One would’ve thought I was being given a dozen roses based on my reaction when a very stylish woman pulled into my driveway with her champagne-colored Thunderbird and held out a bouquet of spring onions. Actually, they were ramps — very similar to spring onions but with a taste all their own — a lovely, pungent garlicky flavor. In fact, ramps are really wild leeks, foraged from woody areas, but she had been foraging at the farmer’s market and had quite a find.
Ramps are one of the first signs of spring, and one of the first edible green things to hit markets along with fiddlehead ferns. Just as the prized morels found nestled on the woodland floor, ramps start appearing in early May under canopies of beech, birch and sugar maples. You can use them anywhere you would use scallions or spring onions. My friend, the mother of a neighbor, knew I would not only be familiar with them but also figured I’d be happily surprised. She was so right. I was elated; how kind of her to think of me.
There are countless of ways to use ramps, beyond simply slicing and sautéing as you would any other allium (they are just leeks, after all). Roast or grill them whole—the high temperature will render the bulbs tender, while making for some seriously crispy leaves. And yes, you can, and should, eat the entire thing. Once you’ve tired of eating them as a side dish, make a pesto with walnuts, Pecorino cheese, and whole ramps (blanch the greens first). For your next batch, dunk them in a buttermilk batter and fry them whole. You can even pickle them with a mix of red chilies, bay leaves, fennel seeds, black pepper and salt, vinegar and sugar. They’ll keep for two weeks, unless you preserve them by canning; in that case you can eat ramps all year long.
As for me, I decided to make a risotto using ramps and Italian sausage. The garlicky ramps lent a wonderful flavor to the creamy dish studded with the pork. No additional ingredients needed save for a generous sprinkling of Parmesan.
You won’t find ramps in your neighborhood supermarket, but specialty markets such as Papa Joe’s and Plum may carry them during their very short season. Otherwise, check your local farmer’s market or take a hike— you never know what treasures you might uncover.
Ramp and Sausage Risotto
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
1/2 pound hot Italian sausages, casings removed
12 ramps, trimmed; bulbs and slender stems sliced, green tops thinly sliced
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry vermouth
3 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for passing
Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add sausage. Cook until no longer pink, breaking up with spoon, about 5 minutes. Add sliced ramp bulbs and stems. Saute until almost tender, about 2 minutes. Add rice and stir 1 minute. Add vermouth. Simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute. Add 3 cups chicken broth, 1 cup at a time, simmering until almost absorbed before next addition and stirring often. Continue cooking until rice is just tender and risotto is creamy, adding more broth if dry and stirring often, about 18 minutes. Mix in green tops and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Season risotto to taste with salt and pepper. Serve, passing additional grated cheese separately. Serves 4.
Per serving: 511 calories; 20 g fat (9 g saturated fat; 35 percent calories from fat); 61 g carbohydrates; 7 g sugar; 50 mg cholesterol; 632 mg sodium; 16 g protein; 4 g fiber.