Native Edible Plants of the Northeastern US: Ramps
The First Sign of Spring
The ramp, or wild leek, or allium tricoccum, is an early spring vegetable in the garlic family which has earned a passionate following among foodies and non-foodies alike for its subtle garlicky profume and sweet green onion crunch. Nothing says that spring has sprung quite like a bunch of fresh, fragrant ramps.
Ramps have broad, thin, light green leaves and white bulbs much like green onions or leeks. Often the stalks will be streaked with purple. Both the bulbs and leaves of these wild leeks are edible. Ramps can also be eaten raw or cooked.
Small, delicate, and fragrant, ramps work beautifully in any dish that calls for either garlic or wild onion, or even alone, sautéed in a little butter or olive oil and eaten straight out of the pan!
Where To Find Ramps
Ramps grow in small clusters in humid, deciduous forests, which is one of the reasons why they’re so prevalent in the northeast states. New York, Pennsylvania, and much of New England have plenty of creeks, streams, and rivers shaded by thriving green forest and floored with sandy, moist soil – ideal growing conditions for the ramp.
Though you can always go foraging, an easier way to find ramps is to search your local markets. Ramps have become very popular lately among locavores and high end chefs, which means that they’ve started to become regular sightings at farmstands and at many supermarkets.
Your best bet to find ramps is to go to either a farmer’s market or to a supermarket which specializes in local, organic food. But keep an eye open – you’d be surprised at what may show up in your average supermarket these days, now that more people are looking to save money by skipping the restaurant and eating restaurant quality food at home.
How To Use and Cook Ramps
To prepare ramps for eating or cooking, simply rinse them thoroughly under cold running water to remove all traces of soil, then trim the roots from the bulb ends.
Ramps have a delicate flavor and should be prepared simply. A classic way to enjoy them is sautéed with a little butter. Alternatively, you might try grilling them and then topping them with a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil.
Protip: If you do grill ramps, you might want to use a grill basket – ramps are small and prone to falling through the grate and onto the coals if you’re not careful.
For any other preparations, just remember that ramps work well in dishes where the other flavors are not too strong and where garlic or green onions are typically used.
For instance, ramps often pair well with eggs. Try chopping them up, sautéing them, and adding them to fluffy scrambled eggs or your next quiche. Ramps would go well with the meaty, salty flavor and creaminess of a quiche Lorraine. They would also work nicely in a spinach quiche, either in place of the spinach or in addition to it.
Ramps also work very well with mushrooms, which pair well with both garlic and butter and thus take beautifully to the garlicky ramp. Chop some fresh ramps, slice up some fresh mushrooms, and sauté both in butter. Eat them just so, or on top of a slice of freshly toasted French bread for some ramp and mushroom crostini.
Or, if you’d really like to impress your friends, why not try your hand at a quick, elegant, cheesy pasta with just a little garlicky funk from some fresh ramps?
A Note On Robiola
Robiola Piemonte is a creamy, fresh, very slightly pungent cheese from the Piedmont area of Italy. It’s not to be confused with Robiola Lombardia, which is made in the area around Milan and is much more strong flavored and brie like.
Robiola Piemonte is often found in specialty grocery or cheese stores, but if you can’t find it near you, you can try one of two substitutes.
For something mild, use equal parts fresh ricotta and mascarpone. (In this recipe, 2 oz and 2 oz.)
For something a little more pungent, use a soft, slightly gooey goat cheese.
Spaghetti With Ramps and Robiola
This recipe calls for spaghetti, since you'll be leaving the ramps intact and being long and thin themselves they will nestle nicely into a long, thin pasta. If you don't have spaghetti on hand, don't worry. Use any other long pasta, and if you only have short pasta, just chop the ramps down to size. (So you don't have the long ramps tangled around bite-sized pieces of pasta.)
- 8 oz spaghetti
- 4 oz robiola piemonte cheese, see sidebar
- 1 bunch ramps, rinsed and roots trimmed
- 2 tbsp salted butter
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Put a large pot of salted water over a high flame and bring to a boil.
- In the meantime, if you haven't already, thoroughly rinse the ramps under cold running water to remove all traces of soil. Trim the roots off of the bulb ends.
- Melt the butter in a heavy medium skillet over medium high heat.
- Add the cleaned ramps and cook over medium high heat until the leaves are wilted and the bulbs are tender and almost translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Remove the ramps from heat and slide them from the skillet into the serving bowl for the pasta. Add the cheese and mix briefly to start it melting.
- When the water has come to a boil, add the pasta and cook according to the instructions on the package. (If you like your spaghetti just al dente, subtract a minute or two from the recommended cooking time.)
- As soon as the pasta is done cooking, drain it well and add it to the serving bowl along with the ramps and the cheese. Begin mixing somewhat vigorously in order to evenly coat the pasta with cheese.
- If the sauce seems a little dense or chunky, add some of the pasta cooking water to thin it out. If it seems too thin, add some more cheese.
- Adjust seasoning to taste and enjoy!