Wild for Ramps

(Tim Fitzgerald)

For many home cooks, spring equals asparagus, but there’s a fragrant little onion -- the ramp -- that emerges from the soil well before those beloved spears. Native to North America, the ramp grows in forests and mountainous regions from Canada to South Carolina. Resembling a scallion but with broad, soft leaves and a tinge of pink on the middle of the shoot, the ramp has developed a cult following, both at homespun festivals and with celebrity chefs. Guest blogger Tim Fitzgerald, a scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, shares his love for the wild onion, both in the field and in the kitchen.

After I had my first taste of grilled ramps pizza at Mario Batali’s Otto Enoteca Pizzeria in New York, I knew I was hooked. The only problem is that these little buggers are expensive -- as much $25 per pound.

So what is an intrepid epicurean in a tanking economy to do? Go out and pick your own, of course. My wife and I first found our prized spot last fall on a foraging tour of a Greenwich, Conn., city park. On Easter Sunday, we returned to the same spot and hit the jackpot! We gathered about two produce bags’ worth, but there was such an embarrassment of ramp riches at this park that we could have easily filled up the trunk of our car.

Tim Fitzgerald hitting the wild leek jackpot. (courtesy of Tim Fitzgerald)

Are they worth the hype? Well, when they’re free -- absolutely! But I’d encourage you to try them a few different ways and decide for yourself. They can be used in most recipes that call for garlic, onions, or both. The green leaves are delicate enough to be eaten raw, and my wife and I like to add them to salads for a little zing. You can also cook the whole shoot with grilled vegetables, roasted meats, and, without a doubt, pizza. Last night we tried them both raw and roasted before popping pizzas into the oven.

Next time I may even make ramp sofrito for Hispanic rice and soups, and perhaps try infusing them in vodka. Here’s another way we used our bounty. The recipe may seem like an odd combination of ingredients, inspired by Kim’s Eating Down the Fridge Challenge. The possibilities are endless!

Broccoli Raab and Tuna Ragu with Ramps

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Small pinch of red pepper flakes
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
1 small can of high-quality canned albacore tuna (such as Fishing Vessel St. Jude)
1 cup of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 bunch of broccoli raab or broccolini
4-5 ramps, roughly chopped or torn

In a sauté pan, heat olive oil, red pepper flakes and garlic over low-medium heat. Add the tuna, with a little bit of its oil or juice, and let it ‘melt’ for a few minutes. In the meantime, steam the broccoli rabe/broccolini for 2-3 minutes in a separate pot until slightly fork-tender. (they should be bright green and maintain some crunch). Add the tomatoes and ramps, and season with a pinch of salt. When you’ve got a nice thick ragu, add the raab to the pan and cook for 1-2 more minutes. Serve over polenta or pasta, drizzle with a little extra olive oil, and enjoy.

Makes two servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  April 21, 2009; 7:20 AM ET Seasonal Produce , Spring Produce
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They are also good mixed into scrambled eggs. Yummy!

Posted by: Merdi | April 21, 2009 11:05 AM

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