Spring is the time when many of us head out to the farmer’s markets. In addition to buying incomparably fresh food and supporting the local economy, there’s another reason why shopping at a farmer’s market is a treat. If you keep your eyes and mind open, you’ll find many varieties of vegetables and fruits that you won’t find anywhere else. Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are a springtime luxury.
Because of their short season, ramps are lesser known than other members of the allium family, which includes onions, leeks and garlic. They grow wild, mainly in the eastern United States. Ramps also can be found on the side of mountains, in forests and along creek bottoms all the way to Missouri and up into Canada. They are a precious and beloved hallmark of spring in these areas. Festivals even have sprung up in their honor, most notably in North Carolina and West Virginia.
Ramps are even more desirable because they are not easily cultivated. So, most times, even at the farmer’s market, the ramps you find are harvested from the wild. Besides their unique taste and rarity, ramps are high in vitamins A and C. In the Appalachians, ramps historically have been regarded as a spring tonic believed to cleanse the blood. Although this characteristic of ramps is unproven, studies have shown that they contain selenium, which is an essential micronutrient.
Ramps have a strong flavor that is similar to a garlic and onion combined. When used with a knowing and delicate hand, the unique flavor of ramps lends itself to a variety of dishes. As the world around us has become more food obsessed, chefs are looking for new and different ingredients to have incorporated ramps into their menus.
If you are fortunate to find ramps, prepare them soon, as their delicate leaves don’t hold up well. They can be substituted in any recipe that calls for onions, scallions or garlic. But use caution, as a little of this pungent vegetable goes a long way. These recipes for Ramp Butter and Ramp and Bacon Vinaigrette showcase the vibrant flavor of ramps while extending their season.
1/4 pound ramps, roots trimmed
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 whole salt-packed anchovies, rinsed, soaked and filleted, then finely chopped, optional
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from about 2 large lemons)
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy-bottom pan over high heat until melted. Saute the ramps until wilted, then chop into a small dice. Scrape ramps into a large bowl and add the remaining 10 tablespoons butter, salt, anchovies if desired, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, red pepper flakes and black pepper.
2. Stir mixture with fork or wooden spoon just until well-combined.
3. You can refrigerate the butter for a day or two in a covered bowl. Or, spoon the butter mixture onto a piece of food-safe parchment paper. Roll up mixture on parchment to create a log shape. Twist ends of paper to seal butter, and place it into a re-sealable plastic bag. Refrigerate butter log until firm, about 3 hours. Slice into “coins” to serve immediately, or freeze parchment-wrapped logs in plastic bag for up to 3 months. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
RAMP AND BACON VINIAGRETTE
12 ramps, roots trimmed
2 slices bacon
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup minced parsley
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon honey
1. Heat a cast-iron grill or heavy-bottom pan over medium-high heat. Cook bacon for 2 minutes. Add the ramps and continue to cook both, flipping once, until ramps are slightly charred and bacon is crisp, another 3 minutes.
2. Transfer bacon and ramps into blender. Add half the oil, parsley, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper and honey; and puree until smooth. With the motor running, drizzle in remaining oil until emulsified.
3. Store in refrigerator in air-tight container for up to 2 weeks. Shake before using. Makes 1 1/2 cups.
(c) 2015 King Features Synd., Inc., and Angela Shelf Medearis