Ramps, aka wild leeks, are a wild North American onion-like plant that pop up in forested areas in early-mid spring. The season for ramps is short, typically no more than a few weeks between April and May depending on your location.
Believe me when I say that they are GOOD. Ramps resemble scallions except that the leaves are large and flat at the top rather than tubular. I’d describe the taste as an earthy onion or leek with the flavor of tender young garlic dominating. The garlic smell is strong with this one — our entire apartment reeks of it when we’re preparing them as does anyone who consumes them raw.
Ramps are best used in place of leeks or onions. Look for recipes in which either ingredient is the star of the show such as potato and ramp soup, ramp pesto, ramp butter, or ramp pizza. I’m considering this Fiddlehead Ramp Risotto since we currently have both on hand.
If you happen upon a seller at a farmers’ market this weekend I suggest snatching a big bundle up as fast as you can — I arrived too late at my local market last week and missed out completely. This week I made sure to get there early and grabbed up 2 lbs so we would have enough to preserve and enjoy in the coming months. There was no way I was going to go without this year. We concocted a homemade spelt gnocchi with fresh pea and ramp pesto dish last spring that quickly became our favourite way to use them up. And then we each gained 10 lbs. I’ve been salivating over day dreams of that dish for an entire year. Of course I did not write it down as I made it, but will write it up here when I’ve got it figured out, again.
There are lots of ways to preserve ramps, from canning to pickling to kimchi, but I prefer freezing. The leaves turn mushy and a little bit gross after freezing but the bulbs are fine. To get around the problem, I freeze the bulbs whole but turn the leaves into pesto.
- Slice off the roots and discard. Chop the bulb off and separate from the green leaves.
- Wash and dry the bulbs and freeze them whole, packed into freezable containers or baggies.
- Loosely chop the remaining green leaves and wash. Dry them thoroughly using a salad spinner or a towel.
- Finely chop the leaves in a food processor with a dash of salt and a few splashes of olive oil (about 3-4 cups leaves to a 1/2 cup of oil). The goal is to create a moist, spreadable paste. It shouldn’t be dripping, but it shouldn’t be dry either.
- You can add cheese and nuts to make a true pesto paste but I prefer to leave mine plain to keep it flexible for all sorts of uses.
- Pack into small baggies or small freezable containers and freeze. You can also portion it out by freezing in ice cube trays and later popping them into long term storage containers once they’ve formed into hardened cubes.
Cook small amounts of the bulbs and leaves together, or use separately as you see fit. The leaves tend to have a milder flavour than the bulbs, but are less flexible because of the added olive oil.