I’ve never really considered myself an expert at anything. But if I had to pick something, I would have to say it’s foraging and using ramps. Years ago I would set out looking for ramps, and not find a single one; now it seems like they’re all I see. If there are ramps around, I can find them.
Ramps are a form of wild onion that grows in most parts of the east and central parts of the U.S. They are one of the first spring plants to pop up out of the ground here in Minnesota, and if you can find them early enough, they’re tender and packed with a magnificent garlic and onion flavor that you won’t find anywhere else. Ramps are easy to identify by their broad, smooth green leaves. They grow in clumps and are usually found in very moist, sandy soil—often near rivers and streams, and on hillsides.
The easiest way to identify a ramp is to rip a piece off and smell it. If it smells like a powerful combination of onions and garlic you have the right plant. Gathering ramps is fairly easy. I like to bring along a small kid’s shovel to help dig away the earth. Put the blade of the shovel next to the ramp and push it straight down, then lever the soil upward to loosen it. At this point you can just grab the ramp at the base and give it a little shake—it should come free. The roots of the ramp can grow deep and the whole plant is edible, so you don’t want to waste any of it by breaking it at the stalk.
As the season progresses, the broad green leaves will eventually fall off and rot, leaving a single flower that will stick up from the ground. The white portion of the ramp is edible year-round, but it can get pretty tough as the summer goes on.
Of all the spring edibles that people rave about, ramps rank first place in my book. I have tried ramps in just about every imaginable way. I am Bubba from Forest Gump when it comes to ramps. I like to pickle them, fry them, and ferment them. You can make ramp-fried rice and ramp omelets and ramp pesto and ramp chimichurri. (I could go on for hours like that, but I won’t.) One of my favorite ways to prepare ramps is to make a French onion dip. Last year I made a ramp Kraut and holy God is it powerful: you don’t need much of it, but it is so good.
The only downfall to ramps is that they don’t last. I can find them everywhere for about two months, and then the leaves die off and they flower. You can still eat the white base of the plant, but I find that they get a little fibrous in the summertime. That’s why find as many ways as possible to use and preserve them for the rest of the year. Recipes like ramp pesto and ramp butter freeze well and can be used all through the year.
This year I wanted to try something new with them so I made Ramp Beignets with a ramp green goddess dressing. (You can find that recipe here.) If you like onions and garlic the way I do, you would love this combination. I also made a large batch of Ramp Chimichurri that I froze so I can use it for the rest of the year. (If you’re unfamiliar with it, Chimichurri is a condiment of sorts and goes great on steak or fish or chicken.) I grilled up a piece of buffalo tenderloin that I marinated in a ramp marinade and topped it off with the ramp chimichurri. It was pretty amazing.
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 tsp Black Pepper
½ cup chopped ramps
Combine the ingredient and pour over your meat. Let the meat sit for at least an hour, making sure to turn it in the marinade a couple of times. I like to put my meat in a 1-gallon Ziploc bag and then pour the marinade over it so that the meat is always covered.
Ramp and Nettle Chimichurri Sauce
1 1/2 cups sorrel (or parsley if you don’t have sorrel)
6 ramp bulbs
1/2 tsp dried oregano
3/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
Salt and black pepper to taste
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth and combined.