Amuse Bouche™: Weekly Musings on Food & Life
Ramps: A Late Spring Fling
by Suzanne Lenzer
Like many a romance, my relationship with ramps began with a strong physical attraction. They’re one of those vegetables that make me want to take them home and start cooking as soon as the first ones appear at the Union Square Greenmarket (which is later this year than usual, so you still have time). Ramps––a decidedly humble, almost coarse name for such a gentle vegetable––grace us with their presence for only a few brief weeks each spring and seem to capture the essence of the entire season.
At first glance they look like a relative of the scallion––a more graceful and enchanting cousin perhaps. With wing-like tops reminiscent of lilies and stems that taper into long eggplant-toned necks, each ramp ends with a pearly white bulb, all of which is edible. The ramp (Allium tricoccum), or wild leek, belongs to the same genus as onions (Allium cepa), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), and garlic (Allium sativum).
But its taste is more captivating and, to my mind, more sublime; a hint of mustiness hidden under a fresh, sweet flavor that’s brought to life when properly prepared. In fact, because you can eat the entire ramp from leaf to bulb, the range of flavor it offers matches the vibrant and varied colors of each individual stem. The leafy top offering a freshness that becomes earthier and more buttery as you work your way down to the root itself.
Ramps are native to eastern North America, from Nova Scotia, south through New England to the central Appalachian states, and are especially popular in West Virginia, which holds an annual celebration, called the Feast of the Ramson. There are a variety of theories on how the name “ramp” came to be, but the most viable I think is that it’s derived from the name of a related species, ramson (Allium ursinum), or wild garlic. And, as the story goes, Ramson comes from “Ram’s son”––the astrological sign for that time of year.
But what’s in a name? Call it what you like, the ramp remains an ethereal and elusive treat, one that we have only a few weeks to savor. So there’s no time to waste. Bringing out the complex, sweet and savory flavor of the ramp isn’t hard. In fact, simply by sautéing ramps in olive oil with a bit of salt you can share in a delicious rite of springtime. However, by cooking them with smoky ingredients, such as bacon or pancetta, you can turn a potential attraction into a full-fledged love affair. Which is what I suggest you try––in a hurry.
Filed under: epicurean, green living | 1 Comment
Tags: Farmer's Market, New York, ramps, Union Square Greenmarket, vegetable