Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The way things shook out this year, ramp season is, well, ramping up just as Lent winds down - and what better way to console yourself in your last week without meat than with the first of the year's fresh vegetables, and some of the finest vegetables around, at that?

I've talked about ramps before, but as a brief reminder: they're a wild member of the allium family (onions, garlic, etc) native to North America, and specifically to the general region of the Appalachians. Sometimes called wild onion, wild garlic, or wild leek, though not all vegetables going by those names are ramps. Etymologically related to the ramson of Europe, and probably named after it, but not the same plant. Not grown commercially, although it may be possible to grow them at home (I've read conflicting things, but traditional garden conditions wouldn't be conducive to growing ramps, which are usually found in wooded areas).


These ramps have been cleaned: plucked out of the ground, they have an outer skin surrounding the bulb which needs to be removed - the ramps you pick up in Whole Foods have probably already been cleaned.

They look a little like leeks with more leaf-like greens and a clove-like bulb. They taste more like garlic, but not quite - as I say every time, they're equally different from onions as garlic is, but more pungent when raw and sweeter when cooked. Like garlic, raw ramp bulbs can taste "hot." The greens are sweet like turnip greens, with a faint ramp flavor. They're also very fibrous, and can present a problem if you're trying to incorporate them into pasta dough like nettles (I just don't even bother trying anymore), or want to use them as raw salad greens.

They go especially well with eggs, potatoes, mushrooms, bacon. Ramp festivals traditionally feature ramps cooked in bacon fat, in combination with eggs and/or potatoes - this is how people in Appalachian regions have eaten ramps since long before the food blogging world was a thing.

A meat day meal:

Roast chicken stuffed with ramps; ramp greens; pepper relish
Roast chicken with chopped ramp bulbs and butter stuffed under the skin, accompanied by whole ramps blanched and then cooked in the pan drippings, and Stonewall Kitchen's pepper relish (a favorite of mine).

Deviled eggs, baked potato with duxelles
Seared deviled eggs (with ramps in the filling) and a baked potato with ramp-fennel duxelles. Duxelles are just minced mushrooms (you can use the Cuisinart) with as much liquid as possible squeezed out, cooked in butter until they cook down into a paste; traditionally they're cooked with shallots, I used ramps and fennel.

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