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How To Pickle and Grill With Ramps

How To Pickle and Grill With Ramps

There is perhaps no better sign of spring than the arrival of ramps at the farmer’s market. With long green leaves, delicate white bulbs, and an unmistakably woodsy aroma that has familiar garlicky overtones, the members of the allium tricoccum family exist somewhere between onions and leeks. Ramps are often called by the misnomer wild leeks, or mistakenly categorized as garlic, spring onions, or scallions since they so closely resemble other members of the allium species. They grow in the mountains and hillsides of the northeastern United States, from Appalachia up towards the Canadian border. They emerge from thawed soil around the time of the last frost and only last for a few weeks before rising temperatures cause them to retreat.

An Overview of Ramps

Ramps are easy to identify in the wild, as they are the first greens that emerge from the earth between late March and early May. They cluster in barren dirt patches across hillsides and in the shade of empty tree branches. Ramps are primarily foraged by farmers in the know, who will sometimes lead tour groups on excursions into the woods. Overharvesting by both commercial distributors and casual foragers alike has become an issue in recent years, as the ingredient has gained popularity in top tier restaurants and home kitchens alike. Since the life cycle of ramps takes up to seven years, from germination to maturity, most farmers recommend only pulling up to 10% of any given patch. It is also possible to simply trim the leaves, leaving the bulbs in tact to regenerate.

Because of their ephemeral nature, ramps are one of the hottest wild foods when they hit the farmer’s markets. They may cost anywhere from $5 to $20 a pound, with the price rising towards the end of the short season. To select ramps, look for firm, bright green leaves and slender bulbs that fade from light pink to white. Most full-grown ramps will run about ten inches to a foot long, end to end.

Ramps have also gained popularity because they’re so versatile to cook. Whether grilled with asparagus, sauteed with morels in olive oil, scrambled with eggs, or baked atop pizzas, they impart a fragrant oniony flavor that automatically elevates any dish. Incorporate ramps into pastas and salads with three quick and decadent preservation methods, listed below. They may also be chopped up and stored in an airtight container in the freezer for up to one year—just long enough for ramps to come into season once again.

Peppercorn Pickled Ramps

MAKES 1 quart
PREP TIME 15 minutes
COOK TIME 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ramps
  • 1 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 dried red chilies
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seed
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorn
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds

** Heat-proof sealable jars with airtight lids, equivalent to one quart (two regular 16-ounce Mason jars, for example)

Gently rinse the ramps and dry. Peel the outer layer of skin off the bulbs. Trim the leaves down to one inch; reserve the leaves for a different use—like pesto—or freeze. Pack the trimmed ramps into jars. Set aside.

Meanwhile, add all remaining ingredients to a deep saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Whisk until sugar and salt dissolve, about five minutes. Remove from heat and pour directly into jars, completely covering the ramps. Seal and let cool.

Store in refrigerator for two weeks to allow for pickling to occur. Keep refrigerated. Consume as a tangy snack within one year.

Zesty Ramp Pesto

MAKES 1 cup
PREP TIME 15 minutes
COOK TIME 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups ramp leaves (from about 16 stalks)
  • 1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste

Blanch Ramps

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil over high heat. Set a large bowl of ice water within arm’s reach. Place ramps in boiling water for one minute; remove from heat with slotted spoon and place immediately in ice water to cool. Wrap in a paper towel and gently squeeze dry.

Chop ramps

Place in a food processor with pine nuts, garlic, salt, and pepper. Add cheese and pulse. Add olive oil in a consistent drizzle while pulsing. If the pesto seems dry or crumbly, add extra olive oil. When nearing a creamy consistency, add lemon juice. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Pesto will keep up to three days in the refrigerator or seven months in the freezer. Reheat in a pan to serve with a fresh pasta or serve cold with a tomato, mozzarella, and basil bruschetta.

To prevent browning from oxidation, blanch ramps and other delicate greens before making sauces. This also helps preserve the final product for longer than a few hours.

Grilled Ramps Vinaigrette

SERVES 1 cup
PREP TIME 15 minutes
COOK TIME 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup ramps (about 10 stalks)
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil + 2 tablespoons
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste

Toss ramps with two tablespoons olive oil. Grill over high heat until fragrant, about three minutes. Remove from heat and chop.

Place chopped ramps along with remaining ingredients in a blender. Pulse until smooth. Alternatively, you may place the ingredients in a tall vessel and use an immersion blender. Use for salads with leafy greens, like gem lettuce or kale, and light proteins, like chicken or fish. May be made three days in advance and kept in the refrigerator.

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