup or stew for added flavor. I love using them in potato soup!