Farm to Table: Ramps and Wild Leeks
OK, so technically ramps (also called wild leeks, depending on where you live) aren’t exactly farm to table, but I don’t have a series of posts called Forest to Table, and I can’t not write about ramps now that they are poking their pungent pretty heads up through the last of the winter produce at the farmers market.
As one of the first plants to emerge in the new season, ramps are often considered the first spring greens. They are a type of wild onion found in deciduous forests as far north as Canada, west to Missouri and Minnesota, and south to North Carolina and Tennessee. They are a regional treasure in Appalachia. And they are really pretty–they look kind-hearted, with small white bulbs that support spring-pink stems which branch into young, soft green leaves. They’re very innocent looking, but don’t be deceived–they are no shrinking violets in the flavor department. They taste like a mix of green onion and garlic–they’re at once sweet and wonderfully pungent. They somehow manage to pack a powerful green, garlicky punch of what I can only describe as “tastes like spring, with a lovely vengeance.”
According to the Horticulture department at Purdue University, new leaves emerge from the perennial bulb in early spring, usually late March or early April, before the tree canopy develops. By late May, the ramp leaves begin to die back and a flower stalk emerges. Thus, the annual photosynthetic phase is limited to a few weeks between when the plants emerge and the tree canopy closes. The flower blooms in June and the seeds mature atop a leafless stalk. Eventually the seeds fall to the ground to germinate near the mother plant.
In other words, they have a pretty short eating season. In New York, we get them at our farmers market for maybe six weeks or so. You know they’ve come in by the surprising heady aroma that punctuates the air of the market.
I have two recipes that I always pull out the minute I see the first ramps of the season–I’d say neither of them are particularly well-suited for right before a first date. The linguine with ramps is like a fresh combination of both linguine with pesto and pasta with garlic and olive oil. The soup is simple and divine. I had one that I always used, but adapted it when I found a similar recipe in Gourmet last April; this recipe combines elements of both. I feel certain this soup can cure one of many ails–an especially poignant way to say adios to winter.
To clean ramps, trim off the roots and slip off the skin on the bulbs if it is loose, if not, leave it on–then rinse to remove any dirt clinging to the leaves.
Linguine with Ramps
1/2 pound ramps
1 tablespoon capers
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound linguine
Black pepper and salt to taste
Freshly grated parmesan
1. Dip ramps in a large pot of boiling salted water for just a few seconds, and remove to a cutting board (tongs work well for this)–reserve teh boiling water. Roughly chop the ramps and place in a blender with capers and oil.
2. Add linguine to the boiling water and cook. While the pasta is cooking, take out 12 cup with a ladle and add it to the blender. Puree mixture until smooth and season with salt and pepper.
3. When pasta is cooked, drain in a colander, leaving a little bit of water (about 1/2 cup) with the pasta. Return linguine to pot and toss with the ramps and paremsan cheese. Serve.
Note: This dish also tastes great topped with toasted bread crumbs!
1 pound ramps
1/2 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup dry white wine
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter
1. Remove green leaves from ramps and roughly chop enough greens to measure 3 cups, then thinly slice the ramp bulbs and pink stems.
2. Cook the bulbs, onion, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in oil in a large pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
3. Add wine and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, until all liquid is gone, then add broth. Simmer, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes or until ramps and onions are very soft. Stir in greens and boil for one minute.
4. using caution, puree soup in a blender, in batches, until very very smooth. Press puree through a fine mesh sieve, pressing hard. Return soup to pot and reheat. Stir in cheese and butter with a whisk until smooth. Serve in bowls, adding a little of the puree if you like more texture.
To see what else is coming up at the farmers market or local gardens around the country, visit Beekman 1802 for information about gardening, and nutrition from Dr. Brent and to learn about The Oldest, Largest Garden Party in America’s History–submit your gardening tips there and become eligible to win some great prizes.
By Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor, Healthy & Green Living