Spring foraging: Amp up the flavor with fresh ramps

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One of the great delights of this time of year in the Berkshires and Southern Vermont is the appearance of ramps. These wild onions, with a flavor that could broadly be described as somewhere between garlic and onion, are free for the taking for those willing to seek them out.

There's a multitude of culinary uses for them. The bulbs can be pickled and the greens made into pesto or a compound butter. The whole plant can be saut ed and added to an omelet, to a potato or pasta dish or in a soup, as a few suggestions. They can be used in any dish that calls for leeks, wild leeks being another name by which they are known. They do, however, have a stronger flavor than leeks, so adjust accordingly for those sensitive to onion or garlic. Happily, I have no such sensitivity, so I use them by the handful!

Ramps are a member of the Allium genus, which includes onion, garlic, shallot and the like. The botanical name for ramps is Allium tricoccum for the three seeds they produce. They can be harvested for about a month each season and their culinary use date back to harvests by North American indigenous peoples. Ramps' popularity has grown substantially over the years with well-established festivals, mostly in the southern Appalachians, celebrating their appearance. Their popularity is such that sustainability has become an issue in those areas.

As good luck would have it, they appear in our surrounding woods, overlapping for a time with fiddlehead ferns and morel mushrooms. I consider myself an amateur, but enthusiastic, forager, who has recently semi-retired, allowing more time for tramping around in the woods.

I was lucky enough this season to include all three in a meal recently. I made a ramp vichyssoise as a starter. I included the fiddleheads in a salad with prosciutto, grape tomatoes, cucumber and basil, with a dusting of Parmigiana Reggiano. I followed this with a pureed baby bella mushroom soup garnished with saut ed sliced morels. Dessert was all store-bought. I had found some decent strawberries with which I made a crisp topped with our wonderful local Aylada honey lavender frozen yogurt. It was a fun and satisfying meal with the lovely, Lois, and good friends who were with me on most of my foraging expeditions.

The ramps I've found have been in dampish wooded areas close to water. They grow in large clumps and I've taken a couple of pounds from two different areas this year. In both instances, it was difficult to tell I had taken any at all. That will probably be the end of my ramp harvest this year, what with the somewhat laborious cleaning process and not wanting to harvest so much that I waste them. They're a special found food during a special (however wet!) time of renewal!

RAMP VICHYSSOISE

Serves 6 as a starter

INGREDIENTS:

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3 slices thick cut bacon, diced

2 tablespoons butter

4 cups chopped ramps, bulb and greens included

3 cups diced, peeled Yukon Gold potatoes

6 cups chicken stock

Cr me fraiche and chopped chives to garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Over medium heat, saut the bacon in the butter until crisp in your favorite soup pot. Add the chopped ramps and continue to saut until the bulbs become translucent. Add the potatoes and chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer for approximately 8 to 10 minutes until the potatoes are soft enough to puree. Puree soup and chill completely. Adjust salt and pepper and serve in wide bowls garnished with a spoonful of cr me fraiche and chopped chives.


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