Everything You Need to Know About Ramps
Ramps, otherwise known as wild leeks or wild onions, are a perennial green that grows in Eastern Canada and the U.S. They resemble small green onions only with wider, flatter leaves, and each spring they poke through the ground like verdant bunny ears, with their white bulbous end buried deep beneath the ground.
Similar in taste to a mild green onion mingled with garlic, this pungent member of the allium family symbolizes the official start of spring to enthusiastic foragers and chefs eager to add something new and fresh to the menus after the long winter months. Although their popularity has grown dramatically in the past 25 years, they’ve been around for centuries, originally foraged by the Cherokee. They’ve also been a staple ingredient in Appalachian kitchens for hundreds of years.
While available at most farmers’ markets (go early, they sell out quickly!), and some specialty or higher end grocery stores, ramps are only in season for a few weeks in the spring and are available in limited supply, because they are scarce. It takes plants a full 4 to 7 years to regrow. Due to growing demand for this delicacy, they are quickly becoming endangered and even banned for sale in some parts of the country.
How to Select and Store Ramps
Ramps are foraged, nut cultivated, and as such they have a few strikes against them in the dirt department. First, they’re full of nooks and crannies where mud can easily hide. Secondly, they’re in season at the dirtiest and muddiest time of year, which ensures they’ll be full of earth and soil.
While some vendors are sure to clean their ramps before selling them, be sure to rinse them thoroughly upon bringing them home. To store them, gently pat dry and roll in damp paper towel, before placing in an unsealed plastic bag for storing in the refrigerator. Ramps will keep for up to two weeks. Also, a word of caution: don’t be surprised if they infuse your fridge with their pungent aroma.
How to Prepare Ramps
Although you can eat ramps raw, their combined flavor of garlic and onion is a bit intense, so if you aren’t a fan of raw onions and/or garlic, chances are you’re not going to be fond of raw ramps. Instead, their robust flavor is enhanced through cooking, which allows them to mellow and sweeten. And yes, you can eat them all, from bulb to leaf!
Ramps are excellent sautéed, grilled, and roasted. Essentially, you can use them anywhere you can add a green, red or white onion as well as a few cloves of garlic. Ramps also taste great when blended into a pesto – particularly if paired with walnuts and pecorino cheese – and for the more adventurous eater, they take well to pickling, which happens to be an excellent way to preserve them for prolonged enjoyment.
If you do choose to roast or grill your ramps, do so whole as they high temp will yield crispy greens and tender bulbs.
Ramps Goes Well With
Produce: asparagus, carrots, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, shallots
Dairy: butter, cream, parmesan cheese
Other: bacon, chicken, cured meats, fish, ham, lentils, pasta, prosciutto, rice
Herbs and Spices: chives, black pepper
Alternatively, try one of these classic flavour pairings:
- Ramps + asparagus + mushrooms
- Ramps + lentils + pork
- Ramps + parmesan cheese + risotto
Ramp Serving Ideas
- Cheesy ramp pull-apart bread is perfect for pairing with a spring lasagna and Caesar or garden salad.
- A spring green skillet is the perfect brunch item or easy weeknight dinner, and the pairing of ramps and chard is both brilliant and seasonal.
- Ramps are a natural addition to any spring-inspired green risotto, a seasonal comfort food that belongs on the menu of every home cook.
- Smear wild ramp pesto over pizza crust for a brightened up take on a traditional pie.
- Use ramps to replace green onions in most recipes.