It’s been a long winter, and any sign that the cold season is giving way to spring, warmth, and life is definitely a good thing. Many people turn to the noble groundhog and its shadow (or lack thereof) to get a sense of how far away spring is, but the plant kingdom has its own way of signaling longer nights, more sunshine, warmer weather, and the ultimate natural rebirth known as spring. The plant kingdom’s harbinger of spring is the ramp, a type of wild onion also known as a spring onion or wild leek.
The ramp is an early spring vegetable that typically only has about a 2-3 week harvesting window. The ramp has a strong cultural significance in its home region of the mountainous parts of the Eastern United States. Its arrival often does signal the start of spring, and many local festivals are devoted to this wild onion and what its harvesting says about the end of winter. Its taste is indeed wild, with a much more pronounced and unique flavor than commercially grown onions. Ramps do have a strong onion flavor, but there is also a strong garlic component to the flavor as well. Both the leafy green tops of the plant and the stems are edible.
Revered by both foodies and chefs alike, the ramp is a very versatile ingredient that can be used in many dishes and recipes. Any dish that benefits from onion and garlic flavors would be well suited for a ramp. Naturally gluten-free, they go great with potatoes and eggs, and taste best when cooked with a rich fat like pork fat or butter. They also make a great tasting and unique flavor-profiled pesto, with its herbaceous green leaves, and pronounced garlic flavor. Pickling the stems is also a common preparation, and is simply a delicious way to enjoy the ramp. The pickled stems are acidic and crunchy with just enough flavor to keep you coming back for more. Because of their distinct and robust flavor, ramps also go great in soups.
Ramps are also a great choice nutritionally. This is part of the reason for their reverence as well, since they are one of the first green vegetables to sprout after the long, cold, and green-vegetable-devoid months of winter. Being that it is a green vegetable, ramps will be rich in phytonutrients, the compounds in plants that offer many health benefits such as antioxidant properties that help fight everything from cancer to heart disease. Like other vegetables, they are also a good source of fiber. They are also good a source of iron, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
So as we slowly creep toward spring, add the ramp season (along with the baseball and swimsuit season) to your list of things to look forward to. Warm weather and sunshine are just around the corner, but as you hunker down for the last of what winter has to throw at you, be thinking of a few delicious recipes to use ramps in during the few weeks they’ll soon be available. Whether its sautéing, frying, pickling, or using them raw, ramps will add a wild and delicious flavor to any dish to which they’re added. So ramp up your creativity, and enjoy the wild times and flavors ahead.
Article Courtesy: Andrew Steingrube