Not long ago the appearance of asparagus announced that winter is over. But asparagus is now available year round in the supermarket, so for me it’s the arrival of ramps that tells me spring is here. Just last weekend I discovered bunches of these fragrant little plants at the Union Square Farmer’s Market and they’ll be around for the next four weeks.
Ramps are native North American plants that grows wild in the swampy areas along the East Coast — from Georgia to Canada — and because they’re foraged and have a limited shelf life, you’re not likely to find them in supermarkets. A member of the lily family, ramps look a bit like a scallion but taste like a cross between a leek and garlic, a delicious mix of the sweetness of leeks with the kick of garlic. They’re also surprisingly versatile and can be blanched, sautéed, grilled, roasted, pureed, even pickled. The entire plant is edible — leaves, stalks, and bulbs — and you can use ramps in any recipe that calls for garlic or scallions.
In the South ramps are often teemed with bacon and potatoes for scrambled eggs or ramp casseroles. In the North they’re more likely to be coated with oil, seared in a pan, and tossed with pasta. My way of celebrating the end of winter is by roasting handfuls of ramp bulbs with chicken and potatoes, then adding the green tops to the gravy.
Though the leaves are fragile, properly handled ramps will stay fresh in the fridge for up to a week: Rinse and dry them thoroughly with paper towels, then tightly wrap them together in plastic, remove all the air, and store them in the crisper in the fridge. Or, you can vacuum seal the raw ramps and freeze them.
The very popularity of these wild treats may lead to their demise so if you’re out foraging be careful to harvest sustainably by taking only half of each clump you dig and replanting the rest.
Ramps can be substituted for the garlic or scallions in these Cooking Channel recipes:
- Scrambled Eggs with Chorizo and Scallions
- Italian Roast Chicken with Potatoes
- Garlic Soup and Artichoke Croutons
- Roasted Garlic Pasta Sauce
- Trout-in-a-Pouch with Fresh Herbs and Garlic
Corky Pollan, former Style Director of Gourmet and Best Bets Editor of New York Magazine, has returned to her first love, cooking. In her Devour posts, she’s eager to debunk cooking myths and solve some cooking mysteries.