The first sighting of a robin. The vivid green on the grass after it rains. A redbud tree bursting with blooms. All of these things help remind us that we are in a new season of the year and it makes us feel alive. One other exciting part of the spring is foraging for those early treasures that are at their peak this time of year.
My last month has been inundated with ramps. As an allium (the same genus as garlic, leeks and chives), ramps are often cherished since their unique flavor embodies a little bit of pungent kapow in every bite. I’m not sure if pungent kapow is a culinary term, so I’ll add that it tastes like the lovechild of a leek and strong garlic.
To spot a ramp in the wild, look for smooth and broad green leaves. Sometimes you can see glimpses of purple too. The body or stalks look like scallions but become “bulbous” at the root. The best part is it is all edible!
Ramps are available in some grocery stores, and I think you may be able to find them at some of the farmer’s markets that have reopened.
The only challenge is that ramps are only found in cool, wooded, shady areas and are something that can be a challenge to farm and therefor have limited availability. (The season seems to have been longer this year due to the brisk weather we experienced earlier this month in the Midwest.)
Once the weather starts to warm up, they are gone as quickly as they show up. By the time you look up recipes, the season can be over. Or is it?
It was too cool for me to have my grill out yet so I did not get to enjoy my ramps grilled, but I always manage to make three things every ramp season that keeps me “ramped” a little bit longer.
My first go-to recipe for the green ramp tops (or any soft herb I don’t want to waste) is pesto.
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Makes: 12 ounces
Prep time: 10 minutes
2 cups of ramp greens
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup toasted almonds (or traditional pine nuts)
1/2 cup of finely grated Parmesan Reggiano
Pinch of sea salt
1/3 cup+ of your best extra virgin olive oil (the special occasion olive oil)
1. Taste your ramps. The first couple of harvests I received were really strong, so I did not add garlic to my recipe. My last couple were a little milder so I added a couple of cloves of garlic.
2. In a large food processor, add the greens, lemon zest, lemon juice, almonds, cheese and salt. I sometimes also add in a couple of full ramps just because they are so flavorful.
3. Pulse until the ingredients are finely chopped. (You will have to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times.)
4. With the food processor on low, drizzle in half of the olive oil.
5. Scrape the sides of the bowl.
6. Put the food processor back on low and drizzle in the rest of the oil until you have creamy and dreamy pesto. You may add more to get your desired consistency.
I store mine in little cup containers and add a thin layer of olive oil on top and then freeze it.
The second recipe is a quick pickled ramp for the fridge.
Quick Pickled Ramps
1 pound of cleaned ramps, trim off the green leaves to about 1/2 inch past the white and red parts
2 teaspoons of black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 cup of champagne vinegar (I love champagne vinegar for quick pickles)
1 cup of sugar
1 cup water
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
1. In a clean, sterilized heat-proof quart jar with a screw top lid, add the cleaned bulbs, peppercorns, bay leaf and mustard seeds. (If all of your bulbs don’t fit, don’t despair, we will use them in our third recipe.)
2. In a medium saucepan, bring the vinegar, water, sugar and salt to a slow boil.
3. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved.
4. Carefully pour into the heatproof jar and seal.
5. Once the bottle is cooled to room temperature, place in refrigerator.
6. Let them “pickle up” for at least 24-48 hours before eating.
They should keep for two weeks. I use them on salads, avocado toast and in eggs.
Finally, the last thing I like to make with ramps is a simple compound butter.
This is my “Hail Mary” move to save every last ramp, and I would be embarrassed to actually call it a recipe. My go to is 1/2 cup of softened butter to a 1/4 cup of fresh herbs or ramps in this case.
Add some salt and pepper and chill it or freeze in little cups.
It is delicious on steaks or even spread on a thick piece of toast. I recently used some of my compound butter in a large pan of shrimp scampi (or is that now shrimp rampy?).
I think what it all comes down to is that we are moving into one of the best parts of the seasonality of the Midwest. We can stretch the enjoyment of some of the flavorful ingredients if we use a little creativity.
P.S. Thank you to my neighbors for doing all the dirty work and sharing their incredible bounty with me!
Here are some classes coming up at The Chopping Block that will help you beautify your butter, add panache to your pesto or pack a peck of pickles:
- Steakhouse Dinner on the Patio May 28 at Lincoln Square (in person)
- Hands on Pasta Workshop June 13 at Lincoln Square (in person)
- Virtual Cook Along: Homemade Refrigerator Jams, Jellies and Pickles Workshop July 3