What in years past could be featured at a Passover Seder as the first vegetables of the spring — curly fiddlehead ferns and baby leek-like ramps — have yet to sprout in the Midwest this year. According to my local farmers market in St. Louis, everything’s coming up a bit late this year, including ramps. But the delightfully flavorful and delicate vegetables are showing up in east coast farmers markets and restaurants and will soon be available across the country.
Ramps, or allium tricoccum, go by many names — ramson, wild leek, wild garlic, rich woods leek, and the list goes on. They are generally grown and harvested in the wild, however, they are also cultivated by some farms, and carried by my local Whole Foods and other specialty markets. It’s possible that you’ll receive a nice bundle of ramps in one of your early CSA shares, so I wanted to share some tips as you discover them.
They are delicious, easy to cook and announce that spring has finally arrived, trumpets blaring. This vegetable has a strong onion and garlic flavor, with a thin, scallion-like bulb, and broad green leaves. They often have a purple or red tint on the stem, and the entire plant is edible, once you’ve given them a good wash to get rid of the massive amounts of dirt that collects around the roots and stems. Most people like to cut off the roots, similar to scallions or leeks, but once in a while I like to nibble on them, because the roots taste intensely of the vegetable.
Ramps are often featured in egg recipes, and most frequently in frittatas as the garlicky onion flavor works well with the richness of the yolks. Other delicious ramp-related fare includes ramp pesto, grilled or stir fried ramps. They’re particularly popular in Appalachia. West Virginia even hosts the Ramps and Rails Festival.
As with other fleeting foods, it’s wonderful to preserve them, allowing you to taste their flavor throughout the year. When I open a jar of apple butter I remember the crisp fall and the hand picked apples that went into the jar. And ramps, no matter when they’re eaten taste like spring.
My favorite way to eat ramps, one that I learned while working at a vegetarian restaurant in Chicago, is pickled. Pickling foods feels particularly Jewish to me. Maybe it’s the huge vats of cucumber and even green tomato pickles that I used to dig into in the delis of my youth. Or the pickles I made while working as an Adamah fellow, where we worked to “change the world, one pickle at a time.”
Perhaps it is something deeper. Pickling connects us to our past. While we can go to the store and buy just about any vegetable at any time of the year, our ancestors certainly could not. So they preserved each harvest’s bounty. Before refrigeration, “pickled vegetables were…mainly a food of necessity – a way to preserve fresh vegetables through the winter,” explain Jonathan Deutsch and Rachel Sak in “Jewish American Food Culture.” From necessity came something truly delicious and iconic in many pickled forms.
This recipe is not your grandmother’s typical cucumber pickle recipe, rather it’s a vinegar based pickle with sugar and spices, with slight undertones of Southeast Asia, from star anise. The ramps maintain a bit of crunch and a lot of that onion-garlic flavor. This recipe would be equally delicious with other vegetables, such as red onions, carrots, cauliflower, and of course, cucumbers. I love keeping a few jars of these in my fridge for a tangy garnish when my dinner needs a quick pick-me-up. Many bloggers have expressed their love for ramps as a martini garnish, so why not top off a spicy bloody Mary with a delicious pickled ramp?
2 bunches ramps
1 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup organic sugar
1 cup water
1 star anise
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (if you like spice, use more!)
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
(you can use other typical pickling spices, but I love this combo)
salt for the blanching water
1) Clean ramps and trim of roots. Cut off leaves, leaving 1/2” of green. Set aside leaves for another use, such as ramp pesto.
2) Blanch ramps in a saucepan of boiling water for 20 seconds. This will help keep their color. Shock in a large bowl of ice water.
3) Place ramps in a quart sized mason jar or other non-reactive container SUCH AS?
4) Combine the vinegar, salt, sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the spices and reduce, simmering for 5 minutes.
5) Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the ramps and allow to cool. They will keep in the refrigerator for a few months, if you don’t eat them all first.