Never having lived on the East Coast, I had never eaten ramps before last Sunday. I’d read about them and have to admit that I was attracted by the idea of them. But I also knew they grew wild which meant they had to be foraged. That means I would need to find a forest and a legal place to pick them. Wild foods can be complicated that way. Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw ramps piled high at the Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market last Sunday. Not free, like they would be in the woods, but definitely a lot easier to come by.
Ramps are a part of the allium family and I’ve heard them compared to green onions and to leeks but in my opinion, they’re not very much like either. They do have a delicate garlicky aroma but it’s tempered by a wild sweetness as well. Ramps have long white stems that turn a reddish purple close to the green leaf. They could be mistaken for a green onion by the non-cook. However, they aren’t as firm nor do they have tubular leaves. Their flesh is more tender than their grocery store cousins, leeks and scallions. The green leaves are soft and pliable, not tubular at all. In fact, the greens are like thick blades of grass, just in gigantic form! And the touch of a ramp felt like silk under my fingers. Best news, the whole ramp is edible from the white stem to the top of the green leaf.
I was so excited to bring ramps home but had no idea how I was going to cook them. We looked in a few cookbooks and didn’t find anything more than a Southern style salad that minced them, pan-fried them in bacon grease, and served them over lettuce. Not very exciting. My husband remembered reading an article in a recent NY Times Magazine and he said they fried them and served them with eggs. We decided to try something similar.
Our Sunday Supper started by quartering a whole bunch of small potatoes, drizzling them with olive oil, sprinkling with coarse salt, and then roasting them in a hot oven, abouvt 400°F. While they were roasting, I cleaned the ramps by running them under cool water. Then I chopped them into large pieces because I wanted to keep the white portion of the stems relatively whole – if I did this again I think I would chop them a little smaller but I definitely wouldn’t mince them. I wanted them to be a side dish, not a garnish, so they needed to be able to stand alone. I pulled out the griddle and started frying eggs over easy on one side. On the other, I added the ramps. Basically I quickly cooked them in butter and a little salt. Then we served them with the eggs and roasted potatoes. My good friend, Drue, had left a jar of spicy tomato sauce on her last visit that made a perfect topping for the potatoes. The runny egg yolks were better than any hollandaise sauce, so just imagine picking up a roasted potato with just a touch of spicy sauce, dipping it in the runny yolk then following that bite with quickly sauteed ramps. The greens tasted like they had been steeped in a garlic bath and the whites retained an al dente bite. They were both wild and classy at the same time. We definitely had a dreamy supper on our plates.
Two thumbs up for ramps!