A Guide to Ramps
Utterly lacking in morels? Don’t despair — it’s also ramp season. Also called wild leek, wild garlic or even spring onion, a ramp is the best of both onion and garlic worlds combined into one magical plant. However, it’s only in season for a short amount of time in late Spring. Allium tricoccum has edible stems, bulbs and leaves and can likely be found in a forest, Farmers Market, or restaurant near you.
If you’ve heard enough, and are already lacing up your hiking boots, be sure to take a few tips from Madelyn Walters from Northwest Michigan’s Bloom Wildcraft. She says that “if you can properly identify a leek plant, I think it’s worth it to give a leaf a try. They are pretty easy to identify by smell, since they have the aroma of an allium.” Madelyn recommends to make sure you are only harvesting 10-15% of a ramp patch per year, and the easiest way to do this is to make sure you are on private property with permission to forage. The general rule is to forage sustainably, or not forage at all. so if you’re still unsure, head to your local Farmers Market, where you can hopefully find sustainably foraged ramps in bunches.
Here’s a few tricks to ramp things up (pause for bad pun crickets) in your kitchen:
Ramp Compound Butter
It couldn’t be easier to add ramp flavor than to add it to everyone’s first choice of fat: butter. Simply take a bunch of ramp leaves, washed and rinsed using a salad spinner, and add it to a food processor along with two sticks (8 ounces) of your choice of butter, cut into smaller pieces. From there, you can choose to roll your compound butter into a log using parchment paper and freeze it to extend your season. You can use this to make biscuits, add it to your mashed potatoes, or spoon a bit onto your steak within a week.
Who doesn’t love a fresh, garlicky flavor on their pizza or pasta? A ramp pesto is easy to make and easy to make disappear. You can sub ramps for basil in any traditional pesto recipe, but I used toasted walnuts in place of the pine nuts. Walnuts are a more cost effective option, and have a deep flavor that stands up to their flavorful ramp counterpart.
While more traditional to use a mortar and pestle, pesto is also efficiently made using a food processor. Add equal parts by weight Pecorino or Parmesan cheese and ramp leaves, as well as half as much toasted walnuts, or nuts of your choice, and blend. Once you have an equal consistency, begin to stream in olive oil, and continue to blend until you reach your preferred thickness. I recommend using this pesto right away, as it will start to lose its beautiful verdant color after a night in the fridge.
A great way to make sure your ramp flavor extends beyond the short season is to make a dried herb powder, similar to dried thyme or oregano.
Your first step is to dehydrate the ramp leaves. While your best bet is to use a dehydrator, you can also use an oven, like I did. Flatten each leaf individually onto a metal rack over a sheet pan in a single layer, and place them in a warm oven on its lowest setting (less than 200 degrees.) Start to check your leaves after a couple of hours — they should easily crumble in half if bent.
From there, blend in a spice grinder until it’s at your desired consistency. You now have a great seasoning to add to this Roasted Chicken with Parsnips recipe or anything else you might normally use onion or garlic powder for. Dried ramp powder should last for about a year — just in time to make a batch with your 2021 season!
Add ramps to your favorite focaccia recipe! I topped my whole wheat and rye focaccia with entire stems and leaves to create a woodland-inspired design, and the strong onion/garlic flavor played well with the earthiness of the whole grains. Just be sure to press your ramps slightly onto your dough as you add them, so they don’t tumble off your finished product!
Find it in a Local Restaurant
Don’t feel like working ramps into your prep list? No big deal! You can explore ramp flavors right now at many local eateries, including Bubbie’s Bagels in Traverse City, where their specialty ramp cream cheese can be ordered on a bagel, or purchased by the pound.
Claire Butler is the Communications and Outreach Intern for Taste the Local Difference. She is a current culinary student at the Great Lakes Culinary Institute. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org