Spring inspires people to do unexpected things (see my previous article Spring Inspiration Tour). Among farm visits, drinking rose wine (Finally! Rose is back!) and tasting a plethora of spring menus all over town, I was inspired to go on a rampage. All because of a little plant called ramp. Several times in recent past people have asked me what a ramp is. Words “spring” and “delicious” come to mind. To me, ramps are true harbingers of spring on a plate. And… they are BACK! First ramps of the season have landed on Chicago menus, and I could not be more excited!
Epicurious Food Dictionary defines ramp as follows: “This wild onion grows from Canada to the Carolinas and resembles a scallion with broad leaves. Also known as wild leek , ramp has an assertive, garlicky-onion flavor. It can be found – usually only in specialty produce markets – from March to June. Choose those that are firm with bright colored greenery. Wrap tightly in a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to a week. Trim the root ends just before using. Though the flavor of a ramp is slightly stronger than the leek, scallion or onion, it can be used – raw or cooked – in many dishes as a substitute for any of those three.”
I love ramps. Their unique pungent flavor is unforgettable. They are versatile and add punch to any dish they are in, raw or cooked. However, in my home kitchen, I have always found ramps intimidating. Yes, I would buy a small bunch every spring and sprinkle some on salads or pastas. But I never took any risks with ramps. Well, last year, things were different. Last spring I went on a cooking ramp-age. Having procured a good amount of ramps from my reliable sources, I was on a mission.
First up: ramp polenta. Creamy, cooked cornmeal porridge is one of my favorite side dishes. I make polenta a dozen different ways: soft, baked, cheesy, spicy, herbed, fried crispy. But how would my gorgeous ramps play into it? Never fear, Martha Stewart is here! Using her recipe as a guide, I searched my pantry and fridge for ingredients. Polenta is so forgiving, I skipped the cream in favor of cheese, and it still came out delicious. Adding gently sauteed ramps (with greens!) gave it a great depth of flavor. It also got me thinking about ramp risotto (made with rose wine and morel mushrooms) and ramp orzo with fresh peas and ricotta. How can those be bad, right?!
I got a lot more adventurous with my ramps by making kimchi. Kimchi is a spicy fermented Korean pickle that can be made with a variety of different vegetables, so why not ramp greens? I drew my inspiration from From Belly to Bacon blog and my copy of Momofuku cookbook. I once again took some liberties with ingredients, using green garlic just like From Belly to Bacon recipe calls for, and skipping salted shrimp in favor of dried out of necessity as some of the more obscure Asian ingredients are not readily available in my area. Kimchi takes a couple of weeks to ferment in the fridge, so I could not taste it right away. But if my initial flavor test was any indication, the jar would go fast (and it DID!). My kimchi packed a punch but still tasted strongly of ramps, which was key. With ingredient that delicious you want nothing to overpower it. I am plotting to make another batch with different supporting flavors this year.
Since ramps are only available March to June (and even then, not always!), pickling seems like a natural way to make them last. While I make great Kosher dill pickles in the summer, my pickling abilities really end there. I am basically afraid of a Mason jar, not gonna lie. But this was no time to be scared. With some moxie and a recipe from Saveur as a guide, I embarked on my first pickled ramps journey. Once again, I substituted some spices for ones I already had in my pantry, keeping salt/sugar/vinegar ratio carefully to maintain the integrity of the pickling. Using only the reddish white bottom parts of the plants, I made my first batch of pickled ramps. I don’t mean to brag but the results? OUTSTANDING!!! Tart and sweet and pungent, with a touch of heat, my pickled ramps made a great accompaniment to charcuterie, unusual pizza topping or a damn good snack on their own straight from the jar. My plan is to make a few different recipes, some more salty and spicy, and compare the results. The Ultimate Pickled Ramps Throwdown.
Moral of the story: I am no longer intimidated by ramps. I have conquered my fears. Spring is here, ramps are in season and there is rose to be had. Should that cause another kitchen rampage, all the better. No fear here. I promise.
Original rampage took place April 20, 2012 via theBrideScoop.com.