Sunday, May 2, 2010


Apparently, ramps are one of the latest, hottest food items. They're super-seasonal, they aren't grown in monoculture yet by Monsanto or ConAgra, and they happen to taste amazing. Sort of like ramped-up (haha) garlic with a little leek-like sweetness. The smell is somewhat intimidating (I would say sexy, but that's just my garlic fetish talking), so if you're lucky enough to stumble across a ramp stand at the market or on the roadside (preferably announced with a spray-painted sign, but we can't all be so fortunate) and purchase some, be sure to put them in a plastic bag or container before putting them in the refrigerator, or else they're liable to stink up the whole works, and your milk will taste funny. Unless you're into that sort of thing. No haters here.

Ramps are in the onion family, but possess the charm and grace that onions lack. Whereas onions need a little time to mellow out, and even then can be abrasive to the palate, ramps are strongly-flavored but strangely delicate. They can be eaten raw fairly painlessly, and when cooked they add a little bit of that je ne sais quoi that cooks these days are so fond of. Of course, there are ramp festivals, ramp eat-offs, and even ramp documentaries for the hardcore ramp lovers, but they can also be enjoyed more casually, which is how I tend to like things.

On a drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway, John and I happened across a ramp stand and purchased a couple bundles. A little goes a long way, and so we have been enjoying the stink ever since. We did have some au naturel, the leaves raw on ham sandwiches, the bulbs fried in bacon grease on a salad (a salad just isn't the same without bacon grease...). But then, one of my favorite things to do with very seasonal items is to preserve the flavor for as long as I can so that when I can't skip down the street and buy more of the same, I still have that flavor in my culinary repertoire.

Thus: ramp-infused butter. Aha and aha. Melt your butter--salted, unsalted, cultured, you choose your preferred flavor-conductor--and add cleaned, chopped ramps. I did a coarse chopping job simply because ramps are strong, and you don't really need to mince them to extract flavor, but at the same time, I did want to expose more surface area to the butter. Let it bubble a little (I would imagine that you could even brown the butter and it would be fine, but I didn't try this). In the meantime, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Pour the melted ramp-butter into the water and take off the heat immediately. Place this in the freezer until the whole mess sets up, or at least until the butter is nice and firm. At this point, I upended the contents of the pot into a colander in the sink. You'll see that the concoction has stratified--there will be a ramp layer and a butter layer. It's a little hard to describe without photos, but when you do it you'll see exactly what I mean. Scrape off the ramp layer, as this is perishable, and you don't want your butter to mold. You'll be left with a very pungent butter than can be stored in an airtight container or, my favorite, a Mason jar.

Another trick I used for preserving the ramp flavor was infused olive oil. Find a decent olive oil, put a couple whole ramps down inside the bottle, and wait. Don't fret. You won't need to wait long before you can use the oil and taste the rewards of your ramp-hunt in salad dressings or drizzled over some foccacia. A caveat, though: when you infuse oils with perishable herbs, the oil will go rancid eventually, so use this oil as quickly as possible. I'd say, within a couple weeks, maybe more if refrigerated.


Camille said...

I am sooo glad you posted about ramps! My grandfather used to go to the Canton Ramp Festival every year when my mom was little - she hated the way he would smell when he came home. :)
Thanks for your wonderful descriptions!

meg said...

There are lots of hilarious stories of kids being sent home from school because they smelled like ramps.