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On ramps

Photos by Laura Silverman

April 27, 2016

The growing interest in eating local has earned wild edibles a well deserved new popularity. Few foods better represent terroir, that characteristic flavor of the region, than something plucked directly from the forests and fields. This goes a long way to explain the near hysteria that erupts every year when ramps emerge from the earth. Suddenly, no foodie’s Instagram feed is complete without several shots of these highly seasonal native plants. As noted in Molly Marquand’s article printed in the April 14 issue of TRR, unbridled enthusiasm for ramps has led us to the point where ramps are being over-harvested and environmentalists report that their populations are greatly compromised. As a solution, some recommend that the bulbs be left behind and only the greens harvested, or limiting the harvest to no more than 10% per year.

Allium tricoccum, also known as wild leek and wood onion, has a much more intense flavor than leek or onion, something more akin to garlic with a hint of wild funk. In their raw state, ramps are extremely pungent; cooking mellows them considerably. The bulbs are excellent pickled in a sweet-spicy brine—and make an ideal garnish for a martini—but the good news is that the greens are arguably even more versatile and delicious. They combine beautifully with cheese and cream and are an irresistible addition to everything from scrambled eggs to cornbread to mashed potatoes. They can also be blanched, pureed and made into a soup or mixed with butter, a pat of which is superb on grilled steak or spread on toast. One of the best ways to showcase ramp greens is also the easiest: toss them into a hot cast-iron skillet slicked with butter or bacon fat and watch them puff up, shrink and lightly char. Eaten as is, with just a sprinkling of salt, they are simply delightful.

The texture of the leaves is another asset. When raw they are vividly green and quite succulent; cooked, they darken and become wonderfully silky. This is showcased in a typical Japanese preparation, often used for spinach, which calls for poaching the leaves in a lightly flavored broth. Excess water is squeezed out, then the ramp greens are pressed into a bowl and dressed with sweet rice wine and soy sauce. Served chilled, with a small drizzle of sesame oil, they virtually melt in the mouth.